PULLMAN – As a shooter, Klay Thompson rises above most collegiate basketball players.
That’s literally what Washington State’s 6-foot-6 sophomore did over and over again Thursday night, rising above the Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne defenders to score a career-high 37 points and leading WSU to an 89-70 non-conference win before 5,399 in Beasley Coliseum.
“It wasn’t really a game plan, we’re just telling Klay to be aggressive,” WSU coach Ken Bone said.
The Summit League’s Mastodons (1-2) tried to guard Thompson with 6-2 Zach Plackemeier.
“I felt I was in his face a lot,” said Plackemeier, one of three Mastodons with 13 points. “He was just hitting everything.”
The only part of Plackemeier in Thompson’s face was his hand, and at times even it wasn’t that high.
Not on Thompson’s first shot, a 10-foot turnaround from the post. Not on his second, a 22-footer in transition.
Thompson didn’t miss until the 12-minute, 29-second mark. He had 11 points by then. He scored 11 of WSU’s first 16 and 15 of its first 22 points. His last basket came with 6:40 left, despite the best efforts of his teammates.
“We tried to get him 40, but he wouldn’t shoot the 3 at the end,” said Xavier Thames, who was one of three Cougars who had seven points.
Maybe because WSU wasn’t threatened. The Cougars led by 15 midway through the first half, by 13 at intermission and as many as 27 after that. Besides Thompson, Reggie Moore added nine points as the Cougars (3-0) were not bothered by IFPW’s defense, shooting 54 percent and turning the ball over just nine times.
When did Thompson know it was going to be his night?
“After my second turn-around shot in the post,” he said. “That’s kind of a difficult shot. I figured if both of those go in, I would get in a great rhythm. They just started falling.”
When Thompson is shooting like he was – 5 for 5 from the free-throw line and 15 of 20 from the floor, with eight makes inside 10 feet and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc – it may not matter who is guarding him.
“I don’t know if it makes a difference if the kid guarding him is 6-8, 6-2 or 5-10,” Bone said. “He’s been told he needs to score.”
“He’s our best defender,” IPFW coach Dane Fife said of Plackemeier, who guarded Thompson all but a short second-half stretch. “I told Zach, ‘If we played Washington State tomorrow, you’d be right back on Klay Thompson. I’ve got that much faith in you. But you’re guarding a (future NBA) first-rounder. Welcome to the NBA, kid.’ ”
Right now, all Thompson wants to do is improve his game and help WSU win. They are interrelated.
“I’m trying to work on my post game a lot, especially with a smaller guard on me,” said Thompson, who played with teammate DeAngelo Casto on the United States’ U-19 team this summer. “I played against a lot of good players this summer and I saw them get to the foul line. They could really work inside. So I tried to learn from them.”
•Boxscore on Scoreboard, B6