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USC BASKETBALL

Washington State's Klay Thompson presents a challenge to Trojans

Cougars guard is always ready to shoot the ball . . . and score.

January 21, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

Washington State's Klay Thompson is go for launch, any time, anywhere. Give him the ball, and expect a shot, no matter the score, the time, the situation or where he's at on the court.

"He's got a complete green light," USC Coach Kevin O'Neill said.

Thompson shoots 16.3 times per game, tops in the Pacific 10 Conference, but 7.4 of those go in, making him the league's top scorer (22.9).

His fire-away game plan seems to be working for the Cougars (13-5 overall, 3-3 in conference play), but it makes guarding him a chore.

"He really moves well without the ball and he knows how to get to the basket and create his own shot," USC guard Dwight Lewis said."It'll be a tough guard."

In tonight's game, Lewis is one of three Trojans who will likely match up with Thompson, a 6-foot-6 guard Arizona State Coach Herb Sendek said has a "tremendous ability to counter" whatever opposing defenses throw at him.

"He has size, so a lot of the times, even when you're right there, he has the ability to get the shot up over you," Sendek said.

Thompson, who is tied for fifth in scoring in the nation, has scored in single digits only twice this season, most recently when he put up seven points in a Washington State loss to Arizona State.

Sendek's team is tied with USC for the nation's top scoring defense (54.7), but he didn't offer any tips on how to slow Thompson.

O'Neill said USC has to watch Thompson early in the clock, learn his tendencies and not let him convert set plays.

"He's going to get some points," O'Neill said. "We're not going to shut him out."

European import

Nikola Vucevic didn't know what it meant to play hard until he got to USC.

"Overseas, we don't play as hard as here," said the Montenegro native. "I would play here, like hard, and I would go back over there and they'd think I was LeBron James."

At 6-10, Vucevic would rather be known as Dirk Nowitzki, particularly when it comes to outside shooting, which the sophomore has worked on for months.

"I know I can't be like that, but I can try to do what he does because he's basically unstoppable when he does that," Vucevic said.

Against UCLA, Vucevic seemed Nowitzki-esqe, matching his career high with 19 points on mostly outside shots.

"I was really happy I could show people that I could shoot and that I have an outside game," said Vucevic, who leads the league in rebounding (9.2).

But he admits most of his shots came without much pressure from the defense.

"I guess they didn't think I could shoot," he said. "I was inconsistent, so if I was the coach I would probably do the same."

Said Lewis: "He can shoot as many as he wants as long as he makes them."

Vucevic expects more pressure now, but that will also open up the middle for USC.

Etc.

Tonight's game will be USC's first at home since the postseason ban was announced Jan. 3.

O'Neill said he doesn't know what kind of crowd to expect, but when asked if he thought the crowd would support the team even more, considering it is facing a situation O'Neill has called "unfair," the coach said, "I would hope."

He added: "I think our team deserves it and I think our team would respond."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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