Top 10 Cougar Plays: #3

February 9th: Kyle Weaver crosses over O.J. Mayo

video courtesy BHarmon1975 on YouTube

Game Recap

O.J. Mayo went from being the most overrated player in the country to one of the most underrated in a matter of months. ESPN is to blame – they likened him to the next LeBron on “E:60” and made 2007-08 into “the year of the freshman” when there were so many great players that weren’t (Tyler Hansbrough, Kyle Weaver, Mario Chalmers, among others). By the time people were frustrated that O.J. wans’t putting up 40 points per game, they seemed to forget just how good of a player he is, and will be in the pros.

Of course that’s what makes this play so fun to watch. That, and the fact that team (WSU) not only beat the talent (USC) this season, but beat the living tar out of them. Twice. And Tim Floyd hates the trip to Pullman. A year after getting into it with Tony on the sidelines (one of my favorite moments of last season), Floyd went ahead and got himself ejected from this game after an admittedly bad no-call that favored Kyle Weaver.

Anyway, at least we have some ammunition against the legion of USC football fans. If they talk down to us about football, we can counter with basketball. Just be a little more cautious around Tim Floyd, who will probably up the ante again by physically assaulting Butch during the 2009 visit to Pullman.

But I’m getting off topic. To summarize this play in four words: Kyle Weaver is awesome.

Regarding the blog, posting will be a little slow this week (finals week), but I hope to get another Cougfan article out by the weekend, and I’ll post if any big news happens or if I need to take my mind off of pharmacotherapy for a few minutes. Enjoy the week, everyone.

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Top 10 Cougar Plays: #6

February 7: Kyle Weaver does this:

Video courtesy of WSUCougarHoops on YouTube

What amazes me about Kyle Weaver is his ability to make seemingly impossible plays look pedestrian. Weaver’s game is so fluid, so cool, he lulls you to sleep before making a NBA-caliber offensive or defensive play.

There is only one concern I have about Kyle Weaver’s future in the NBA: He might end up playing for Clay Bennett. Thanks to the Sonics acquisition of a 2008 first-round pick from Phoenix, Seattle (or should I say the Oklahoma City Bandits) will be have a late first-round draft pick. Exactly where Kyle Weaver is projected to be drafted.

I can guarantee you I will be an instant fan of any team that drafts Weaver. I’m a Blazers fan, but I’m more than willing to pick up a second squad to root for in a league that I am becoming increasingly disinterested in (thanks, David Stern!). Weaver in the NBA, however, makes me excited about the association. Here’s the Cougar version of Brandon Roy, a player than can do everything well, getting a chance to contribute on the largest stage. And he’ll have success – his defense alone makes him a valuable pickup for the NBA team that wants him.

So – anyone but the Sonics, draft Kyle. You won’t regret it.

The Spring Signing period has begun, and there’s no news to report – yet. Don’t expect Paul McCoy to be the next Cougar signee as WSU was outside of his top three at last notice. It is possible that WSU is waiting for Ferris star DeAngelo Casto to clear academic hurdles. It is also possible that WSU could go in a completely different direction by finding a new recruit or awarding the remaining scholarship to returning Cougar Charlie Enquist. Only Tony and the staff know where they are leaning at this point. It’s something definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #8

January 26: Kyle Weaver snuffs out James Harden’s attempt at a game winning drive to the basket.

Game Recap

It was deja vu all over again.

Game Recap – February 3, 2007

Without a doubt, the two most excruciating wins of the past two years have both been by 1 point at Arizona State. In 2007, the Cougs scored a total of 12 points in the second half; nearly blowing a halftime advantage of the same amount. A failed inbounds pass gave ASU a wide open look for three at the end of the game. They missed, and the Cougs survived.

One year later, the Cougars failed to score anything in the final 3:11 of the game, nearly blowing a 10 point lead with just over 8 minutes remaining. James Harden drove to the basket with 42 seconds left. Kyle Weaver, in an eerily similar way to how he defended Brandon Roy in the final seconds at Hec Ed in 2006, took the charge. After a missed shot by Rochestie, Harden drove to the rim one more time. He may have been fouled. He probably was fouled. But Weaver stopped him from getting to the hoop. The shot never fell, and the Cougs survived.

