Closer Look: Vanderbilt-Wazzu
'Dores, Cougars deliver the game of the tourney so far
Posted: Saturday March 17, 2007 9:52PM; Updated: Saturday March 17, 2007 9:53PM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- March madness finally came to Sacramento on Saturday. After a mostly sleep-inducing quartet of first-round games in which the margins of victory were 13, 16, 28 and 33 points, respectively, Washington State and Vanderbilt played an edge-of-your-seat double-overtime thriller that featured everything from clutch three-point shooting to game-saving blocked shots. Vanderbilt won it, 78-74, but the real winners were the spectators in Arco Arena who will tell you that they saw the game of the tournament so far.
The sixth-seeded Commodores won it because their two remarkable wing players, 6-foot-7 senior Derrick Byars and 6-foot-6 junior Shan Foster, were fabulous in the second half and the overtimes. They combined for 47 points, 27 of them by Byars, who was 5-of-9 from three-point range. Byars was so hot in the second half, helping Vandy wipe out an eight-point deficit, that not even Washington State's Kyle Weaver, one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, could slow him down.
But the Cougars didn't go quietly. Forward Ivory Clark came from nowhere to block a Byars layup attempt near the end of regulation, allowing Washington State to get the game to overtime. Then point guard Derrick Low hit a three near the end of the first overtime that tied the game at 69, sending the game into the second extra period.
In the end, though, Byars and Foster were simply too much for Washington State to handle. Foster hit a huge three in the second overtime, which helped punch the Commodores ticket to East Rutherford, N.J., where they will meet Georgetown, the East region's second seed, in the Sweet 16. "We watch people talking about the tournament on TV and they hardly ever mention Vanderbilt, unless it's to predict that we're going to lose," said point guard Alex Gordon after the victory. "Well, we're going to the Sweet 16. Surprise, surprise."
Player Who Impressed Me
Quick, who was the SEC Player of the Year? One of Florida's stars, Joakim Noah maybe? Wrong. Byars was the coaches' pick for POY and the athletic, smooth-shooting swingman did wonders for his national reputation on Saturday. Byars, who transferred from Virginia after playing two seasons there, said he was rushing his shots in the first half, but he certainly found his rhythm in the second. Most of his 27 points came on deep jumpers which he released at will over Cougar defenders. He also made a game-saving block on a Taylor Rochestie breakaway that probably would have won the game for Washington State in the first overtime. "He's a pro," said Gordon, the point guard. "We call him that, because he's an NBA type of player and we expect to see him there someday." Byars, an accomplished sketch artist in his spare time, is also exceedingly humble. Asked about his hot shooting, he repeatedly mentioned Ted Skuchas and Ross Neltner, the two little-noticed big men who set screens for him. "I couldn't have done it without them," he said. The Commodores wouldn't be in the Sweet 16 without him.
Forward Daven Harmeling missed a jumper from the corner, his favorite spot, at the end of regulation that would have won it for Washington State. He seemed so surprised that he missed it that he walked over to the bench with a dazed look on his face, walking past teammates who reached over to slap his hand as if he didn't even see them. ... Foster told reporters that the Commodores had gotten off to a "ruggedy start" against Washington State, as which point Vandy coach Kevin Stallings good-naturedly corrected him. "We're from Vanderbilt," Stallings said. "'Ruggedy' is not in the dictionary." ... It might have seemed like a nice idea to introduce the water polo national champions from Cal to the crowd at halftime, but it didn't turn out so well. The arena full of fans from Pac-10 rivals Washington State and UCLA booed the Golden Bears.
Very few people thought Vanderbilt would get to the Sweet 16, so it would be foolish to dismiss their chances against Georgetown. But the Hoyas' athleticism on the perimeter will allow them to matchup better against Vandy than Washington State could. Byars and Foster will have to be every bit as phenomenal as they were on Saturday, maybe more so. That's an awfully tall order. It's hard to see Vanderbilt's surprising ride continuing past Georgetown.