Klay channels Kobe; high NIT seed next?

LOS ANGELES -- For one week, Klay Thompson carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. On Thursday night, Thompson decided to carry his team on his back, scoring 43 points. He drained eight shots from 3-point range, and nailed shot after shot after shot to give his team the lead again and again and again in the second half at Staples Center.

In the end, it was all for naught. The Washington Huskies prevailed in a classic, 89-87, in the quarterfinals of the Pacific-10 Conference tournament.

For the 21-10 Huskies, the win all but guarantees them a berth in the NCAA tournament. For the 19-12 Cougars, the loss all but guarantees them a berth in the NIT tournament.

One would think, anyway. After all, gate money is a consideration in the NIT, and what tournament would not want Thompson -- one of the nation's leading scorers, purest shooters and top candidates for All-America honors -- strutting his stuff on national TV?

Playing at Staples Center, home of Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, Thompson never looked better. Or should we say he never looked more like Bryant?

"Some shots he hit, I was like, ‘Man, is that Kobe?'" Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas said. "It felt like we had a hand up, and he was hitting them from everywhere.

"When a player can hit shots like that and get on a roll, it feels like the basket's like the ocean. Everything is going in "He played a great game and fought hard."

Thompson, of course, was playing for the first time since serving a one-game suspension for being ticketed for misdemeanor marijuana possession after his truck was stopped following last Thursday's win over USC.

Some wondered if the soft-spoken Thompson might wilt under the pressure of even more scrutiny than he always faces.

Fat chance. Thompson aggressively crashed through the lane for the first shot of the game, and when that shot didn't fall, he launched a 3-pointer from the right corner a few seconds later.

The ball hit nothing but net. What followed was perhaps the greatest performance in tournament history, and one of the greatest in WSU history. Thompson scored 14 points in the first nine minutes, and 25 in the last 17 minutes.

Afterwards, Thompson was barely consolable in a somber WSU locker room.

"I just played my game," he said quietly. "I just played my game."

"Klay was awesome," WSU point guard Reggie Moore said. "He's the best player in our league, and he showed it."

The 43 points tied Thompson's career high, set last season against San Diego in the championship game of the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage. California's Leon Powe set the previous tournament record of 41 in 2006 against Oregon, and it took Powe two overtimes to accomplish the feat.

Told that he set a tournament scoring record, Thompson muttered, "I could care less."

The eight 3-pointers set another tournament record and tied Thompson's career best. The 15 field goals tied a tournament record and was one shy of his Alaska effort. Thompson's 29 field-goal attempts is a tournament and career high, and his 14 3-point attempts tied tournament and career highs.

"We're all very proud of Klay and the job he did," WSU coach Ken Bone said. "But whether a guy scores 50 or five, it's always disappointing to lose."

Thompson came up two shy of Brian Quinnett's school-record 45-point game in 1986. Thompson broke the WSU season record of 657 points, set by Isaac Fontaine in 1996-97. Thompson also bypassed Eddie Hill's school record of 237 career 3-pointers. Thompson broke Powe's Pac-10 tourney scoring record when he scored off a rebound with four-tenths of a second left. That pulled WSU within one, and the Huskies added a final point by sinking one of two free throws after Bone was called for a technical for asking for a time-out when the Cougars had none remaining.

Well, Bone sorta called a time-out. "I yelled, ‘Time-ah!', and I caught myself," Bone said. "I completely understand why he (the official) called it … he had to call it."

Thompson wasn't the only player with a hot shooting hand. The Cougars scored 47 points on 55 percent shooting from the field in the second half, but the Huskies were even better -- 57 points on 58 percent shooting. "They did a great job," Bone said. "They're very well coached. "They spread us out, and they move the ball well. They got some really good looks."

The Huskies shot 51 percent for the game (39 percent on 3's), compared to 48 percent for the Cougars (44 percent on 3's). The Cougars led most of the game, but Washington quickly erased a 40-32 halftime deficit with an 8-0 run to open the second half. After some jockeying, the Huskies took the lead for good when freshman C.J. Wilcox knocked down back-to-back 3's at the 5:05 and 4:35 marks.

Thomas, a 5-foot-8 bundle of quickness and guts, led five Huskies in double figures with 21 points. He also had 11 assists.

"Isaiah Thomas played a game for the ages," Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said.

NOTABLE:

  • Moore, who missed Saturday's loss to UCLA after spraining his right ankle against USC, played in pain and early foul trouble. He finished with seven points and three assists in 23 minutes. "I probably shouldn't have played," Moore said, "but I love this team."

  • Thompson and Moore said they expect the Cougars to be selected when the NIT field is announced Sunday ."I just don't know," Bone said. "I haven't had time to think about it. "Hopefully, we're in some tournament. I think we're playing pretty good basketball."

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