SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Klay Thompson didn’t have his best shooting night, but when it counted most, he came through for Washington State.
Thompson buried a 3-pointer with 14.5 seconds in regulation to tie the score and send the game into overtime, and then came through with another dagger in the extra period to lift the Cougars to an 85-79 win on the road Sunday against Santa Clara.
But it was the way he scored those 23 points -- mainly by getting to the line and hitting 10 of 12 free throws -- that impressed coach Ken Bone the most.
“He’s going to have to manufacture points in different ways,” Bone said.
That was what Thompson had set out in the offseason to improve upon, and that’s what has the Cougars off to an 8-1 start as they head to the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and then right into Los Angeles for the start of Pac-10 play.
Playing Santa Clara at the start of a two-week road trip made for the classic trap game, but Thompson made sure the Cougars didn’t fall victim to it. He was just 5-of-16 from the field and had six turnovers, but there was also seven rebounds and six assists.
And at times, he simply bullied his way into the lane and got fouled even while in foul trouble himself. Yes, the clutch 3-pointers at the end were nice, but Thompson is no longer the guy with the pretty jumper who needs to come off screens to get good looks.
He remade himself and bulked up after struggling so mightily with his shot during conference play last season that he didn’t dare test the NBA draft waters once the Cougars finished last in the Pac-10.
The talent around him is emerging as well. Forward DeAngelo Casto and guard Marcus Capers both entered the game shooting 54 percent from the field and scored 15 and 14 points, respectively. Point guard Reggie Moore is back from a wrist injury and scored 15 off the bench. Junior college transfer Faisal Aden got the start in place of Moore because Bone wanted to get a different look with his second-leading scorer on the court alongside Thompson.
“So much of [Sunday night is] an example,” Thompson said of the support his teammates have given him. “These guys stepped up.”
The Cougars were playing for the first time in nine days and seemed a little sluggish coming out in the first half, committing nine turnovers. They trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half against a Santa Clara team that got 29 points from Kevin Foster, the WCC’s second-leading scorer.
The Broncos even made 30 consecutive free throw attempts, but missed two in the final minute to give Thompson two chances to tie the game with a 3. Thompson missed with 22.8 seconds left, but made the second.
“It’s a lesson,” Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating said. “We’re building a program to be able to play these games.”
Washington State, meanwhile, is winning them. The Cougars won an ugly one here in the South Bay, won in a blowout of Gonzaga, and even won some hearts and minds by playing Kansas State close.
“We didn’t play our best,” Bone said of Sunday night's performance, “but we did a good job.”