PULLMAN – Klay Thompson has heard the criticism.
He’s heard the whispers about how he struggles at big times in big games.
So Wednesday night, before 10,177 in Beasley Coliseum – including a trio of NBA scouts – the 6-foot-6 junior shooting guard did something about refuting them.
In a big way. And in the Inland Northwest’s biggest nonconference game, Washington State’s annual matchup with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The result: WSU broke a two-game losing streak to its neighbors from Spokane in an even bigger way, 81-59.
“With the balance we have this year, that helps (me) a lot,” said Thompson, who showed balance himself, filling the stat line from end to end with 24 points, six rebounds, seven steals, six assists and one big block – many of the numbers coming in a second half that started with Gonzaga within six, 30-24.
“Teams can’t just focus on me and (Reggie Moore),” Thompson added. “They have to focus on a lot of us because a lot of us can score.”
Thompson wasn’t alone on the offensive end, though both of the double-digit contributors were a little unexpected.
Faisal Aden was one, though the only reason it was a little shocking was because of his health. The junior, averaging 18.7 points per game coming in, tweaked his left knee this week, didn’t take much part in the pregame warmup and spent the first 6 minutes, 20 seconds on the bench with warm packs on his knee. Still, he came off the bench and chipped in 14 points.
“His knee’s sore and he was questionable,” WSU coach Ken Bone said. “In fact, at shoot-around I didn’t think he was going to play at all. And then right before tipoff he told Coach (Curtis) Allen he’s like to give it a shot.”
But it was the 11 points from freshman forward Patrick Simon that really helped, including three long-range shots that helped stretch the GU defense.
“He’s got ice in his veins,” Bone said of Simon, who was 3 of 5 beyond the arc as WSU finished 11 of 21.
And he helped ice Gonzaga, which dropped to 4-4 for the first time since 1997.
But what about Thompson’s big block? That came on Gonzaga’s 7-foot center, Robert Sacre, who had what looked like an two-hand dunk midway through the second half.
But Thompson came from the weakside, met him at the rim and the ball bounced away. WSU was off the other way, where Thompson, trailing, pulled up and hit one of his four 3-pointers, giving WSU (6-1) an insurmountable 54-35 lead.
“I felt like (DeAngelo) Casto, blocking a 7-footer,” Thompson said, referring to WSU’s center who did not start after showing up late to a team function. “I don’t know if I’ve ever blocked a 7-footer like that before.”
The Bulldogs struggled all night taking care of the ball – they had 25 turnovers that led to 24 WSU points – and shooting – finishing the night 19 of 48 from the floor, 39.6 percent.
“We got it handed to us tonight,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who bemoaned the turnovers and the lack of aggression against WSU’s zone. “The Cougs deserve a lot of credit, they were the aggressors from the tip, on offense and defense. That was the difference all night.”
GU leading scorer Steven Gray, shadowed on every possession, even when WSU was in a 2-3 zone, was just 2 of 10 from the field, and finished with seven points, 13 less than his season average.
Little-used reserve post Sam Dower paced Gonzaga with 11 points with David Stockton and Mathis Moenninghoff adding eight apiece. In all, the Gonzaga starters combined for 8-of-24 shooting and 16 turnovers.
At the half, Thompson had just three points.
“He kept his composure and came out in the second half and really didn’t force shots,” Bone said.
He continued to contribute the little things in the second half, as well, but he started taking the ball to the rim early against the Gonzaga switches.
“He’s definitely added some things to his game, on top of being able to read screens,” Gray said of Thompson.
The Cougars will next take the court Friday night at the Spokane Arena, when they will host Texas Pan-American. Though the Broncs are just 2-7 after losing 68-55 at Northern Arizona on Wednesday, Bone is looking forward to seeing how his team responds.
“This was a success tonight, beating a team like Gonzaga,” Bone said. “So we’ll find out in about 48 hours how we handle the game up there in Spokane.”
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