Read the rest of this entry »

Stadium Way’s End of the Season Awards

Time to take a break from all this Bennett rumor madness and reflect on a great season that is suddenly behind us. Here now, are Stadium Way’s first annual End of the Season Awards for basketball.

Player of the Year: Kyle Weaver, G – I’ve never seen any Cougar player in any sport do as many things well as Kyle Weaver. 12.2 points per game (19th in the Pac-10). 5.1 rebounds per game (17th Pac-10 and higher than Robbie Cowgill). 4.3 assists per game (5th Pac-10). 1.7 steals per game (4th Pac-10). 8th in conference assist-to-turnover ratio. He shot 46.3% from the floor. His only weakness, according to some people, was three-point shooting (he shot 23.7% in 2006-07). This year, he improved on that by shooting 36.4% all while taking 28 more attempts and making threes in big games and big situations. Oh yeah, it’s also worth noting that he’s a NBA-caliber defender (more on that later). There won’t ever be another Kyle Weaver, and it will be tough to see him go. If there was one player from this squad whose jersey might deserve to be retired, it’s Kyle’s. The good news is that we can still watch Kyle continue his career next year as a member of the NBA. NBADraft.net projects Kyle at #24 to San Antonio (which would be a near-perfect fit for him), but I think he has lottery-pick talent.

Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Low, G. It’s hard to deny Taylor Rochestie and his 4.7 assists per game this award, but I have a feeling he will be a sure thing for it next year. Low deserves it this year – his team high 14.1 points per game is good for 12th in the conference. I know, 14.1 doesn’t sound like much, but when you play on one of the 10 slowest college teams in the nation, that number becomes a lot more impressive. Low was also third in the conference in made threes – led by only Ryan Appleby (UW’s all-time leader) and some guy named O.J. Mayo.

Low also has a hidden talent – he’s a great shooter inside the arc. Low made 74 of 145 attempts from 2-point range, good for a 51.0% clip. 50% is a very good percentage for a low post player (Baynes shoots 60%). Derrick does it from the guard position, all while being part of a three guard attack that helped the Cougs lead the conference in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. If you don’t believe me about Low’s talent, just ask Alabama coach Mark Gottfried:

“Derrick Low is one of the most underrated players in the nation. Period. He is really, really, really good,” said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried…. “I’m saying he’s really good. If he ends up having a career in the NBA like [John] Stockton or [Steve] Nash, it would not shock me. He’s that good.” (ESPN)

Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Weaver, G – An obvious selection here, but let’s not understate how good he was. He finished fourth in the conference in steals (1.7 SPG) and shut down any number of good players. Not just good players, but players who can attack multiple ways. OJ Mayo (6 for 15 on 2/9), Ryan Appleby (2 for 8 on 1/5), Matt Bouldin (0 for 9), and a host of other players who he limited with his play on the defensive end. It was fitting when the one word chosen by Cowgill and Low to describe Weaver was “cool”. He made great defense and offense look so effortless, and so……well, cool.

Newcomer of the Year: Stephen Sauls, G – This award goes to the best incoming freshman or transfer player. Sauls could almost earn this award just by the effort he has shown in trying to make a recovery from a scary injury in January. Sauls was knocked unconscious by an inadvertent elbow to the head and had CPR started on him before regaining consciousness. He still experiences headaches on a daily basis, according to the coaches, and in all likelihood will be unable to return to Wazzu to continue his career. It’s a shame as Sauls showed great promise as an offensive and defensive player. Sauls shot 54% in only eight games this season, and seemed like a perfect fit to replace outgoing transfers Mac Hopson and Chris Matthews. Let’s hope he gets back to good health soon, and has an opportunity to continue playing ball, regardless of the school he ends up at.

