January 10th: Klay Thompson welcomes Mitch Johnson back to the state of Washington
Klay Thompson slam (via BostonCoug32)
You can make an argument that this play saved our season. Seriously.
After steamrolling through the mid-majors and falling (as expected) to national powers Pitt and Gonzaga, the Cougs hit somewhat of a rough patch in December and early January. Coming into this game, the Cougars had lost six of their previous nine. To make matters worse, WSU had lost their last three in debilitating fashion. There was the second half meltdown on the road in a must-win game at LSU. Then, a 20 point drubbing at home by archrival Washington. Finally, when the Cougs needed a win in the worst way, Patrick Christopher went off for 22 points (felt more like 47) as Cal pulled away for a win at Friel.
Enter Stanford. My hatred of the Cardinal is well documented, but in this case the game was more about getting a win to keep our tournament hopes alive. The only problem is that WSU came out flat, trailing by as much as 11 in the first half before cutting the lead to eight at the break. The nice thing about great defense, though (and we'll miss this without Tony Bennett), is that if you can get stops, you can claw your way back into the game.
And so WSU did.
The Cougs opened the second half on an 11-2 run, capped by Klay's dunk.
It was a brilliant moment. Exactly what the Cougars needed to come back to life. The thing that always gets me about Klay, however, is just how even keel he is. During the celebration, while DeAngelo Casto looks like he's trying to punch the sky, Klay Thompson has the same calm smile on his face that he always does after a big moment. It was the same expression he had after "the shot", when the entire arena was being brought down by screaming fans and players.
Klay Thopmson's not a fiery guy. And that's OK. I hated it on the Tony Bennett radio show when people would question if the team had the same level of intensity they had in the past. Of course they did. It's just the past two years they won a lot of games, and this year they didn't. There was the same level of emotion shown on the court throughout. And consistently, the only person I've seen show emotion on the court and play to the crowd is DeAngelo Casto - no one else. Most of the players we've had in the Bennett era aren't highly emotional players. It never made any difference when it came to our performance on the court.
Nevertheless, it's a lot more likely you'll see shows of emotion on the court with Ken Bone at the helm than with the Bennetts. Just don't expect too much out of Klay, who's emotion (or lack thereof) makes him just as easy a target for something like those "Greeting cards by Erik Bedard" posts by Lookout Landing this Spring. Actually, it's refreshing to see a player exude a quiet confidence in their ability to win. If this is setting me up for two to three years of antagonizing people that question Klay's passion for the game, so be it. The kid can ball. And dunk on people, as this video exhibits.
But I digress. After the dunk, it was WSU back in the game, trading shots with Stanford for the remainder of the way. All we needed was take a little lift from Taylor at the end (Top 10 Cougar Plays #3), and the Cougars finished the homestand at 1-2 in conference, heading to the Oregon schools with a chance to stay in the tournament hunt. Had we started 0-3, I can't imagine how much doom and gloom would have rained down on the Palouse. This play did so much to prevent that, and was the moment where we started to realize just how good Klay Thompson is.