Cowgill Country vs. Green Acres?

VENTURE INSIDE THE ARC against Washington State at your peril. Cross that line of demarcation and a flurry of crimson-clad defenders collapse upon you, looking to steal the ball or put a block in your face. On Thursday, the Cougs will face one of the nation's top inside scorers in Oral Roberts senior Caleb Green. Something will have to give. And WSU's Robbie Cowgill could be key to how it unfolds.

Which Cougar goes man-up on Green (20.3 ppg) probably won't be revealed until Thursday at around 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time when the Cougs face off against Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Cowgill earlier this week in the Seattle P-I praised ORU and Green, saying they can fill up the hoop with the best of them. He added of Green, "I hope I get to face him."

It's not bravado or gamesmanship talking, just a desire to play against the best. And how Washington State plays Green on defense promises to go a long ways toward determining the game's outcome.

The paint against WSU this year has been where post-up points mostly go to die. There have been exceptions, however.

The most notable was against Washington on Valentine's Day, when the Cougs were torched for 37 combined points by the Huskies' twin cupids, Spencer Hawes (22 points) and Jon Brockman (15). WSU won 65-61, but it had the crimson faithful concerned about the third WSU-UW matchup of the season in the Pac-10 tourney last Friday.

With Cowgill primarily guarding Hawes, the lauded freshman 7-foot center didn't score his fourth point until 2:43 left in the game. He ended with six, and played only 22 minutes after Cowgill induced him into foul trouble early.

Cowgill has blocked 26 shots this season, raising his career total to 86 -- eighth all-time in the WSU record book. Ivory Clark (77 in only two years) and Kyle Weaver (68) sit at Nos. 10 and 11, respectively.

Cowgill, a 6-10, 210-pound junior from Austin, Texas, is also second on the team behind Weaver in drawing charging fouls.

But Cowgill has also seen his share of foul trouble this year, albeit the majority of that trouble coming in the first half of the season.

Still, it would appear more than likely Green and the Golden Eagles will go right at Cowgill and his post comrades, 6-10 Aron Baynes, 6-6 Ivory Clark and 6-7 Daven Harmeling.

The national gurus have noted this week that Green is excellent at finding the open man out of the double team and guard Ken "King" Tutt can kill teams from the outside. So the Cougs would appear to have their hands full.

Indeed, it seems to have become fashionable for many national media types to pick this game for one of the patented first-round tourney shockers. The Cougars, a three seed, are a 6 1/2 point favorite over the 14th-seeded Golden Eagles. But the pundit crowd has been targeting this one as an upset special since Sunday.

Then again, Oral Roberts probably hasn't seen a defense like Washington State's this year.

The Cougs have recorded a program-best 143 blocks this season, and 20 of those have come against opponents shooting beyond the arc. They are No. 15 in the nation in scoring defense. The NCAA doesn't keep statistics on "turnovers forced" but Washington State would be high on the list and Oral Roberts rates 215 out of 325 teams in turnovers allowed, at 15.2 per game. The Cougs, on the other hand, are third in the nation in turnovers, with 10.2 miscues a game.

Pac-10 teams have also had a few years to figure out how to play Washington State and even then, most looked lost the first time around this season against first-year coach Tony Bennett's new wrinkles.

The second time around in league play, there weren't as many surprises. But in the NCAA tourney, as they say, it's one and done.

NOTABLE NOTES:

At least two popular Seattle pubs are looking to fill up with Cougar fans tomorrow. The Village Pub in Magnolia is a legendary Cougar hangout, complete with tons of WSU memorabilia on the walls. In addition, KJR's Ian Furness, a proud Cougar alum, will be at Sport Restaurant and Bar in Lower Queen Anne on Thursday for a March Madness party with prizes.

Thursday's first round game between Washington State and Oral Roberts has been moved up 10 minutes and is now scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. PT, it was announced this afternoon by the NCAA.


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