Cougar Basketball Notebook

PULLMAN -- Senior Night ceremonies should be short and sweet Saturday night at Friel Court. After all, Nikola Koprivica is the lone senior on the Washington State basketball team. It is somewhat amazing that Koprivica played four years at Washington State. In fact, it is somewhat amazing that Koprivica played one year at Washington State.

Koprivica was signed, sealed and delivered -- well, he had not signed his letter of intent -- to Boston's Northeastern University when new Cougar head coach Tony Bennett called out of the blue with a scholarship offer just prior to the start of fall classes at WSU in 2006.

Bennett had learned that Northeastern was dragging its feet getting the proper foreign student forms together so Koprivica could move halfway across the world from his native Belgrade, Serbia.

Koprivica had never heard of the State of Washington, never mind Washington State, Pullman, the Palouse or The Coug. He had grown antsy over the delays with Northeastern, so he casually mentioned WSU to a neighbor.

Koprivica had no idea that the neighbor -- and what are the astronomical odds on this? -- was ex-Cougar tennis star Tamara Filipovic. She raved about WSU; Koprivica jumped on a plane a couple days later; and the rest is history.

"She said, ‘WSU is great; you've got to go there!'" Koprivica recalled.

Koprivica, a natural wing who plays a hybrid power forward-wing role on the undersized Cougars, is the team's lone upperclassman. His parents flew in for both games last week, and they'll be on hand for Senior Night against Washington (7 o'clock, FSN).

Koprivica's season statistics are career bests across the board. WSU's regular sixth man averages 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.6 turnovers, .37 steals and 24.2 minutes per game. His career-high shooting percentages are 48.7 from the field, a team-best 41.7 on 3-pointers and 72.9 at the free-throw line.

WHEN KLAY THOMPSON announced Saturday that he will put off pro ball for at least one more year, it came as little surprise to those who have watched the sophomore guard play inconsistently in Pac-10 games.

Thompson, who led the nation in scoring earlier this season, is averaging 16.1 points in league games after pouring in 25 a game in non-conference play. His shooting percentages also have dropped significantly. He's sinking 36.1 percent of his shots in the Pac-10, including 28.3 percent of his 3-pointers.

Thompson coughed up a game-high six turnovers each of the past two games. He leads the Cougars and ranks second in the Pac-10 with 20.1 points per game overall, but he also leads the Cougars and is tied for second in the Pac-10 with 89 turnovers (3.3 per game).

"He's a very, very good college basketball player, but he's been going through a tough time," WSU coach Ken Bone said after Thompson went 0 for 12 from the field and scored a career-low two points in last week's win over USC.

Thompson labeled his performance "embarrassing" and said he believes leg fatigue may have played a factor. With WSU playing just one game this week, he should be revived in time to play the Huskies, who held him to seven points on 2-for-15 shooting in Washington's Jan. 30 romp in Seattle.

REDSHIRT FRESHMAN James Watson is a gangly forward-post who sometimes seems intent on setting world records for fouls per minute. His athleticism is considerable, however, and he displayed that athleticism in all its glory on two occasions in the USC game.

Midway through the first half, Watson charged after a loose ball, flew over players seated in the WSU bench area and crashed to the floor. He emerged with a cut above his right eye, not to mention his teammates' admiration.

"I don't think he knows how to stop," DeAngelo Casto said with a smile.

In the second half, with USC making a bit of a run and the Cougars leading by just four points, Watson sprinted full speed from way, way, WAY behind Leonard Washington and leaped to swat away a "certain" layin on what appeared to be a breakaway.

"Not a lot of guys on our team or around the country can make that play," Bone said.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • Bone said he expects all players except Koprivica to return next season, but he's keeping an eye on big men in case someone leaves. The Cougars have already given away their two available scholarships (to prepster Patrick Simon of Ephrata and JC scoring machine Faisel Aden).

  • Expect plenty of fouls and free throws Saturday. In addition to the ferocious nature of the Husky-Cougar rivalry, the Huskies are tied with Gonzaga for 11th in NCAA Division I with 739 free-throw attempts (27.4 per game). WSU ranks 27th with 688 (25.5 average). That's through Saturday, according to unofficial ESPN.com stats. The Huskies and Cougars combined for 50 fouls and 67 free throws in their first meeting, when WSU blew a four-point halftime lead and lost 92-64.

  • Barring an 0-5 finish (counting a first-round post-season game), the 16-11 Cougars have clinched their fourth-straight winning season.

  • A color photo of Cougar freshman point guard Reggie Moore appears in the current edition of Sports Illustrated in a fascinating feature story on the unprecedented amount of top-flight basketball talent that comes out of Seattle. Ken Bone is quoted in the story. Part of the secret to Seattle's talent parade, the story says, is the fact so many guys who make it to the NBA come back to nurture the next generation.

  • Bone finally found renters for his family's former home, which he has been unable to sell since moving from Vancouver, Wash., to Pullman last spring after coaching Portland State.
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