“Three seeds are supposed to beat 14 seeds. Big friggin’ deal.”
I’d be tempted to agree with that ... if just about every national prognosticator hadn’t picked the Cougars to lose to the Golden Eagles. Now, we’re left with one of two conclusions: Either ORU isn’t nearly as good as they thought, or WSU is a lot better than they thought.
I’ll stick with the latter, as the Cougars proved their versatility once again.
An interesting subplot down the stretch of this season has been what can best be described as the “Ivory Clark Situation.” Once one of the main staples of the rotation and starter for most of the year, Clark found himself increasingly watching his minutes dwindle as the Cougars pushed towards the postseason.
Tony Bennett seemed to be the only one who knew why a guy who was so integral to the Cougars’ success was seeing less and less of the floor – even Clark himself seemed mystified – but the prevailing opinion was that WSU was going to need an effective Clark if it wanted to travel far in the NCAA Tournament.
Consider that theory proven. Clark absolutely was the difference in that game, coming up huge time and time again on both the offensive and defensive end. He finished with 19 points, six rebounds and five blocks, but his impact can’t be measured in numbers.
ORU’s Caleb Green came into the game as the NCAA’s active leading career scorer, and was the main reason so many felt the Golden Eagles had the ability to beat WSU. Green finished with just 13 points – seven below his average – on 4-of-16 shooting. About four of those misses came on Clark blocks (like the one above), and countless others were altered as he had to be wondering whether Clark was swooping in once again.
Clark also was huge down the stretch offensively, going 8-for-8 from the free throw line. He was an easy MVP pick for the game.
A less obvious MVP pick was Kyle Weaver, who turned in the single largest momentum changing play with his steal and dunk at the end of the first half. He would go on to finish with 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists and a steal. More importantly, he helped to dictate the tempo in the game when the Cougars were struggling to find their feet offensively.
All in all, a very encouraging performance for the Cougars, who looked increasingly comfortable on the national stage as the game wore on. I mentioned at the half that it was pretty much impossible that their shooting woes from the first half would continue; WSU shot 59 percent and committed just one turnover in the second half.
Now, they move on to face a Vanderbilt team that absolutely dismantled George Washington, 77-44. I’ll have a full preview of the second-round matchup sometime tomorrow, but needless to say, with the Commodores shooting prowess, this could be a tough matchup for the Cougars.