HOOPS: Cougs' Pan-Am story is bittersweet

WASHINGTON STATE's Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver earned a pair of spots on the Pan American Games team, the most of any school, following a highly competitive tryouts process. Alas, despite Low's contributions the last three games, the USA fell short. For the crimson seniors-to-be, however, the additional International experience should pay dividends when Cougar Hoops tips off in November.

Washington State in 2007-08 will return just about everyone from last year's 26-8 ride that saw the Cougs take sole second place in the Pac-10 and earn a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. Of those who saw meaningful minutes in '06-'07, only graduated senior Ivory Clark departs.

Two of the biggest cogs, Low and Weaver, completed their 5-game, Pan Am sojourn on Sunday.

The Cougs' Kyle Weaver starts for the USA, scoring four points with two boards, an assist and a steal. Low, however, does not get into the game. Defense is not the USA's strongsuit in the second half -- they allow Uruguay's Esteban Batista and Nicolas Mazzarino to combine for 45 total points and Team USA takes one on the chin in an 81-72 loss. Thursday's tilt against Panama is a must-win if the USA is to have any hope of playing for the Gold.

Washington State's Derrick Low again sees precious little court time, logging just over 1 minute. Weaver starts for the USA, grabbing seven rebounds and adding an assist, but fails to score in 27 minutes. The USA drops a 75-67 decision to Panama. The game is never in doubt, the closest the United States can manage is seven points over the last seven minutes, despite Panama going 1-for-7 from the foul line in the final 1:18. Dreams of standing on the gold metal platform are dead, and the best the USA can likely do is to finish fifth and that would require them winning all their remaining games.

Low, in his first real action of the Games, heats up like a microwave. In knocking off undefeated Argentina, 74-71, Low connects for 13 points in 28 minutes on 5-for-7 shooting -- including a 3-for-4 mark from beyond the 3-point arc. Low starts for the first time, while Weaver, who starting the previous two contests, sits this one out. Low helps key an early 10-2 run to open the game, the United States builds up a 10-point lead with three minutes to go in the third, and holds on at the last to turn back a spirited run by the Argentines.

Low scores 14 points and Weaver chips in another 4 as the United States defeats the U.S. Virgin Islands, 84-58. While Low tallies his second straight double-digit point total in as many games, Weaver comes off the bench for four points, a rebound and two assists in just over six minutes of action. The Americans now face Panama, whom they fell to 75-67 in Game 2, for 5th place.

Low's 16 points leads the United States team in a thrill ride of a game. The Americans claim a 77-74 victory over Panama and take 5th place in the Pan Am Games. It is the third-straight win for the USA, with Low starting all three games after playing a little over a minute in the USA's first two contests combined. Weaver does not play. The back-and-forth battle sees 12 lead changes and four ties, and the USA trails at points in the first and second halves by 11. Trailing 56-45 with under five minutes to go in the third, Low adds six points during a 15-0 USA run that spans the third and fourth quarters. The USA seizes a 60-56 lead. With three minutes left in the game, however, Panama reclaims the advantage but Low answers with a deuce on the ensuing possession. With 1:30 remaining in the game, Panama takes the lead again but Low this time answers with a pair of buckets to give the United States a 3-point edge that Panama cannot overcome. The Americans' fifth-place finish is just the third time in 15 Pan American Games the United States does not medal. Game 1 opponent Uruguay takes the bronze over the USA's Game 3 opponent, Argentina. Brazil defeats Puerto Rico in the gold metal game.

The Cougs are racking up lots of International experience this offseason. Washington State earlier this summer traveled Down Under for a 6-game exhibition tour through New Zealand and Australia. Next month, center Aron Baynes and guard Thomas Abercrombie will represent their native countries at the World University Games, held August 7-18 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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