On the day the nation’s leading scorer visited McCarthey Athletic Center, it seemed relevant to brush up on the telling top-gun data in the 143-game history of the fence-line feud between Washington State and Gonzaga.
Because, of course, this was going to be Klay Thompson against Zagworld, right? One on five?
There were the two meetings in the 1961 season when Frank Burgess – who was back then what Thompson was Wednesday night – threw in 36 and 32 points against the Cougs. There was the blowout in the old Spokane Coliseum 14 years later when big Steve Puidokas set a then-Wazzu record with 42 points – which likely would have been 52 had a 3-point line existed. And, yes, there was the strange and wondrous evening in Pullman in 2002 when Marcus Moore matched Puidokas by making nine 3s, including a near-half courter to throw an overtime scare into the Zags.
The dartboard was certainly wide open for Thompson, fresh as he was off a 43-point ambush of San Diego up in Alaska, and what with the Zags’ lingering reputation – sometimes earned, sometimes overblown – of courting 3-point peril.
And sure enough, the shooting exhibition promised would be delivered.
Only by Matt Bouldin.
His career-high 28 points and his seven 3s allowed the Zags a relieved mop of the brow after a 74-69 victory, in which the 15-point deficit they careened back from equaled the biggest comeback in the building’s history – though local heart patients will recall the West Coast Conference tournament scramble past Loyola Marymount three years ago as tougher on the ticker. Another 24 from freshman wunderkind Elias Harris were no less remarkable, seeing as he had exactly three at halftime.
Well, he was no afterthought. Indeed, he was very much first in the Zags’ thoughts, which was both their salvation and for a time their undoing.
But it was certainly the game within the wild, often sloppy, definitely disjointed and emotionally charged game that eventually managed to ring every last decibel from the 6,000 in attendance.
“This is the craziest crowd I’ve ever been through – not in a bad way,” said the Cougars’ freshman point guard, Reggie Moore. “It really pumps you up. They get after you, and it’s so loud you can’t even call a play, can’t hear yourself talk.”
Even the Kennel Club couldn’t hear itself think – or at least that must have been the explanation for some brain-dead barbs aimed at WSU’s DeAngelo Casto. Apparently like both basketball teams, they have some growing up to do.
What fans both perceptive and puerile could appreciate, however, was Steven Gray’s lockdown effort on Thompson – with help from some friends, naturally.
Averaging 28.3 points per game coming into the joint, Thompson managed just 15 against the Zags – on 6-of-21 shooting that rarely came without a hand in his face or a well-placed bump to the body.
“He’s coming in shooting the ball ridiculously well,” said Gray, “getting a lot of good looks. I just wanted to make him earn everything he gets. If I get hung on a screen, I had to try to make up that ground and at least get a hand up. And if he goes off for 28 or 30, as long as I had that mentality, at the end of the game I can say he earned that 28 or 30.”
He earned next to nothing when the Zags were making their final assault on the summit – managing just a free throw in the final 7:55, until the game was all but decided.
It came at a price.
So focused was Gray on the defensive end that the complete game he demonstrated as co-MVP of the Maui Invitational was lost – he made just 1 of 6 shots and had six turnovers. And while a superficial look at the Cougars cast them as a one-man attack, that wasn’t the case with Thompson bottled up. They found all sorts of other options for scoring, and on top of it schooled the Zags silly on the boards in the first half.
“You have to give those other guys all the credit in the world,” Gray said. “A lot of people thought if you stop Klay, they might struggle. That’s got to be a great sign for them that they know they have that support behind them.”
And in that respect, two teams showed they were for real on this night.
The Zags didn’t look like the nation’s No. 17 team for much of the evening, but once again dug out of a double-digit hole simply because they’re willing to go the full 40. And if the Cougars’ 6-0 start wasn’t accomplished against much of anybody, they showed themselves on the cusp of being able to beat almost anybody.
Even with the top gun holstered.