PULLMAN - The Long Beach State 49ers are struggling to come to grips with the fact that they're playing in the NIT and not the NCAA basketball tournament.
The Washington State Cougars?
Not so much.
“It was tough to swallow the first couple days,“ WSU star Klay Thompson said. “But now that we’ve got back to practicing and we have a game tomorrow, we’re all really excited because this could be a great springboard to the future of this program.”
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The Cougars (19-12) take on visiting Long Beach State (22-11) at 7 p.m. today on ESPNU.
The 49ers were heavily favored to win the Big West Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but they were upset by UC Santa Barbara.
Long Beach State coach Dan Monson, a former Gonzaga coach (1997-99), said he’s worried about the mental state of his players.
“We met and watched the NIT selection show (Sunday),” Monson said, “and I took one look at them and I go, ‘Hey, you guys, we obviously can’t get over this in one day, but let’s get over it in two.’”
Monson realizes the 49ers’ trip to Pullman could be short and none too sweet if they can’t control Thompson, the Pacific-10 Conference scoring leader.
“He’s playing at an NBA level right now,” Monson said. “You just don’t see a lot of guys like him that are 6-(foot-)6 on the perimeter that have such a quick release.
“It’s pretty unguardable at this level.”
Thompson said the undersized 49ers are “real athletic.”
Thompson played against some of the 49ers in high school in California, including point guard Casper Ware, the Big West Player of the Year.
“The ball goes through him, and he makes a lot of plays,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he has yet to decide whether to turn pro or return for his senior year. ... Thompson’s father, Mychal Thompson, was a star for the Minnesota Golden Gophers before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in 1978 by the Portland Trail Blazers. Monson was coach of the Golden Gophers from 1999-2006. ... Las Vegas oddsmakers list WSU as a 91/2-point favorite. ... The Cougars are seeded second and Long Beach State seventh among eight teams in the Boston College Region of the NIT. Monson’s parents (including father Don, who coached at Idaho and Oregon) live in Spokane and plan to attend the game. Monson attended Moscow High School and Idaho. ... Bone, whose salary is $550,000 this season, receives a $10,000 bonus for making it to the NIT. A title would be worth $50,000. Bone would have earned $25,000 for making it into the NCAA tourney. ... Notable former Long Beach State students include movie director/producer Steven Spielberg, comedian Steve Martin, pro golfer Mark O’Meara and major league baseball players Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Jason Giambi and former Seattle Mariner Harold Reynolds.
COUGARS’ GAME DAY
LONG BEACH STATE (22-11) AT WSU (19-12)
WHEN: 7 p.m. WHERE: Friel Court, Pullman
TV: ESPNU. Radio: 850-AM, 1300-AM
SERIES: Tied, 1-1. The Cougars won in 1962, the 49ers in 1975.
STATISTICAL LEADERS: Long Beach State: Casper Ware, 17.0 ppg, 4.4 apg; T.J. Robinson 10.0 rpg. WSU: Klay Thompson, 22.1 ppg, 3.9 apg; DeAngelo Casto, 6.9 rpg.
SCOUTING REPORT: The Cougars are playing in the NIT for the second time in three years. Long Beach State last played in the NIT in 2000. The 49ers are athletic and experienced, but lack size. Long Beach State faced two Pacific-10 teams this season, losing to Washington, 102-75, and to Arizona State, 72-58. All five 49ers starters average in double figures, but the bench is weak. WSU coach Ken Bone said starting point guard Reggie Moore’s right ankle is “fine.” The coach said the same thing last week before the Cougars played Washington, but Moore had limited mobility in his first game back from an ankle sprain. A number of 49ers played against Thompson in high school in Southern California. “They all like him and respect him,” Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said.
NEXT: Winner plays Oklahoma State, date TBD.
Howie Stawick, contributing writer