Thompson hot, Cougar D anything but

KLAY THOMPSON: 35 points in WSU win

SEATTLE -- Good and not-so-good were on display in equal quantities Tuesday in Washington State's 84-68 win over Portland in the Cougar Hardwood Classic. When the Cougs were in sync on offense, they looked formidable, and strung together points in bunches. On defense, though, when things went bad for Wazzu -- particularly on the perimeter and in rotation -- they looked lost.

It was, however, a night to remember for hot-shooting Klay Thompson. He was unconscious against the WCC foe, hitting 13 of 16 from the floor on his way to 35 points. Thompson scored the Cougs' first nine points on 4-for-4 shooting and looked every bit the player ESPN chose as the Pac-10's preseason best.

His outpouring moved him by Thomas Kelati into No. 20 on WSU's career scoring list, with 1,096 points.

It also fired up the 8,441 brave crimson souls who attended the game despite Seattle's frozen streets. The win improved the Cougars' record to 3-0 as they head to Fresno State on Friday for a date with the Bulldogs.

Thompson wasn't the only offensive star for the Cougs in Seattle on Tuesday. Newcomer Faisal Aden again looked like the real deal, chipping in 21 points on the strength of 8-of-15 shooting from the field. Aden gives WSU a second strong scoring threat to go with Thompson, one they didn't have last year.

Five Cougars hit 3-pointers. And Wazzu shot a scorching 60 percent from the floor.

So what's wrong with all that?

Not a thing. But the problem, and it's a big one, was that Washington State built a 20-point lead in the first half -- and then surrendered virtually every last bit of it.

Defense? For long stretches, it was nonexistent.

And while the WSU defense was going bad, the Cougs on offense looked hesitant and unsure – and the lead WSU had built just kept on disappearing.

After racing out to a 24-4 lead, Washington State still led comfortably at the break, 48-34. But WSU continued to allow Portland far too many easy, open looks from long range, and the Pilots cut it to 59-58 with about 11 minutes left. With 9:38 to go, the Cougs still led by only three and Portland just missed a trey that would have tied the score.

From a 20-point lead down to a single point. Stunning. And Wazzu's 15 turnovers on the night didn't help matters.

Washington State eventually pulled away but the Cougs' third win of the season provided plenty of angst for fans to ponder. WSU isn't going to hit from outside like they did against Portland every night – they're not going to have a 20 point cushion to play with. And they're going to play teams, in both the non-conference and Pac-10 part of the schedule, with far more talent and athleticism than Portland.

As last season illustrated so clearly in Ken Bone's first season at the WSU helm, (when the Cougs raced out to an 11-2 record only to crater in the second half of the season and finish in the Pac-10 cellar), if the lapses and poor rotation defense evident against Portland continue, WSU will find themselves on the short end of the stick many, many times this season.

Yes, it was a win, and a double digit win at that. But it felt hollow, as if a distant warning shot of trying times to come.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • The Cougars were once again without starting point guard Reggie Moore, who is nursing a bum wrist. WSU's point guard-by-committee approach didn't hamper the offense. Freshman Andre Winston turned in 18 minutes of PT, but it was Capers and Thompson who led the assist parade, with 5 and 3, respectively. The Spokesman-Review in a blog post after the game concluded that if Moore doesn't return soon then those who are absorbing his minutes, Thompson, Capers and Aden, are going to wear down.

  • Portland outrebounded WSU on the offensive glass, 19-7.

  • Part of the reason the Cougs were outrebounded by the smaller Portland squad – they went for the block. WSU swatted away an impressive 11 shots, most coming courtesy of DeAngelo Casto and Marcus Capers, who had three apiece.

  • Capers very quietly put together a nice line on the night with nine points, four boards and five assists.

  • Patrick Simon hit the 3-ball that sparked the Cougs in the second half, as WSU turned a one-point lead into a 20 point advantage again over the space of about five minutes. He scored six points in 13 minutes but also was whistled for four personal fouls.

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