PULLMAN – Returning to the scene of Thursday evening’s crime, the heavy vibe at Friel Court not 48 hours later suggested that 5,967 grudge-holders had come looking for a new reason to express their lingering outrage.
Surely they found fault with nearly every call that went against the home team Saturday, whistled by the unfortunate trio assigned to clean up after the mess left the other night. That’s when head bandito Mike Littlewood spirited away what would have been a Washington State victory over Oregon in overtime by forgetting that Rule 0, Section 0, article 0A states “Good judgment: have some and use it” – and that every other rule in the book hinges on that.
As Saturday’s game against Oregon State unfolded, the audience waited for some new felonious indignity and steeled themselves when the referees huddled for more than two minutes late in the second half, only to return a verdict of a lone technical – against the Beavers. More boos went unrequited.
Left with no particular sense of satisfaction in expecting the worst, the fans had to settle for A) a 65-60 victory over OSU and B) the comfort that the Cougars are no longer simply Klay Thompson and the Mysterians.
The silky sophomore started the game once again college basketball’s leading scorer (25.6 points per game) and exited barely in the top five, having been limited by the Beavers’ 2-3 zone to a season-low seven points. And he exited early, picking up a fourth foul with 8:55 left and his fifth after being back in the game for just 49 seconds.
(Snarky aside: Is it part of the Sons-of-ex-NBA-Players membership code that requires every foul called against them to be greeted with poor-me disbelief, eye-rolling and arms outstretched?)
In Thompson’s stead, the Cougars uncovered new go-to guys. Reggie Moore found openings near and far to pump in a game-high 19 points. Marcus Capers registered the rare-for-a-guard points/rebounds double-double. With the game tied at 58 and three minutes remaining, the Cougs’ only upperclassman, Nik Koprivica, found DeAngelo Casto with a well-crafted pass for a layup, and freshman Xavier Thames followed with a courageous 4-footer for the winning points.
Perhaps even more remarkably, the Cougars were doing this while driving 55 – OSU’s preferred pace – instead of their usual 80.
“If they control the tempo, it’s not a big issue,” coach Ken Bone told his team, hoping to save wear and tear after the double overtime disaster. “Let’s sustain our offense for 25 and even 30 seconds and make sure we get a good shot.”
If this is not the way the Cougars generally want to play, it’s nice to know they still can – a look around the Pac-10 suggests more than a few games will be glacial, and Wazzu must know how to win those, too.
But mostly, it’s nice to know they can win even if Thompson is not at his best – because he’ll always be the focal point of the opponent’s defense.
“We wanted to keep him from getting the ball if we could – deny him,” said OSU guard Calvin Haynes. “If he catches the ball in his right hand, we know he’s going to drive all the way to the basket. If it’s in his left, we know he wants to pull up and shoot. He averages 25 points, so we did keep him down tonight – but they got the win because their other players stepped up.”
This was no particular surprise to Bone, even as he acknowledged that “it would have been difficult in the first eight or 10 games to win if (Klay) had a game like this, because we counted on him so much.
“I think other people look at our team and underrate some of these other kids. Klay is no doubt one of the league’s best players, but some of these other kids are getting some experience and they’re pretty good, too – and now they’re playing with more confidence.”
WSU’s 10-2 nonconference start didn’t hurt that confidence. As for being underrated, well, maybe that’s not so bad, either.
“I think every one of my teammates is underrated – even Klay,” insisted Moore. “I think all of us are underrated. Washington State as a university is underrated. But that’s fun. You go out there with a chip on your shoulder and try to prove the world wrong, and that’s a lot more fun than everybody giving you praise that you’re the best player or the best team.”
More satisfying, too – even more satisfying than venting over an outrage that cannot be undone.