PULLMAN – Klay Thompson may be only a freshman, but two games into the conference season the Washington State guard already understands how tough it is to win Pac-10 games.
And to win individual battles.
“During the whole (Pac-10) season, you’ll face different personnel,” he said. “All teams will have different guys who can do different things. You have to be focused and be ready for the challenge.”
In Thompson’s first Pac-10 game, Washington featured three quick, smaller guards. Thursday night, California challenged Thompson with Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson, both near Thompson’s 6-foot-6 height but both quite a bit more muscular.
It’s that physical nature Thompson, tied with Aron Baynes as the Cougars’ leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, knows will be a test throughout the conference schedule.
“It is, but not as much as I thought it would be,” Thompson said. “That can take a toll on you, but I’ve got to play through it. All the good players do.”
Thompson feels the Cougars have to play through some recent shooting woes.
“We just don’t have the individual talent to beat teams on our own,” he said. “We’ve got to play as a team, cut down turnovers and get as many good looks as we can to have a good chance of winning the game.”
The Cougars did all three of those things against Cal, but didn’t accomplish the most important aspect of offense: putting the ball in the basket.
Against the Bears, in the middle of the Pac-10 pack for defense, WSU shot 37.7 percent, marking its third consecutive game shooting less than 44 percent.
“The quality of the shots was at a pretty high level, as was the sureness with the ball, so I was pleased,” coach Tony Bennett said of Thursday’s game. “It’s discouraging we didn’t shoot better. I think if we had shot the ball better we could have put ourselves in a nice spot. Just shot it solid.
“Maybe this year’s team just isn’t going to be able to do that, so we have to keep finding ways to be in there and squeak them out at the end.”
Taylor Rochestie, coming off a 19-point effort against the Bears, has something to prove tonight against Stanford.
“Stanford beat us three times in a row last year, so, for the guys who are returning, I think that’s enough motivation to come back and play well,” Rochestie said. “Last year on our home floor, I personally had a shot that could have taken us into (double) overtime and I’m constantly reminded of that shot by people who aren’t WSU fans.”
The Cardinal don’t have the two biggest reasons for last year’s sweep – Robin and Brook Lopez, twin 7-foot centers who moved on to the NBA – but they are 11-2 after dropping an 84-83 decision at Washington on Thursday.
The Cougars (8-6), who are finishing up a three-game, Pac-10-opening homestand, have lost four consecutive home games for the first time since Dick Bennett’s first year as head coach, 2004.
“We’ve got to start protecting our home court,” Rochestie said. “The last two years it meant a lot to us. This year we’ve let it slip away a little bit. Hopefully, we can get it back.”
It wouldn’t hurt to get it back against the Cardinal.
“They have success against us, and we would like to return the favor and have some success against them,” Rochestie said.
The Bears’ 50 percent shooting Thursday dropped WSU from first in the nation in field-goal percentage defense to fifth, out of 330 teams ranked. “A couple times, we dove for a ball” and they hit a shot, Bennett said. “There were about three or four that hurt. That’s the difference.” The Cougars remain tops in scoring defense at 51.2 points per game but dropped to 313th in scoring offense (58.5). … Daven Harmeling last hit a shot early in the second half against Idaho, three games – all losses – ago. The senior, who is shooting 42.9 percent for the year, has missed just six shots in that time, however. … Stanford lost its first road game Thursday after opening the season with three wins away from home. … Senior guard Anthony Goods, who has hurt WSU in the past, scoring a career-high 30 against the Cougars in 2007, leads the Cardinal in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game. He’s shooting slightly better from outside the arc (40.2 percent) than from inside (40 percent). … Four Cardinal players are in double figures, with sophomore Josh Owens, who played limited minutes last season backing up the Lopez brothers, the biggest surprise at 10.5 points a game. … Rochestie had one of his better shooting nights against Cal, hitting 8 of 14 shots en route to 19 points. But he was inches from 22 points. Three times during the game Rochestie nailed jumpers with his toes on this year’s extended 3-point line.