WSU makes second-half statement in 83-57 win

JUST CALL HIM "Mr. Tournament." For whatever reason, Washington State junior wing Klay Thompson always seems have his best games in tournaments that precede conference play. That was no different Wednesday afternoon as Thompson scored a game-high 28 points to lead the Cougars to a 83-57 victory against Mississippi State in the opener of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.

Save some praise for junior guard Faisal Aden as well, who was key in Washington State's surge in the second half.

Thompson's output followed his career-high 43 points last season against San Diego in the Great Alaska Shootout. While Thompson did not score quite as many against the Bulldogs, his contributions perhaps were more important than a year ago.

WSU (9-1), which likely plays No. 15 Baylor at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, received little offense outside of Thompson in the first half. Aden, who finished with 20 points, was the lone exception as the Cougars trailed 40-39 at halftime.

"It was a good sign of maturity," said WSU coach Ken Bone in a postgame radio interview, whose team outscored MSU 44-17 in the second half. "They handled it well."

That changed a few minutes into the second half as junior forward Abe Lodwick, who had nine points, hit a 3-pointer to start a 14-0 run. Lodwick made 3 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc.

"It's just a confidence thing," Lodwick said in a postgame radio interview. "I haven't had my shot go as much as I would like early in the season."

Sophomore point guard Reggie Moore, Thompson and Aden also connected from downtown during the streak that gave the Cougars a 57-45 advantage. MSU never came close again.

"Those threes add up quickly," Bone said.

But what made the scoring run possible was the Cougars' execution of their zone defense. When WSU played man-to-man against MSU, or weren't particularly active in their zone, they looked a step below ordinary and were outplayed. But when WSU ramped up their intensity in the zone, the Cougs blew by the Bulldogs like they were standing still.

The margin of victory was not particularly surprising despite Mississippi State's record. MSU (7-4) kept the game close during the first half through one of its strengths — 3-pointers. The Bulldogs converted 6 of 13 attempts from that distance in the first 20 minutes.

But MSU has plenty of deficiencies. They are not a strong team defensively — Pomeroy ranks it 170th nationally on that end — and one of its few scoring options, forward Ravern Johnson, was stopped cold by junior wing Marcus Capers. Johnson, who led the Southeastern Conference in scoring entering the game at 22.4 points per game, converted just 1 of 10 shots en route to 3 points.

"You can't say enough about a guy like Marcus Capers," Lodwick said. "What he did on defense was remarkable."

The Cougars again used primarily a zone defense to help hold the Bulldogs to 34.5 percent shooting. WSU led the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage defense at 36 percent entering the game.

"Our guys are doing a good job with that zone," Bone said. "It wasn't just Marcus or Klay, it was a team effort."

GIVEN THOSE DEFICIENCIES — college basketball statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy gave WSU an 85 percent chance of winning — the result was predictable. Entering the game, the Bulldogs were ranked 117th nationally by Pomeroy. The only Pac-10 team ranked lower is Oregon State.

Simply put, this one would have hurt, badly, to have let slip away.

Besides exhibiting that WSU at least should be significantly better than lower-end Pac-10 competition, the win allows the Cougars to play stronger competition before it enters conference play with a difficult two-game road trip in Los Angeles next week.

WSU already has seen some of that against Kansas State and Gonzaga, but a likely game against Baylor and either Butler or Florida State finally give the Cougars an opportunity to become ranked.

And enhance their NCAA Tournament resume heading into Pac-10 play.

NOTABLE NOTE:

  • Junior center DeAngelo Casto was assessed a technical foul during the first half after being called for a foul. That gave him three fouls and Casto did not start the second half. Both the foul and the technical, according to replays, appeared highly questionable.

    "DeAngelo got irritated and I don't blame him," Bone said.


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