NCAA Tourney: Against North Carolina, Washington State Will Win Respect
Washington State coach Tony Bennett said of the upcoming Sweet 16 contest between his No. 4 seed Cougars and the No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels, "It's going to be a collision."
That's bound to be the case when this season's second-best scoring offense faces the second best scoring defense, both working hard to become No. 1 in the nation.
Classic. An overused adjective, yes, but one that can easily be applied to this game.
Another trite phrase comes to mind: David vs. Goliath. How can the lowly Cougars actually think they deserve to be playing in the Sweet 16 against the perennial powerhouse Tar Heels led by the dapper Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams?
But enough with all the standard talk.
The Cougars may be from a small town in the middle of the Eastern Washington wheat fields.
But Coach Bennett and the Cougars are always ready to play any team, anywhere, anytime. Washington State has not won all their games this season, but they've really been in them all.
In any matchup, conventional wisdom sides with the athletic team that loves to run its opponents off the court.
For example, last weekend experts gave Washington State little chance to stop Notre Dame and its 80 ppg. The Irish were too big up front, too talented from the outside, and too fast for the boys from Washington State.
All of that made sense before tip-off. But when the final buzzer sounded, it was Notre Dames' vaunted scoring machine that was left lifeless. The Lucky Irish put up only 41 points against the Cougars.
Washington State looks to be peaking at just the right time. They have played excellent ball in the NCAA Tournament. Granted, they have not played North Carolina, but that is simply a matter of scheduling.
These young men love to play basketball. Specifically, they love playing “Bennett Ball.”
Team play is what these guys are all about. They know how to win as a team, and they do not have to run up scores on opponents to prove anything.
None of these players are concerned about making ESPN’s Top 10 Plays. No, this group is all about competition. They are passionate about winning and will leave everything they've got on the court to earn a victory.
The game in Charlotte will be a virtual home game for Coach Williams and the Tar Heels. North Carolina has one of the best and most loyal fan bases in college basketball. They will be making the two-hour drive in full force, ready to cheer their team on.
But Washington State plays better on the road than at home. On the road, without any distractions, they execute Coach Bennett's game plan and take advantage of what host teams offer. So the Cougars are not concerned.
North Carolina, a team that did not respect their last opponent and ran up the score for no other reason than personal gratification, may not truly consider the Cougars to be a serious competitor.
But once Washington State gets a team off balance, they keep pushing them away from their foundation. So when the final buzzer sounds Thursday evening in Charlotte, the Tar Heels will be left shaking their heads and wondering, "Who were those guys?"
Here's the answer: Those guys are a team that has played in plenty of big games this season in the Pac-10, on the road, at home...anywhere.
They are the Cougars of Washington State, a team destined to join the Elite Eight.
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