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Cougars hope for NIT invite

LOS ANGELES – The deep disappointment in Washington State’s locker room was evident Thursday night, following the Cougars’ 89-87 defeat to rival Washington at the Pac-10 Conference tournament.

Not just because they had lost, but more for what that loss had cost.

“The NIT would be fun, but my dream was the NCAA tournament,” Klay Thompson said mere minutes after scoring a tournament- record 43 points.

More than likely the defeat, which dropped WSU’s record to 19-12, means the dream is dead for this season.

Instead, the Cougars return to Pullman and hope for an expected bid to the National Invitation Tournament, which kicks off Tuesday.

“With our record and how we’re playing right now, I think we’ve got a good chance,” said athletic director Bill Moos. “And, hopefully, we have a chance to host it. We want to.”

An invitation Sunday – selections will be announced that night at 6 on ESPU – would mark the second time in three years the Cougars had played in the NIT.

But unlike two years ago, when Washington State traveled to Saint Mary’s and lost 68-57, expect the Cougars to earn a high seed and be willing to pony up the cash to host.

“I don’t like to step over the dollars to get the nickels,” Moos said. “We need to continue to play in the postseason and give our fans an opportunity to watch us. So we’re holding out hope that we first, get invited, and then that we host it.”

The NIT selection committee, appointed by tournament owner, the NCAA, selects 32 teams and seeds them according to region. All regular-season conference champions that do not earn automatic NCAA berths are selected first. The higher-seeded team is given the first opportunity to host.

First-round games are Tuesday and Wednesday. The semifinals and finals are at Madison Square Garden on March 29 and 31.

“My people are all set (to host the first round),” Moos said. “They know the drill and we’re ready to go. It’s just a matter of getting selected now.”

If the Cougars are selected to host, it means at least one more game in Pullman for Thompson.

The 6-foot-6 junior, who was suspended for the regular-season finale against UCLA after being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession two days earlier, etched his name in the Pac-10 tournament record book Thursday night.

His 43 points – tying a career high – broke Leon Powe’s tournament mark of 41 set against Oregon in double overtime five years ago. Thompson’s eight 3-pointers are also a tournament best. And his 15 made baskets tied him with UCLA’s Reggie Miller for that mark.

“Some shots he hit, I was like ‘Man, is that Kobe?’” said UW’s Isaiah Thomas, invoking the name of L.A. Laker star Kobe Bryant. “It felt like we had a hand up and he was hitting them from everywhere.

“When a player can hit shots like that and gets on a roll, it feels like the basket’s like the ocean. Everything’s going in.”

Thompson’s performance also gave him a couple Washington State records as well.

The junior is at the top of both WSU career 3-point shooting records, with 237 makes in 594 attempts.

He also has the best scoring season in Washington State history. His 664 points put him ahead of Isaac Fontaine’s 657 in 1996-97.

And, when the NIT bracket is announced, he should have at least one more game to play.