SEATTLE – The bottom line Tuesday night: Washington State was able to stay perfect in six Cougar Hardwood Classics, the school’s annual basketball foray here.
But it took a nearly perfect shooting night from Klay Thompson to make it happen.
The junior connected on 13 of 16 shots, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, en route to 35 points, leading the Cougars to a 84-68 victory over the University of Portland before an appreciative Key Arena crowd of 8,441, all of whom braved Seattle’s winter-in-autumn wonderland driving conditions.
“We’re trying to do a couple things to give him a little more space to operate,” WSU coach Ken Bone said of Thompson, who moved into 20th on the Cougars’ all-time scoring list with his Hardwood Classic scoring record. “He took full advantage of that.”
And the other Cougs took full advantage of him.
“The man that has the hot hand is the one we need to get the ball to,” said Marcus Capers, the WSU wing who has played the point guard spot since Reggie Moore’s wrist injury. “We tried to run a lot of plays for (Thompson) because if we didn’t, it probably would have been a different story.”
Thompson hit his first four shots, scored WSU’s first nine points and had 13 in the first 7 minutes, 25 seconds as the Cougars (3-0) broke to a 24-4 lead.
But Capers, whose line score wasn’t nearly as flashy as Thompson’s – 2 of 2 shooting, nine points, five assists, three blocks, four rebounds – had just a big a part in the hot start.
The 6-foot-4 junior shadowed Portland’s leading scorer, Jared Stohl, out of the opening tip and, in those key first 8 minutes, Stohl took one shot. Appropriately it was a 3-pointer, as he came in hitting 51.5 percent of them. He missed.
By the time the 6-1 senior connected, nailing a jumper off a screen from 23 feet, WSU led 29-9.
“It was team effort,” Capers said of guarding Stohl, who finished with a team-high 21 points on 6 of 13 shooting. “As long as we keep doing that, I don’t see why we shouldn’t keep winning.”
It had to be, because Capers soon was sitting with foul trouble. And Portland started to chip away at the WSU lead.
It was nine a couple times in the first half, 12 at halftime, and, after the Cougars struggled to hold on to the ball midway in the second, one – 57-56 – after Nemanja Mitrovic nailed a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired with 10:52 left.
“We kind of lost focus,” Thompson said of Portland’s rally.
Thompson, who hadn’t taken in more than 5 minutes, drove, pivoted away from traffic, faked with a shrug of his shoulders and scored.
“I worked on that a lot,” he said of his assortment of inside fakes, drives and mid-range shots. “Those are big. If I want to get to the next level, I need to develop that part of my game.”
A Portland (4-2) miss was followed by a Patrick Simon bomb – he was one of eight Cougars to score – and another Thompson short jumper. The lead was back to eight.
Stohl answered with a 22-footer a couple minutes later that cut it back to six, but that was his last shot and Portland’s last chance.
A 14-0 WSU run – fueled by three Pilot turnovers and nine of Faisal Aden’s 21 points – and Portland coach Eric Reveno threw in the towel, subbing Stohl out.