LOS ANGELES – For five halves this season, the Washington State Cougars found a way to contain their rivals from across the Cascades.
The sixth one?
Not so much. Not even with a Pac-10 Conference tournament-record 43 points from Klay Thompson, one of a host of records the junior from down the road in Orange County set Thursday night.
Instead, in what may have been the most important game in WSU’s basketball season, Washington prevailed 89-87, rallying from an eight-point halftime deficit for the victory at Staples Center before what remained of an evening two-game crowd of 12,191.
“The NIT would be fun, but my dream was the NCAA tournament,” said Thompson, who set a WSU single-scoring record (664 points), passing Isaac Fontaine’s 657 scored in 1997. He also set WSU marks in career 3-pointers attempted (594) and made (237).
In this one he also hit a tournament-record 8 of 14 3-point attempts, some from as far as 28 feet. But when the Cougars got the ball for the final time, trailing 88-85 with 9 seconds remaining, the Huskies kept him from getting a chance to tie.
Instead, as Reggie Moore brought the ball up court, he was fouled by Scott Suggs with 2.4 seconds left.
“I was going to pull up for a 3 or look for Klay in the corner,” said Moore, who had a chance for neither.
Moore stepped to the line and missed his free throw. Thompson grabbed the rebound and hit a follow with four-tenths of a second left. Then WSU coach Ken Bone started to call timeout.
“I yelled, ‘Timeou—-’ and I caught myself,” Bone said. “So I can totally understand why (the official) called it.”
The ensuing technical was immaterial to all but the final score. C.J. Wilcox hit 1 of 2 free throws, the ball was tossed in to midcourt, touched and UW had its first win against Washington State this season after two losses.
Trailing to WSU at halftime for the third time this season, the Huskies did something they didn’t do the two previous times. They increased the pressure.
“We had something to prove,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said.
What they proved was they could force WSU to play their tempo, and turn the ball over. In a little more than 2 minutes, three Cougars turnovers, three WSU misses and Wilcox’s first of five 3-pointers helped UW to a 42-40 lead.
“That first 2, 2 1/2 minutes was really impressive,” Bone said. “They did a good job defensively and then they were just scoring.”
Following a timeout, the Cougars (19-12) regrouped. They regained the lead and actually built it back to 51-44 with a 9-2 run.
That set the stage for the final 14:48. By then it was obvious this wasn’t going to be the same as the Washington State’s two regular-season wins. It would be played at Washington’s pace.
“They spread us out, they moved the ball well and they got really good looks,” Bone said, pointing out the Huskies scored 57 second-half points.
For the next 5 minutes WSU hung tough, leading 65-62 with 9:10 remaining.
That was when Justin Holiday’s three-point play tied the score. WSU never led again, mainly because Isaiah Thomas took over, and his team-high 21 points were only a part of it.
“He’s just hard to guard,” Bone said.
The 5-foot-9 All-Pac-10 performer shredded the WSU zone with the dribble, getting under the guards, drawing bigs and serving Matthew Bryan-Amaning bucket after bucket. The 6-9 Amaning, who had 20 points combined in the first two games, put in 16, complementing the outside shooting of freshmen Terrence Ross (17) and C.J. Wilcox (16).
Wilcox, the hero of last week’s win over UCLA, gave UW the final push it needed.
With the score tied at 73 following a Thompson 3-pointer from about 28 feet, Wilcox nailed back-to-back 23-footers. After two Moore free throws, Wilcox answered with another long-range shot. The Cougars got close, but couldn’t overcome the seven-point gap.
Thompson, shaking off the weight of a one-game suspension for a marijuana citation, got off to a hot start from long range, hitting four of his first six. He finished 15 of 27 from the floor.
DeAngelo Casto also turned in his third solid performance against UW with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Washington 89, WSU 87
Percentages: FG .476, FT .739. 3-Point Goals: 10-23, .435 (Thompson 8-14, Moore 1-2, Aden 1-3, Capers 0-1, Motum 0-1, Lodwick 0-2). Team Rebounds: 6. Blocked Shots: 3 (Casto 3). Turnovers: 13 (Motum 3, Capers 3, Moore 3, Aden 2, Thompson, Casto). Steals: 5 (Thompson 2, Aden 2, Casto). Technical Fouls: Bench.
Percentages: FG .507, FT .714. 3-Point Goals: 11-28, .393 (Wilcox 5-9, Thomas 3-5, Ross 3-7, Suggs 0-1, Gant 0-1, Holiday 0-5). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 1 (Ross). Turnovers: 10 (Thomas 3, Wilcox 2, Ross, N’Diaye, Holiday, Gant, Suggs). Steals: 8 (Thomas 3, Bryan-Amaning 2, Holiday 2, Ross). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Washington St. 40-32. A—12,191.