By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 23, 2008
DENVER, March 22 -- Kyle Weaver smiled constantly Saturday night, an odd countenance for a player who makes the game so maddening for his opponent. No matter what the Washington State guard did -- pass the ball, watch from the bench, argue with an official -- he grinned like someone who knows a secret and isn't telling.
By the time its clinical, 61-41 second-round victory over Notre Dame at Pepsi Center was complete, though, the secret about the team from Pullman, Wash., was out: If and when the fourth-seeded Cougars are eliminated from this NCAA tournament, they will not go gently. They turned Saturday's game into a two-hour root canal for Notre Dame with quiet confidence, letting their swaggering, roaring cheering section make noise for them.
Washington State dictated the pace to its horse-and-buggy liking and stymied fifth-seeded Notre Dame's stars, holding Big East player of the year Luke Harangody and first-team all-Big East guard Kyle McAlarney to 10 and 12 points, respectively, on combined 8-of-30 shooting. None of the other Fighting Irish had much luck, either, shooting 24.5 percent as a team.
The Cougars, led by 3 steals, 9 rebounds, 15 points and a blocked shot by Weaver, held Notre Dame (25-8) to half its season scoring average, a performance so thorough their opponents came away gushing.
"They could go all the way," McAlarney said. "The way they played us, it shows the rest of the country how good they are. We'll be rooting for them."
Washington State held Winthrop to 11 points in the second half while dispatching the Eagles by 31 points in the first round on Thursday, and it proved Saturday its defense could be just as stingy against an elite opponent. The Irish prefer a fast pace, and they raced down the floor. But, once they crossed midcourt, the Cougars awaited.
"You get back," forward Robbie Cowgill said. "That was the key. That frustrated them a little bit -- they wanted to play fast."
Washington State (26-8) does not harass opponents, but rather slows them down and smothers them with team defense. The Cougars stopped Notre Dame's prolific three-point shooters -- holding them to 3 of 17 from beyond the arc -- and still double-teamed Harangody when he received the ball.
"Our defense is a pack-orientated defense," center Caleb Forrest said. "We don't pressure out like a lot of people do, but we try to get as much pressure on the ball as we can. The only thing that can score is the ball."
Harangody, who averaged 20.8 points, made only 3 of 17 shots even though 270-pound Washington State center Aron Baynes sat for 12 minutes of the first half with two fouls.
"If we play like that every night," Weaver said, "we'll have a good chance to beat just about everybody."
Weaver leaned on his locker as he spoke, soaking in his school's first appearance in the round of 16 since 1941. Though the rest of the country had realized what the Cougars knew along, he was all smiles.
"He's a great player," Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie said. "Whether or not the nation knows it, we know it."