Weaver making most of starting opportunity

PULLMAN -- It is no secret why <b>Kyle Weaver</b> is the starting point guard for the Washington State men's basketball team. The freshman from Beloit High School in Wisconsin, is starting because WSU's expected starter, <b>Derrick Low</b>, is injured. Weaver is a fill-in; a temporary solution to an immediate problem. Call him The Reluctantly Chosen One. And no one, from WSU coach Dick Bennett to Weaver himself, denies this.

So earlier this week, when Idaho fans rained chants of "Derrick Low" on him every time he touched the ball, Weaver was far from losing his cool and going into Ron Artest Mode in Moscow.

Low, WSU's highly-touted freshman, was pretty much a lock to start as soon as he agreed to come to Pullman from his native Hawaii. But when Low broke his right foot in the season's third practice, Weaver surprisingly beat out another freshman, Josh Akognon,for the job of replacing Low, who will be out until at least Christmas-time. Weaver, 6-foot-5, was a small forward/shooting guard in high school.

So far Weaver has started three of WSU's four games, playing nearly 25 minutes per game and averaging 6.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and a team-high 3.25 assists.

Weaver said the Idaho crowd's chants didn't bother him, but who really knows. If performance was any indication, you could say the whole Cougars team was bothered by something in Moscow. Despite the 37-36 win, the Cougars (3-1) shot only 26 percent from the field. Weaver contributed seven points, five rebounds, three assists and two turnovers.

He also had a hand in the game's most important play. With 1.2 seconds left, Weaver, positioned under the basket, hit a wide-open Jeff Varem with a pass that led to Varem's game-winning dunk.

"It was a last-minute thing," Weaver said, explaining that he thought a five-second violation was imminent. "I felt like I had the ball forever, but Jeff came open, I got it to him and he just put it down."

Bennett said Weaver has been doing "okay" filling in for Low, but you don't even need to ask the coach to know that as soon as Low is ready to go, Weaver is headed back to the bench. Low was medically cleared to practice Thursday.

In the meantime, Weaver is the man. But he will actually come off the bench when WSU plays at No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday. Bennett said he'd prefer that the freshman watch and get a feel for the game rather than throw an 18-year-old into the fire that is the Cowboys. Oklahoma State (4-0) made the Final Four last year and boast one of the country's best point guards, John Lucas III. Junior Randy Green will start in Weaver's place, but Bennett said the man primarily bringing the ball up the court will be none other than Varem, a power forward. Bennett said he has seen a matchup that leads him to believe the best way for WSU to get into their offense is for Varem to initiate the offense.

Weaver will still play, but Bennett said he's worried about his ability to keep up with the OK State guards. And whether Weaver will be in the starting lineup when WSU plays Gonzaga next Tuesday remains to be seen, for the same reasons Bennett mentioned. The Bulldogs are another team who could intimidate a youngster, although the Cougars will be playing at home on that night.

"I'm just here to do whatever," Weaver said about his role on the team. "(Oklahoma State) is the best of the best. Maybe it will be good for me to start the game on the bench and work off of what I'm watching.

"Coach talked to us about staying hungry," he added. "Whether I'm starting or not, I'm just trying to play hard."

* Bennett said Saturday's game is good for the Cougars despite the obvious mismatch. "You find out pretty quickly where you are against teams like this," Bennett said. "We're trying to improve the program and show our players what it takes to get there."

* In building toward that improvement, WSU has agreed to play a number of quality opponents on the road. At the end of this season, the Cougars will have played 20 home games versus 36 road or neutral site games under Bennett.

* According to Bennett, the worst part of the Idaho game was that the Cougars were really trying to score. "You see the score and people assume we held the ball," he said. "I don't know how far back we set the game of basketball."

* Chris Henry, out with an ankle injury, was also cleared to practice Thursday.

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