CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- About all the teams from North Carolina and Washington State have in common is a basketball and the two hours they will spend together tonight.
Geographically, stylistically, historically, they are polar opposites. In 216 combined seasons of top-level competition, the Sweet 16 game at Charlotte Bobcats Arena will be the first meeting between the Tar Heels and the Cougars.
They may as well be from different planets. The distance between them can be measured in the thousands of miles separating Pullman, Wash., from Chapel Hill, N.C. Or in the 94 tournament wins and four championships earned by Carolina compared with six and zero for Washington State. But perhaps the most telling distinction is on the scoreboard: In the first two tournament games, the top-seeded Tar Heels averaged 110.5 points; the fourth-seeded Cougars gave up 40.5.
"We are pretty different," said Kyle Weaver, Washington State's best all-around player. "To score 100, 105, 110 points in a college game, that's pretty crazy."
It's not unusual for Carolina (34-2), which exceeded the century mark six times during the regular season and whose 89.9 average was second in the nation.
"I'm a fan of basketball going up and down the court," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, who while employed by Kansas chided the father of Washington State coach Tony Bennett for what he considered boring basketball at the 2000 Final Four. Bennett was an assistant to his dad, Dick, at Wisconsin when the Badgers lost to Michigan State, 53-41, in a semifinal. The halftime score was 19-17, although in Williams' memory it was 19-18.
"The number of people that enjoy seeing 19-18 is not as many as the number of people that like to see 61-60," Williams said. "So I made a truthful statement and Dick understood it. He knows I love the way they play defense. I will still say I like 19-18 OK, but I like 61-60 better."
Tony Bennett played for his father at Wisconsin-Green Bay before enjoying a professional career in the NBA and in New Zealand. Dick Bennett installed his defense-first system at Washington State in 2003 and the son remains faithful to it.
"We can't always recruit with the upper-echelon teams in our league or in the country," the second-year coach said. "So we have a system, we feel, that gives us a chance when we play together to be competitive and, hopefully, successful against the best."
That's the crux of tonight's game in the East Regional. With a roster of players who did not appear on high school All-American lists, the Cougars (26-8) have participated in consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time and have won two games in the event for the first time since reaching the final in 1941, when the field was comprised of eight teams.
"We've got nothing to lose," Weaver said.
Holding Winthrop to 40 points and Notre Dame to 41 in Denver last weekend may have been extraordinary, but the Cougars were the second-stingiest defensive team in the country with an average yield of 56.1. Carolina point guard Ty Lawson and wing man Wayne Ellington don't think they would enjoy playing for a team that plays at such a conservative pace. Washington State's Aron Baynes, a 6-10 center from Australia, disagrees.
"Defense is fun," Baynes said. "That's what wins games, and that's the most fun you can have on the court."
"In practice," Washington State point guard Taylor Rochestie said, "you'll see people smiling and high-fiving each other on a big defensive stop."
It isn't very often in the NCAA Tournament that a tortoise gets to challenge a hare, particularly such an anonymous tortoise and such a prominent hare. Even back home in Cairns, Baynes explained, the folks know about Carolina.
"There's East Coast bias in Australia, too," he said.
Weaver, a senior from Beloit, Wis., saw a fellow student wearing a Carolina cap in class the other day. Insulted? Nah.
"It was a nice hat," he said.