PULLMAN – Enough of the cumulative bummer of the losing streak and the shooting guard’s shooting hiccups. Enough of the slowly descending tournament seed, the big fella’s foul habit, the out-of-character late-game breakdowns.
Enough of the big picture.
Sometimes – even in a Washington State basketball culture that borders on hardwood socialism – the best look comes from a snapshot.
One game. Your best guy and their best guy.
Not that the Cougs would be expected to win such an encounter often this year in the high-altitude Pacific-10 Conference, but the game that Kyle Weaver brought to Friel Court on Saturday was more exceptional than – oh, we can’t resist – expectional.
He was the best guy.
That made USC’s O.J. Mayo second-best for at least a day, a rare thing during this solitary season he’ll spend in college basketball – a needless detour to his fortune.
The Trojans were very much bested, as well – 74-50 – by the heretofore reeling Cougs, so obviously there was more to it than Weaver vs. Mayo. Much more, in fact – not the least of which was a world-class meltdown by USC coach Tim Floyd that saw him storm the length of the court and into the fray to berate his demons, who granted him the early exit he desired.
But back to the main event.
Mayo is renowned enough nationally and Weaver beloved enough hereabouts that introductions aren’t necessary. Except perhaps to point out they’re ideal symbols of the odd chasm in the college game – Mayo the preternatural NBA-ready freshman and Weaver an underappreciated gem polished by four years of relentless grinding.
If that’s what got under his skin Saturday, he didn’t admit to it.
“I got a good match-up every night,” Weaver shrugged. “I’m always guarding the best player – that’s my job. Tonight it was O.J.”
But teammate Robbie Cowgill knew better.
“It seems like when he’s really getting after it defensively and has a good match-up there that he has a good complete game – that it makes him a little more aggressive on offense,” he said. “That’s just fun to see. We feel very confident when he draws that kind of assignment because it’s usually when he has his best game.”
And so it went Saturday. Mayo didn’t get his first basket until he could get loose on a fast break seven minutes into the game. By that time, Weaver – who was actually checked by Daniel Hackett much of the game – had scored seven straight himself, including an impossible tip-in that betrayed just how revved up he was.
Mayo is a remarkable talent who won’t be completely denied, but his 14 points – six under his average – came on 6-of-15 shooting and just two trips to the foul line. There were also five turnovers and considerable frustration.
“I just wanted to make him work off the ball and deny him if I could,” Weaver said. “He hits tough shots, but I tried to make him put up some tough ones over me without fouling. He didn’t even look at the basket a few times, which was great for me.”
It got greater. On a day he topped 1,000 points as a Cougar, Weaver made all eight of his shots for 17 points, and backed those up with seven rebounds, five assists and five steals. The humbling flourish near the end was a 1-on-1 breakdown of Mayo on the wing that resulted in a layup.
“He was locked in today,” acknowledged WSU coach Tony Bennett. “He’s a very good stat-line guy, but he backed it up – there was some substance to it today. I thought he responded to the challenge.”
Mayo’s reaction was gracious, if not effusive.
“He’s a good player,” he said of Weaver. “Long. Really active on the defensive end. He did a good job tonight. More than anything, their team did a good job of defending all of us.”
It was one such team effort that pushed Floyd over the cliff. Mayo tried to split Weaver and Aron Baynes off a high screen, got a nudge in the back from Weaver and stumbled over Baynes’ feet. In the absence of a whistle, Weaver ended up with an uncontested dunk and Floyd with an escort up the tunnel after a full-court blitz to get in referee David Hall’s grill.
“Used to happen about once a week,” Floyd joked. “I don’t have the energy anymore. For some reason I did tonight. I guess I had a good night’s sleep.”
Or a premonition. Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Floyd discussed the art of the technical foul on Friday night after the Trojans worked out at GU, and Few recalled Floyd saying that his preferred method was “walking right after the ref, even if he was on the other side of the court.”
But the game was long gone by that point, along with the Trojans’ poise. They have now been spanked twice by the Cougars, abject lessons in patience, will and experience over precociousness.
“I think we need more than one day to prepare for them,” Floyd said. “Like a month might be good.”
A day was plenty, however, for the Cougars.
“This might have been one of the first games where we got ourselves a little riled up to play,” Weaver said.
The best medicine, courtesy of the best man.
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