Call it the "Ben Wallace effect." A guy is given the "underrated" label for years. Then he makes a couple all-star teams, signs a max contract and all of the sudden he's a locker room cancer.
Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver aren't quite there yet. But you can stop calling them underrated now. Despite playing in the relative backwater of Pullman, it is safe to say that the Pac-10 has taken notice of the two Washington State seniors.
And for good reason.
Despite this weekend's struggles, the Cougars' recent rise to a conference contender illustrates the importance of experience, hustle and intangibles. No two players seem to exemplify their team better than the enigmatic Low and Weaver.
Each is unassuming at first. Low, the 6-2 guard from Hawaii, looks like one of my goofball high school friends, with his ponytail, goatee and tattoos. Weaver, at 6-6, 201 pounds, looks to be a point guard stuck in a forward's body.
Initial appearances, of course, can be deceiving. Low's game resembles another point guard from a West Coast school with funny hair (think Steve Nash without the assists). He makes up for his weaknesses in footspeed with nice lateral quickness and shakes; as any Cardinal knows after watching him elude defenders on the perimeter and get to the basket with ease Saturday night. His numbers (13.9 points, 39.9% shooting from beyond the arc) are nearly identical to last season, when he was an all Pac-10 first team selection.
Weaver's all-around game is tough not to like. He, too, is averaging close to last season's All-Pac-10 worthy numbers, with 11.9 points, five rebounds, and 4.2 assists. His most important stat, however, may be his wingspan. His impossibly long arms make him one of the toughest perimeter defenders in the nation, much less in the league. More than once I saw the Cardinal make an ill-advised attempt at an entry pass while Weaver was on the same side of the court. Bad idea. Weaver finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. A couple made free throws here, a lucky bounce or two there, and that's the win of the season for the Cougars.
The question, however, is not how underrated, overrated, or even how good Low and Weaver are. It's how good can the rest of their team can be without them?
Can the Cougars keep this up? Or will the graduation of Low and Waever man that the last couple years of Washington State relevance will be an aberration?
Much has been made of Washington State's system, its ability to win games by slowing the game down to a snail's pace and grinding the game out. But the successes of recent years have largely correlated with Low and Weaver and their rise to Pac-10 stardom. Indeed, while the Cougars are still grinding it out on defense, they're letting Low and Weaver do their thing on offense. Their ability to run the isolation and penetrate to the hoop will not easily be replaced.
I hear that they've got a reasonably well-rated batch of recruits next season coming in to Washington State. That's all well and good. But remember, these are the same recruiting ratings that didn't think much of Low or Weaver. So, you never know...
I'm leading with this segment, and how could I not? Stanford is ranked #9 in both polls, its highest mark since 2003, back when I was just a gleaming application in then-Dean of Admissions Robin Mamlet's eye. What more can I say? The team is playing great, and can play even better. Anthony Goods can get healthy. Lawrence Hill can get more consistent. The whole team can start making free throws. It's not so far fetched to envision a scenario where the Card wins out at home and splits on the road, to have a 23-5 record going into the Pac-10 tournament. There, if Stanford can hang on to the #2 seed, they could make some noise as well. And that's a conservative estimate…
Overheard in the 6th Man
I wasn't there, but The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Brook, immediately after the buzzer sounded and Taylor Rochestie's layup rolled off the rim, stood in front of the Cougar student section and flexed his muscles. Now, some may decry the move as a Ron Artest-like show of immature gloating, but I liked it. Despite being fouled on nearly every possession in the post, Brook kept his composure during the game—a sign of how much he has matured since last season. Not to mention the fact that, according to some of the players, the Wazzu Fans (who showed up hours early, but there was a blizzard and what else are you going to do in Pullman?) had been speaking ill of his momma…
Band Aid, part two
Turns out that The Stanford Band's playing over the start of the Star Spangled Banner in Berkeley the other week was all a big mix-up. Scott Bland, women's basketball writer for The Daily and public relations manager for The Band, wrote me last week to give me the full story. It was, as Bland said, a "complete and total accident."
"It is actually impossible to hear the PA system from the top of Haas, even without instruments playing," Bland said. "Add in the fact that our manager was facing us to conduct and we were playing with our instruments pointed up, and we just didn't notice until someone happened to glance waaaay down at the court and cut us off."
Stanford fans, rest assured that the Band is just as patriotic as the rest of us. And a lesson to the Berkeley powers that be—putting the Band way up in the rafters has its price…
Flyin' Ryan's silver lining
Speaking of Cal, sophomore forward Ryan Anderson's monster weekend for the Golden Bears denied Brook Lopez and the Cardinal a shot at their first Pac-10 player of the week honors of the season. It's hard to deny Anderson's success, given his averages of 30 points and 13 rebounds, along with 20-of-32 shooting from the field and a perfect 11-for-11 at the free throw line, over the weekend. Cal's sweep of the Washington schools is arguably more impressive than Stanford's, too, considering that they entered the weekend ninth in the Pac-10 and having lost five of their last six.
Still, there's a silver lining to Anderson's recent surge—it reflects well on the Stanford defense. Anderson managed only 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting in Stanford's 82-77 win in Berkeley earlier this month, and much of the credit goes to the Cardinal, especially Robin Lopez, for shutting him down. All eyes will be on the big men next time the teams face off Feb. 24...
Well before the Cal rematch, next for the Cardinal is a homestand against the Oregon schools. Revenge will be sought against the Ducks, who eked out a 71-66 win at home over the Cardinal last month. This time, however, home court advantage will be on Stanford's side. MacArthur Court may well be the toughest place to win in the Pac-10, but Stanford's winning streak means that the success will be back on the minds of the students. Here's hoping that translates to a good turnout.
On the court, playing at home often translates to a better chance at controlling the tempo. That's particularly important against the Ducks, who prefer the run-and-gun to Stanford's pounding the ball inside. If the Cardinal can keep the pace slow and relentlessly pound the ball inside to Brook and Robin, they should be fine. A solid shooting night from Goods (who should be back, and always seems to play better at home) and/or Hill would secure the win for Stanford.
Saturday brings Oregon State, a team currently mired in controversy and chaos. Head coach Jay John and big man CJ Giles have both been dismissed from the team, which has lost 11 straight games. No Pac-10 coach will say on the record that there's an easy win in the conference, but Oregon State at home is the closest thing to a gimmie as there is…
Patrick Fitzgerald covers men's basketball as well as the occasional news story for The Stanford Daily. Have some dirt on an opposing player or a good idea for a 6th Man chant? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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