Cougars headed to NIT quarterfinals

IT HAS BEEN a frequent criticism among his critics. Perhaps the notion that Washington State junior wing Klay Thompson does not perform well in significant games will end now that he scored a game-high 21 points to lead the Cougars to a 74-64 win Monday night against Oklahoma State in the second round of the NIT at Friel Court.

WSU (21-12) advances to play Northwestern (20-13) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (TV: ESPN2) in the tournament quarterfinals at Friel Court. The winner advances to play at Madison Square Garden.

"We're 40 minutes away from Madison Square Garden," WSU wing Marcus Capers said in a postgame radio interview. "That's the main objective."

In three games since returning from a one-game suspension following his arrest for marijuana possession, Thompson has played perhaps his best basketball in crimson and gray. He tied his career high with 43 points March 10 in a 89-87 loss against Washington in the Pac-10 Tournament. Thompson then had 25 points six days later in a 85-74 win.

And it was Thompson again who twice ended a pair of OSU (20-14) comeback hopes in the second half. The first came on a 3-pointer and the latter on a pair of free throws that helped extend the Cougars' lead to 67-56 with 4 minutes, 9 seconds remaining.

While Thompson was a significant factor for WSU, the Cowboys' leading scorer was almost nonexistent. The biggest concern for the Cougars entering the game arguably was their ability to contain the portly 6-foot-8 Marshall Moses. But Moses drew his fourth foul with 18:56 remaining — less than 30 seconds after he scored his only points — and never was a factor.

"That definitely hurt them," WSU coach Ken Bone said in a postgame radio interview. "He was not able to get going."

Moses essentially handed WSU more points than he produced when he elbowed junior DeAngelo Casto with 1:54 remaining to pick up his fifth foul. Casto split a pair of free throws. The intentional foul also gave the Cougars possession and Moore found Casto for a dunk to extend their lead to 74-59. Casto finished with 13 points and had three blocks.

CASTO WAS NOT the only WSU post player to outperform Moses. Sophomore Brock Motum scored on a reverse with 2:15 left to extend the Cougars' lead to 71-59 and essentially ended any OSU comeback prospects. Motum converted 6 of 9 shots en route to 17 points.

He was one of the few players who shot well. WSU converted 42 percent of its shots, while the Cowboys hit 41 percent. OSU forward Matt Pilgrim made 8 of 15 shots to score a team-high 17 points. He also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

Despite that, the Cougars held a 37-33 advantage on the boards.

The Cougars took a 9-0 lead — highlighted by a pair of Thompson 3-pointers — before the teams swapped leads six times in a two-minute span midway through the half. That ended when Lodwick hit a 3-pointer to give WSU a 20-19 lead with 9:58 left.

The Cowboys remained within four points until a turnover led to a transition 3-pointer by Aden to extend the Cougars' lead to 30-23 with 3:38 remaining. WSU extended that when Moses, who was OSU's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game entering the contest, picked up his third foul chasing Thompson for a rebound about 30 seconds later. Thompson converted both free throws and Motum later scored the final two baskets of the half to give WSU a 38-29 edge at the intermission.

It was more than enough as the Cougars never trailed during the second half. They last played in the NIT quarterfinals in 1995 when they lost 89-80 at Canisius. WSU has not played Northwest since its 68-52 win in '96. The Wildcats lead the series 3-2.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Thompson now has scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games. His 710 points this season are the most by a Pac-10 player since former Arizona State standout Ike Diogu had 724 points in 2004-05.
  • The Cougars have won all five of their home games in the NIT.

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