Vandy poses tough match for Cougs

WASHINGTON STATE FANS ONLY have a day to relish their team's first NCAA tournament win in 24 years before the Cougs tip off Saturday afternoon in round two against Vanderbilt. Vandy bombs away early and often from beyond the arc, while the Cougars have won a school-record-tying 26 games with transition-snuffing defense and patient offense. WSU and Vandy do share one trait: Proving doubters wrong.

If it weren't for Rodney Dangerfield, there would be no truly appropriate metaphors for either the Cougars or Commordores. WSU, a No. 3 seed, was targeted by pundits from New York to New Mexico as prime fodder for a first-round upset. They beat Oral Roberts 70-54. Vanderbilt, a No. 6 seed who stomped George Washington 77-44 on Thursday, was similarly poo-pooed as being seeded too high -- despite a 20-win regular season that included a 13-point victory last month over mighty Florida.

A Nashville paper quoted ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb as saying the Commodores are "fraudulent" as a six seed. Some of his ire may have stemmed from the fact the Commodores lost back-to-back games to Arkansas, also a tourney team, in the regular-season finale and then the SEC tournament. Head coach Kevin Stallings has said his players "feel like people have doubted them all season long -- they feel like people generally don't respect us."

A similar refrane came out of WSU's lockerroom after the Cougars' rout of ORU. Asked about all the Cougars' doubters, junior forward Robbie Cowgill was succinct: "They can say what they want to say. We'll continue to do what we do. We can compete with anyone no matter who we go against."

Vandy scored 36 of their 77 against G.W. from beyond the arc, hitting 12 of 31 three-point attempts. For the season, they took 758 three pointers and made 286 (37.7 percent). For perspective on how often the 'Dores like put it up from way out, consider that the Cougars took 263 fewer three-point shots this season than Vanderbilt -- and the Cougs aren't considered bashful when it comes to going deep. Derrick Byars (the SEC Player of the Year), Shan Foster and Dan Cage are Vandy's big bombers, with Cage shooting a glossy 45 percent from downtown.

The 6-7 Byars is the team's leading scorer (16.8 per game) and Foster, who is 6-6, averages 15.4. Cage averages 11.2 per game and point guard Alex Gordon, who is a master of ball care and a solid three-pointer shooter himself, averages 7.2. Six-foot-nine forward Ross Neltner averages 9.2 per game. Their biggest man in the post is 6-11 Ted Skuchas, who mostly is there for rebounding and defense, and averages 15 minutes of floor time per game.

For Washington State, the key to the game is pretty clear: Defend the perimeter without allowing backdoor cutters. It won't be easy, because most of Vandy's top eight players are facile outside shooters and paint penetrators tailored well to Stallings' motion offense and solid man-to-man defense.

Given the success two excellent three-point shooting teams -- USC and Oregon -- had recently against the Cougars, the crimson faithful might have an uneasy sleep Friday night.

Game time Saturday is 2:40 pm Pacific Time. Oddsmakers have installed the Cougs as 2-point favorites.


* The 'Dores are making their first tourney appearance since 2004 and ninth in school history. They've advanced to the Sweet Sixteen three times -- in 2004, 1993 and 1988. This year they were 20-11 in the regular season with a 10-6 mark in SEC play. They defeated six teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 during the regular season.

* Vandy's rout of George Washington was particularly impressive in light of the fact G.W. came into the tourney on an eight-game winning streak, holding opponents to 35 percent field goal accuracy.

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