Tremendous Upside Potential Award: Abe Lodwick, G – This kid is going to be fun to watch. We didn’t see Lodwick on the court during a game this season as Tony preferred to redshirt the freshman from Bend, Oregon. Nevertheless, if you were able to look in on a practice or watch warm-ups before the game you know that Lodwick can flat out shoot. His form is near perfect and his 6’7″ height will make him difficult to defend for smaller guards and forwards (like Daven Harmeling is now). If he can get to the defensive level of our current guards he’s going to be a mainstay of future Cougar lineups.

Breakout Player of the Year: Taylor Rochestie, G – Ok, let’s be honest. We always knew Taylor would be good. What we didn’t know is just how good: A ridiculous 43% 3-point shooter this year, Rochestie added 10.4 points per game to his 4.7 assists per game (2nd in the Pac-10; he led this category for much of the year). He is horrifically efficient; leading the Pac-10 with a 2.8 assist/turnover ratio, and is always looking to involve others first. He perfomed best when it mattered most with a season-high 10 assists against Winthrop. He can also take over the game offensively, like he did with a 24 point performance during a surprising cold night for the other Cougars against Oregon State. He also wants the ball with the game on the line. He’s the kind of player Wazzu desperately needed under Dick Bennett when turnovers and missed shots cost the Cougs far too many close games. Oh yeah, there’s also that whole thing about giving up his scholarship to help the team next season. I think it’s safe to say #10 replica jerseys will fly off the shelf next fall.

Player you Should be Excited About for Next Year: Aron Baynes, C – Let’s see: 60% shooting? Check. Dominating low-post scoring and rebounding presence? Check. Playing in a Pac-10 without the Lopez twins? Check. Yoga lessons? Check. Awesomeness? Intensity? Rugby Experience? Check, check and check. If he stays out of foul trouble and secures the ball in those big hands, he’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch for one more year. Just look at that performance against North Carolina and first-team all-American Tyler Hansbrough. Or the fact he almost averaged a double-double in the tournament (13.0 PPG, 9.0 RPG).

Sixth Man Award: Daven Harmeling, F – Daven Harmeling has many of the qualities you want in a starting forward: good shooting, height, rebounding, defense, and the ability to have a big night on offense. The fact that he only started one game speaks volumes about how talented this year’s Coguar team was. Harmeling’s numbers were actually down a bit in 07-08 but you have to take into consideration the two freak injuries that sidelined Daven for some games this season. First, he broke his right thumb in practice in December. Then, he sprained an ankle, again in practice, which really shortened the Cougar bench in the final weeks of the season. Maybe we should just apply Allen Iverson’s theory of practice to Harmeling.

But few players recover from injuries like Harmeling has. A dislocated shoulder suffered in the first game of the 2005-06 season caused him to miss the entire year and receive a medical redshirt. Harmeling responded by shooting threes in practice and pre-game warmups. One-handed. And that suddenly perfected one-handed form led to Daven becoming a force from behind the arc – shooting 43% from long range the next year. This year, it was the cast on Daven’s wrist that acutally helped him find his stroke again, to the tune of a season-high 19 points in an impressive win over USC. Harmeling is a perpetual x-factor: a solid player who can burn you from out of nowhere. Just ask the three opponents he took for 20 or more points last year: Gonzaga, Arizona, and Cal. His injuries this year have slowed him and it’s a shame: he only averaged close to 12 minutes per game in the tournament. But he’s still a phenomenal player. And we’re lucky that because of an injury he returns next year.

Author’s note: Edited on 4/1/08 to include the sixth man award.

71-40

Let me address the Winthrop fans first, as I’m sure they’re upset with the loss despite another conference championship season for their Eagles:

That was the best half Washington State has played all season. This is a team, mind you, that has been ranked as high as #4 in the nation. Keep your heads up, Winthrop. You’ll be back.

Winthrop was held scoreless for the first 6:40 of the second half.

The Cougars held Winthrop to five points in the first 17:08 of the second half. I’m going to repeat that, only this time I will italicize certain parts of the sentence to emphasize just how mind-blowing that statistic is.

