Washington St. and Baylor to Play in Diamond Head Classic Semifinals

Co-Written by Yoshito Tsuji and Susan Shan

The Washington St. Cougars’ strong and fast start this season can be attributed to excellent coaching. Head coach Ken Bone (25-16 at WSU, 360-183 overall) has led his squad to a 9-1 record, including a 22-point win over Gonzaga.

Bone is still a young coach in the Division I ranks, but he’s well-known and was highly successful at the Division II level, compiling a 253-97 record while at Seattle Pacific. Bone’s coaching skills were on full display during yesterday’s 83-57 win against Mississippi St. as he turned a one-point halftime deficit into a 26-point victory.

After trailing 40-39 at halftime against the Bulldogs (7-4), the Cougars opened the 2nd half with a stifling 2-3 zone. The Cougars’ defense limited the Bulldogs to nine points during the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Bone said, “We’re in good shape physically, and the guys played well together as a group tonight. Going into Day 2, we’re in good shape.”

Washington St. was led by juniors Klay Thompson (28 points, 10/20 field goals) and Faisal Aden (20 points, 8/14 field goals). Thompson has been arguably the best player in the Pac-10. Averaging 21.7 points per game, he is the team’s primary ball handler and offensive catalyst.

Thompson has been efficient on the offensive end, shooting over 48 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range, and over 80 percent at the line. A first-team All-Pac-10 selection a year ago, Thompson is a Wooden Award preseason top-50 candidate.

Thompson is joined by Aden, a junior college transfer who averages 17.2 points per game. Combined, Thompson and Aden are the primary offensive weapons for the Cougars. They are so essential to the team’s success that at least one of the two is usually on the floor, and acts as either the primary option or as a playmaker.

Aden showed a quick first step and the ability to create his own shot against the Bulldogs. He was also efficient, hitting 8/14 shots, including 3/5 3-pointers.

Although Bone has a solid backcourt to rely on, he and the Cougars will face a tough task against the Baylor Bears. The Bears (8-1, No. 15 AP) have one of the best starting fives in college basketball with Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones, and Perry Jones in the frontcourt, and A.J. Walton and LaceDarius Dunn in the backcourt.

The Bears cruised to an 83-50 win against the San Diego Toreros (2-9) in their opening game of the Diamond Head Classic. Five players scored in double digits for Baylor; Anthony Jones led all scorers with 16 points.

“I love having balance like that. I think every game is different as far as tempo and how much you sub, but coaches always love when you have multiple guys in double figures,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “It
shows unselfish team play. Obviously, it’s hard to key on one guy when you have five guys scoring.”

Easily the team with the most size, athleticism, and talent in the tournament, Baylor was steamrolling its opponents until it met Gonzaga. The four-point loss on the road to the Bulldogs only a few days before the Hawaii trip actually helped the Bears prepare for San Diego.

“They [the Bulldogs] run some similar stuff [to the Toreros] to try to exploit. Playing Gonzaga, we found some areas we need to improve on, we found some weaknesses,” Drew said. “We know Washington St. is a great team. Gonzaga beat us, they blew out Gonzaga, so we know we have our hands full; we know what they’re capable of. They might be the best team in the Pac-10.”

Drew was grateful that the Bears took a direct flight from Texas. His team shopped, lounged on the beach and by the pool, went sightseeing, and really enjoyed the team banquet on Tuesday night.

However, freshman sensation Perry Jones said that jet lag still played a factor in the game. “I think we are [jet lagged],” Jones said. “A couple of us, we got on the floor, and we were kind of tired. We got to the benches and talked about it. The coaches said it’s because it’s so humid out there, just a different atmosphere.”

Jones shot 5/8 and finished with 11 points and six rebounds. If those numbers were from a sluggish Jones, the crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center on Thursday should be quite pleased with what they see from a fully rested Jones.

Tipoff between Washington St. and Baylor is set for 6:30pm EST, and will have a March-like game intensity as the two best teams in the tournament face off.

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