PULLMAN, Wash. -- UCLA’s regular-season finale against Washington State took an interesting turn when the Cougars suspended Klay Thompson, the leading scorer in the Pac-10, after police cited Thompson for marijuana possession.
Thompson, averaging 21.4 points, scored 22 points in Washington State’s victory over USC, so his absence Saturday will leave the Cougars (19-10, 9-8) without their best player as they fight for a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble and an improved seeding in the Pac-10 tournament.
“I’m disappointed for him and his family that he won’t be able to play tomorrow,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “But … sometimes things happen where it inspires a team even more. So we know with or without Klay it’s going to be a very difficult game for us.”
Thompson leads Washington State in nearly every statistical category, including scoring (21.4), assists (4.0), steals (52), three-pointers made (85), three-point shooting percentage (41.3), free throw attempts (152), free throw percentage (82.9) and minutes played (34.5). He's second on the team with 5.1 rebounds a game.
Howland said he doesn’t expect much to change defensively for Washington State, which mostly employs a zone, but that the scoring load will have to shift to players such as Faisal Aden (12.6 points per game) and DeAngelo Casto (11.7). Thompson scored 26 points when the Bruins defeated the Cougars, 80-71, on Dec. 29.
“Aden, a very good player, will wind up being the guy getting more looks and more shots in their offense,” Howland said. “And Casto played great last night. He was 10-for-11 from the field against SC and their bigs are as good as anybody defensively in our league, so it’s going to be tough.”
Washington State was already facing the possibility of playing a man down because Reggie Moore, averaging 9.8 points, sprained his ankle Thursday night against USC and is questionable for Saturday against UCLA.
Looking out for No. 2
UCLA (21-9, 12-5) can still tie Arizona for the conference title if the Bruins win and Arizona (24-6, 13-4) loses, but Arizona has already clinched the No. 1 seeding in the Pac-10 tournament.
UCLA can clinch the No. 2 seeding with a victory Saturday at Washington State and, perhaps more important, does not want to enter the postseason on a two-game losing streak. The last time the Bruins lost two in a row was Dec. 31 and Jan. 9 against Washington and USC.
“I certainly hope not,” Howland said when asked about the possibility of a letdown with the No. 1 seeding out of reach. “We need to win this game tomorrow. It’s the last game of the season.”
Washington State, meanwhile, is looking to crack the 20-victory plateau, earn the No. 4 seeding and possibly get on the NCAA tournament bubble. The Cougars will not be an easy challenge for UCLA, which has won 17 consecutive games at Washington State.
“This is a very important game for both teams and we’re going to have to execute well,” Howland said.
Upon further review
Howland acknowledged he was second-guessing his use of timeouts Thursday night during UCLA’s loss at Washington, but said there was nothing unusual about that.
“There is always second guessing when you lose,” Howland said. “There is not a game that I’ve been involved in were we’ve lost that I haven’t second-guessed myself about something. So that’s automatic. That’s every time.”
UCLA played the final 12:57 Thursday without a timeout and was unable to do anything to stop Washington’s key 14-0, game-sealing run late.
The Bruins used three of their five timeouts in the first half, but Howland said he “didn’t really want to use” two of them. One came when UCLA had trouble getting the ball inbounds and another came when Howland stopped play so he could replace a winded Reeves Nelson.
“He had gotten scored on and looked over,” Howland said. “So I burned that one, which I second guessed a little bit. I should have forced him to play through it, but his man had just scored on him on a three so we used it.”
Cramping his style
UCLA guard Malcolm Lee sat out a portion of the second half Thursday night at Washington because of cramps in his legs.
Lee was plagued by cramps last season but hasn’t dealt with them very often this season so their re-appearance caught Howland off guard.
“He’d been doing fine so this was something that was surprising,” Howland said.
Lee missed about five and a half minutes of game time because of the cramps, but benefitted from extended media timeouts and got about 15 minutes of real-time rest. He played the final 9:50 without coming out.
“Sometimes he really has to work to drink a certain amount of electrolytes,” Howland said. “And for some reason he didn’t do it. That’s what he told me, anyway.”