A little over two years ago, Washington State opened a basketball tournament in Newark, N.J. against Mississippi State. On Wednesday the Cougars will open a basketball tournament in Honolulu against Mississippi State.
Quite a difference, huh? And we’re not just talking the 50 degrees.
“I love Hawaii,” said Klay Thompson, one of three current Cougars who played in that earlier game, leaving unspoken his feelings about Newark.
Thompson not only played that day two years ago, but he played well, hitting 7 of 14 shots and leading WSU to a 63-52 victory with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
His remembrances of that freshman-year meeting with the Bulldogs are sugar-cane sweet.
“That was a good game and a good memory,” he said by telephone Tuesday, a day before WSU opens the eight-team Diamond Head Classic with the Mississippi State matchup. “It was cool playing on the East Coast.”
A win Wednesday would be cool as well, as the unranked Cougars would probably earn a shot at No. 15 Baylor, undefeated until last Saturday’s loss to Gonzaga. Also in the tournament are San Diego (Baylor’s first-round opponent), Butler, Utah, Florida State and host Hawaii.
It’s a different Thompson who will lead the Cougars into today’s matchup with MSU. Not only is the junior averaging a team-high 21 points per game, he also leads them with 45 assists and 20 steals while third in rebounds with 41.
“I think I’ve developed into more a playmaker, not just a shooter, a spot-up guy like I was back then,” he said. “That just comes with being older, growing more and being more mature.”
And there are different goals. Two years ago, WSU was coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, was undefeated and, though unranked, were in the national basketball consciousness.
It’s that national recognition these games offers WSU.
“This tournament is extremely important because this is an opportunity to prove ourselves on a national stage,” Thompson said. “We had a good practice (Tuesday). We were focused. If we come with that focus and intensity (today), I think we can impress some people.”
Mississippi State is 7-3 and coming off an 88-57 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday in the Bahamas.
Renardo Sidney, a highly recruited 6-foot-10 center who was suspended by the NCAA for last season and the first nine games of this one for receiving improper benefits and providing false information to investigators, played his first collegiate game against Tech, scoring 12 points in 25 minutes.
But he won’t play against the Cougars after being suspended for one game Tuesday by coach Rick Stansbury for “conduct detrimental to the team.” ESPN reported Sidney’s suspension stems from an incident at practice in Hawaii Monday.
The Bulldogs are already without point guard Dee Bost, suspended for withdrawing from the NBA draft after the NCAA deadline. Bost, who played in the game against WSU two years ago, will return in January.
Ravern Johnson, a 6-7 guard, leads Mississippi State, averaging 22.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.