Sun Devils fall to hot shooting Cougars
Washington State may have a new strategy: Get the ball to Klay Thompson.
The Cougars rode the hot shooting of the freshman, who scored a season-high 28 points and was 8-of-10 from 3-point range, to a 65-55 victory over No. 14 Arizona State on Thursday night.
"We'll just have Klay get 28 each night and that's all we need to do and then just chip in where we can," said Washington State's Taylor Rochestie, the team's leading scorer.
But on Thursday, it was Thompson who hit his first seven shots from the beyond the arc, beating the Sun Devils' tough zone defense that came into the night allowing just 57.8 points, second-best in the Pac-10.
"It was a huge win for us, it puts us right back into the hunt," said Thompson, who was 10-of-17 from the field overall and grabbed seven rebounds, all on the defensive end. "It felt amazing, especially when everything was going in."
The Cougars' conference-best defense held Arizona State to 8-of-29 shooting (28 percent) in the second half.
"We've got to make shots," Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. "It's probably no more complicated than that right now for our basketball team."
Aron Baynes added 22 points and nine rebounds for the Cougars (12-8, 4-4), who beat a ranked team for the first time in five games this season.
"Today with Klay and Aron on track, I thought we had a good inside," Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. "I really said we had to pound it inside against this zone (but) a guy like Klay with a hot hand really changes this around. Our defense held tough down the stretch."
James Harden scored 26 points to lead the Sun Devils (16-4, 5-3), but the conference's leading scorer was 8-of-20 from the field and missed five of 13 free throws.
But the all-Pac-10 performer was overshadowed by the freshman whose best night before Thursday was a 19-point, 10-rebound game against Mississippi State on Thanksgiving weekend.
"I've felt like that before but not for a while," Thompson said. "Good to get back in that rhythm. It was easier in high school but I knew it would be different challenge at the Division I level, especially Pac-10. I just found my rhythm and they were playing zone, it was easier to get looks from 3 instead of man-to-man. It felt really good."
It was Washington State's fifth straight win over the Sun Devils, who haven't beaten the Cougars since March 4, 2006. The Sun Devils came into the game having won four of five and 12 of 14.
Arizona State shot 19-of-51 from the field (37 percent) and has shot 33 percent in its last two games combined.
"Nobody scores very many against them," Sendek said. "But when you have open looks, from our perspective, you have to knock them down and we haven't really shot the ball at all since the Oregon weekend (Jan. 8-10)."
The last of Thompson's seven straight 3 gave the Cougars a 41-39 lead with 13:13 left. He missed two of the next three from 3, but DeAngelo Castos' follow with 5:48 left gave Washington State a 51-45 lead. Rochestie hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left on the shot clock to give the Cougars a 54-49 lead with 3:33 left.
Rihards Kuksiks, the nation's leading 3-point shooter at 49 percent, missed his eighth in 10 tries just 30 seconds later and Arizona State never got closer.
The Cougars went 7-of-8 from the free throw line in the final minute to secure the win.