COUGAR HOOPS NOTEBOOK

PULLMAN -- Repeat after me: It's only two games. It's only two games. It's only two games. There. Now that we've tried to establish some perspective, it still needs to be said loud and clear: Klay Thompson has enough skill to break all kinds of school records this season, and he's going to be given every opportunity to do so.

True, Washington State will face far more challenging opponents than early victims Mississippi Valley State and Eastern Washington, although E-Woo gave Moo U all it could handle Monday night in a 67-61 Cougar victory at Friel Court.

But consider this: Klay Thompson scored 20 points in the opener last Friday and 24 Monday, and he really wasn't that hot. The sophomore guard missed his first six field-goal attempts against EWU and wound up 6 for 16, and he misfired on five of 14 free throws after missing just three all last season.

And yet, Thompson is averaging 22 points. The WSU season record is 23.1, set by Don Collins in 1979-80.

A long, grueling season awaits Thompson, and he will face every type of defense known to man. However, he is the only proven scorer on a team with just one upperclassman, and coach Ken Bone has given Thompson a bright green light to shoot, shoot and, when in doubt, shoot some more.

"I'm OK with him taking some bad shots," Bone said. "We want him to be aggressive, to attack."

As a freshman, Thompson played as if the lane was a mine field. This season, encouraged by Bone, he is taking the ball to the tin regularly and scoring or drawing fouls.

"He has taken 23 free throws after two games," Bone pointed out, "and last year he shot 31."

Who would have believed one year ago -- hell, one WEEK ago -- that Thompson would be on pace to break school records for free throws made and attempted in a season? At the same time, he's well below the pace needed to set school records in field goals made and attempted and 3-pointers made and attempted.

Give him time, people. With that sweet, sweet shooting stroke, just give him time.

"In my mind, he's a future pro because of the fact that he can shoot the ball from deep," Bone said. "It's nice to have him on your side."

That was never more apparent than with 44 seconds left Monday, when Thompson calmly drained a 3-pointer from the left side after the scrappy Eagles had pulled within one.

"When the game's on the line, he hits the big one," Bone said. "I don't think it's a surprise to anyone in the gym."

"That was a big-time shot on his part," Eastern guard Jeffrey Forbes said. "He's quite a player."

The thing you have to understand about Thompson is, he was born to shoot a basketball. The soft-spoken youngster from Southern California holds a profound appreciation for the beauty of a high-arcing shot rising just beyond the outstretched fingers of a leaping defender, and he's a fierce enough competitor that he absolutely revels in his ability to render an opponent helpless.

"If you're a basketball player," Thompson says, "you're never going to turn down shots if it's a good shot."

DeANGELO CASTO

"He knows he's a great shooter," Bone said. "He knows he's a very good player."

By season's end, he may be recognized as one of the best to ever don a Cougar uniform. By expanding his game -- which includes good-to-great defense at times, thanks partly to those l-o-n-g arms -- Thompson is improving the odds that he can follow the lead of father Mychal (the NBA's No. 1 overall draft pick in 1978) and make a lot of money for a lot of years in the pro ranks.

"You want to be as versatile as you can because that makes you a better player," Thompson said. "I'm just trying to improve on every aspect of the game."

CASTO DELIVERS: Sophomore forward DeAngelo Casto, who came through with a career-high 18 points against Mississippi Valley State, followed up with 16 Monday. He also set the screen that freed up Thompson for his crucial 3-pointer in the last minute.

"DeAngelo, when he wants to, can set great screens," Bone said. "I think he was focused and understood he had to set a good screen at that time. We wanted to get Klay the ball in that area."

SLUGGISH START: The Cougars never led in the first half until Thompson canned back-to-back 3's shortly before intermission.

"We might have been a little lackadaisical at the beginning of the first half," Thompson said.

"The first 6 or 8 minutes, they kind of took it to us, and they should have," Bone said. "We did not bring the energy we needed to compete with them."

CAPERS SHINES: Marcus Capers didn't take a shot from the floor and scored just one point, but he drew considerable praise from Bone for another sterling defensive performance.

Capers shut down dangerous little Benny Valentine, holding Eastern's leading scorer to five points on 1-for-7 shooting.

"They (coaches) told me to go out there and lock down Valentine," Capers said. "That was my main focus, but nobody wants to go out there and not take any shots."

VETERANS LEAD: They didn't make much of a mark on the stats sheet, but Abe Lodwick and Nikola Koprivica played hard at both ends of the floor in their new roles as quasi power forwards.

The 6-7 Lodwick and 6-6 Koprivica are guards by trade, and they lack the muscle to be true power forwards. The smallish Cougars are forced to use Lodwick and Koprivica inside more than they are accustomed, though they still look for shots from the perimeter on occasion.

REBOUNDING CONCERNS: Bone continues to harp on rebounding -- Eastern topped the Cougars 39-32 on the boards -- and he was not happy with 20-for-32 shooting at the free-throw line.

However, the Cougars nailed 7 of 8 freebies in the last 5 minutes.

"That's a huge positive," Bone said. "When the game was on the line, the kids stepped up and made some free throws."

LESSON LEARNED: After the blowout win over Mississippi Valley State, the young Cougars may have benefited from playing a close game with Eastern.

"Yeah, we want to have close games we might lose," Bone joked. "No, it is good for us."

"You have to give credit to Eastern," Thompson said. "They executed their plays.

"It's almost better than beating a team by 20 or 30, because you learn how to play down the stretch and how to stay calm."

Bone, who coached against Eastern the previous four seasons at Big Sky Conference rival Portland State, said he warned his players about the Eagles' talent and grit.

"It was good that we were able to play against a team that plays as hard as they did … we are not used to it because we don't practice like we want as far as the staff wants the kids to," Bone said. "We need to play with more energy so we're prepared to play against teams like this."

MORE MOORE: WSU freshman point guard Reggie Moore scored 15 points and made some slick passes, although he was credited with only three assists.

"I love to pass the ball, especially with Klay," Moore said. "When he's shooting, 90 percent of the time they seem to go in."

STRANGE SCHEDULE: Except for a Dec. 9 game with Idaho, the Cougars' only other Pullman appearance prior to the Pac-10 opener with Oregon on Dec. 31 is this Thursday's game with Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne. The 7 p.m. contest will not be televised.

The Mastodons (an extinct elephant/mammoth-like animal) are 0-1 heading into tonight's game with Madonna. Uh, that's the university, not the singer.

NEW UNIFORMS: The Cougars were sporting new, gray uniforms Monday night. In addition, for what is believed the first time ever, the name emblazoned across the front of the jerseys was simply COUGS.

NOTABLE: Second-year freshman James Watson saw his first action as a Cougar on Monday, recoding a blocked shot and three rebounds. He redshirted last season and sat out the season opener due to a concussion sustained last week.

REGGIE MOORE GOES AIRBORNE, ENDED UP WITH 15 POINTS, 3 ASSISTS.


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