Washington State held Winthrop to five points in the first 17:08 of the second half.

Aron Baynes was phenomenal: 9 of 9 shooting, 19 points, 8 rebounds. Big men are so often the difference in games between teams from power conferences and mid-major let’s say “non-power” conferences. Last year it was Ivory Clark. This year it was Aron Baynes. Enjoy it, big guy.

Even the officiating was good: Well, for the most part. Winthrop got a bad deal on that foul where Weaver jumped into the defender as time expired on the shot clock (I hate when they call those). And Weaver’s “flagrant foul” was an absolute joke. He got caught in the air – what else was he going to do – shove Taj McCollough out of the way into a bed of fluffy pillows nearby? Was it a bad foul in terms of playing fundamental basketball? Yes. Was it a flagrant? Of course not.

Whoops – I got so caught up in the bad calls that I forgot to make my point, which was that officiating overall was very good. They let the players play. No one on either team had more than 3 personal fouls. In a game with so much on the line and one group of seniors guaranteed to be playing their last game, that’s how it should be done. Let some contact go, especially under the basket, and call the obvious stuff. There was one point in the first half where I said, “if this was the Pac-10, Baynes would already have 2 fouls”. Perhaps I’m a little bitter about how the conference season was officiated.

I really can’t say enough about that effort. Four Cougar starters scored in double figures, and the one who didn’t had 10 assists. That’s incredible team basketball. Even Caleb Forrest had six off the bench in his homecoming. The only bad news I can find is that Daven Harmeling and Nikola Koprivica still appear to be somewhat limited by their injuries. Harmeling had 0 points in 13 minutes; but he did have 3 assists.

What happened to Winthrop in the second half? Two things: the Cougar defense was stellar and adjusted to prevent McCollough from getting good position near or under the basket. He took way too many jumpers in the second half. The perimeter defense on Gaynor improved, and Michael Jenkins got absolutely shut down in both halves. Kyle Weaver played one of the best games of his career on both sides of the ball. On offense, they made the adjustments necessary to free up Low and then get Baynes and Cowgill the ball off of penetration. Low played an exceptional second half, with 11 on offense and much better defense. Winthrop did hurt itself with turnovers, and especially hurt their cause by missing two open jumpers to start the second half. But the Cougar defense was just too powerful in this one. Like I said, the best half of basketball this team has played all season.

The Triforce

Deadspin, one of my favorite sports blogs, has been serving up tournament game previews all week, and their Washington State vs. Winthrop preview is a sample of their knowledgeable writing and the sometimes smart-aleck attitude that make Deadspin a good read. It is also easy to tell that actual time and research went into discussing the tournament teams; too often an ESPN discussion of the tourney bracket goes something like this:

Analyst A: I like Washington State because of Derrick Low and the fact that they are a very tough style of basketball to play against.

Analyst B: Good point; but I love Notre Dame to make the Sweet 16 because of Luke Harangody. I think they’ll get it done.

This exchange is followed by no mention of a Top-25 Washington State team or its players for the next 55 minutes. In fact, if you asked Digger Phelps to name the Cougars’ starting five I guarantee you he couldn’t do it off the top of his head.

So, out of the backlash against ESPN and their strange practice of force-feeding the nation the same sports discussion topics over and over again comes Deadspin. Brian Tesch writes the Cougar summary; I have no idea if he is connected to WSU or is just an outsider looking in. Either way, he has coined the nickname “The Triforce” for Robbie Cowgill, Derrick Low, and Kyle Weaver. This is an absolutely awesome idea.

So why am I angry?

Well, two reasons. One, I didn’t come up with it. Two, we only get to use it for at the most a couple more weeks, and then Robbie, Derrick and Kyle ride off into the sunset. If only we had the chance to give this nickname the one or two good years it deserved. I still plan on using it beyond the tournament, however, and you should too. It’s just that it won’t get the recognition it should now that it’s been discovered too late.