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Nation’s top scorer leads Cougs against GU tonight

WSU’s Klay Thompson had his way at the Great Alaska Shootout. (Associated Press)
WSU’s Klay Thompson had his way at the Great Alaska Shootout. (Associated Press)

San Diego coach Bill Grier felt nearly powerless as he watched Washington State sophomore forward Klay Thompson score 43 points on his Toreros in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout.

“If you watched the game, it didn’t look like we guarded him at all,” Grier said of Thompson, who had 31 points in the second half as WSU won, 93-56, Saturday. “We had no answer for him. We just don’t have any wings with his size. Even if we had a guy draped on him, it was like we weren’t there.”

Thompson leads the Cougars (6-0) against 17th-ranked Gonzaga (5-1) tonight at 6 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Early on, the Bulldogs have been solid on defense and fairly adept at taking scouting reports from the chalkboard to the court.

The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Thompson averages 28.3 points, tops in the nation. He’s made 56.3 percent of his shots, 56.8 percent of his 3-pointers and 80.5 percent of his free throws.

“Klay Thompson is going to work apparently,” Gonzaga junior guard Steven Gray said. “He’s getting a lot of good looks and making a lot of shots. A lot of that is going to fall on how well we contain him and how difficult we can make the shots he’s taking.”

Gray figures to be the one guarding Thompson, but the Cougar will probably see several different Zags and schemes before the night is over. Thompson was limited to four points on 2-of-9 shooting in GU’s 74-52 win last year.

“They could put Gray on him, they could put (Matt) Bouldin on him or they could give him a bigger look, maybe try (Elias) Harris on him,” said WSU first-year coach Ken Bone, who guided Portland State to an upset win over Gonzaga in the Kennel last year. “They’ve been known to throw little wrinkles, maybe a box-and-one or something like that.

“We understand that Klay is our best scorer and our best shooter and so does everybody else. So we’re trying to prepare for what could happen in any game. But the way Gonzaga plays and their personnel, they’ll have no problem matching up with our personnel.”

The matchup, of course, goes beyond Thompson, who is “probably playing somewhat similar to Stephen Curry,” said GU coach Mark Few, referring to the ex-Davidson guard who torched the Bulldogs for 40 points in a 2008 NCAA tournament win.

“They’re a very, very confident basketball team,” Few said, pointing out that WSU is strong on defense and on the boards. “What they did to San Diego was unbelievable. I don’t see us beating Billy’s team by 40 anytime soon.”

Bone is pleased by how quickly players are adjusting to his new system.

“Guys are buying into the philosophy we’re trying to teach and doing a nice job, although we all know things get a lot tougher immediately,” he said.

Thompson has been one of the primary beneficiaries.

“He’s just so much more aggressive,” Few said. “He can shoot it early in the clock, last year there was probably some apprehension. He’s just getting a lot more opportunities, whether it’s off screens or cuts or post-ups. It’s similar to how we treated Adam (Morrison) with the variety of opportunities he’s getting.”

Gonzaga features four players in double figures – Bouldin (16.2 points), Gray (15.8), Robert Sacre (14.3) and Harris (12.7). The 7-foot Sacre and 6-8 Harris will have a size advantage against WSU’s front line.

“Those big guys (are) a huge reason why they’re so good, because of their presence on both ends of the court, not just the offensive end,” Bone said. “They will present problems for us, just like they do for everybody else.”

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