COMMENTARY: Could Daven be tourney X-factor?

LOS ANGELES -- According to the Stanford men's basketball media guide, Brook Lopez says his most memorable athletic accomplishment is "winning the Buchanan/Clovis West Tournament and basketball districts in sixth grade."

Lopez might want to update that part of his profile. He could start with his epic performance Friday night at the Staples Center, an utterly dominant showing that made certain Washington State's conference title drought would be extended to 67 years.

Lopez pounded the ball inside, pounded the glass and, last but not least, pounded every defender who dared cross his path. The 7-foot, 260-pound sophomore is just biding time until he makes millions in the NBA, and he certainly looked like a million bucks in Stanford's 75-68 victory in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament.

Lopez led everyone in the building with 30 points and 12 rebounds. He combined with twin brother Robin, Stanford's other starting post player, to thump WSU starting posts Aron Baynes and Robbie Cowgill 39-2 in points and 20-5 in rebounds.

Robin is good and getting better, but Brook is great and getting greater. Brook glides about the court as effortlessly as men half a foot smaller and 50 pounds lighter, and Cowgill simply isn't strong enough and Baynes simply isn't quick enough to do much about it.

"With Brook," Cowgill said in a tone of resignation, "if he gets it down low, there's absolutely nothing you can do."

The 6-10 Cowgill is so impressed with Lopez, he picks him over UCLA center Kevin Love -- the Pac-10 Player of the Year -- as the best big man in the league.

"You'd have to say Brook," Cowgill said. "He's at least the most dominant.

"I feel like he changes the whole complexion and feel of the game. You almost have to key your whole defense on him."

A ALMOST? Geesh. Score one verbal faux pas for the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year in men's hoops.

Hey, who's fooling who? The Cougars played quite well at times Friday, and they pulled within three with 24.3 seconds left in a game with the 11th-ranked team in the country. Kyle Weaver scored a career-high 25 points, and Derrick Low and Daven Harmeling were deadly from beyond the arc.

Ultimately, however, Stanford had Lopez and Washington State did not, and explaining the game's outcome really isn't a whole lot more complicated than that.

Oh well. The Cougars seemed ready and willing in a quiet but hardly morbid dressing room to turn the page quickly and prepare for a WSU first -- going to the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

Look for the 21st-ranked Cougars to be seeded sixth or thereabouts when first-round pairings for the Big Dance are announced Sunday at 3 p.m. Cougar fans are welcome to join players and coaches in Bohler Gym for the selection program on CBS. Doors open at 2, and activities begin at 2:30.

Will the Cougars get punched in the face when they punch their Dance card? Not likely. When you boast one of the best defenses in the country (going against Lopez doesn't count), control the pace on offense and start three battle-tested seniors, blowout losses are not likely.

WSU's most lopsided defeat was a 12-point loss at Arizona on Jan. 24. That was one of the previous few games where the Cougars simply did not play well for a good chunk of the 40 minutes.

Look for Cowgill and Baynes to bounce back when matched against mere mortals. Kyle Weaver is supremely athletic at both ends of the floor and no doubt eager to avenge his miserable performance in WSU's second-round loss to Vanderbilt last year. Low is shooting the ball well; Taylor Rochestie is steady as they come at the point; and the Cougars received a welcome spark off the bench Friday from Daven Harmeling.

If Harmeling, a streaky 3-point gunner, gets hot from the outside, he could be the X factor that determines whether WSU goes deep in the tournament or exits in one or two games. History certainly does not favor the Cougars in terms of making an extended stay at the Dance, because only once in five previous trips to the NCAA Tournament has WSU won more than one game, and that was in 1941.

Back then, when the NCAA Tournament was in its infancy, WSU had to win just two games to reach the title game. The Cougars did just that before bowing 39-34 -- a typically low score in that era -- to Wisconsin.

And no, wise guy, there's no truth to the rumor that Dick Bennett coached both teams.


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