SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Washington State Cougars sported more than smiles while walking out onto the Arco Arena floor for the school's first NCAA tournament practice in 13 years Wednesday. A number of coaches also wore T-shirts with "T.A.Y." emblazoned on the front in block letters.
PULLMAN – Tony Bennett watched his jersey rise to the rafters at Wisconsin-Green Bay and then he fell down on a knee to propose to his girlfriend of 3 1/2 months. After the victory that followed on the court, his father, still coaching the Phoenix at the time, had something to say about the surprise.
PULLMAN – Dissect Thursday's first-round NCAA tournament game all you want. Eventually, from the perspective of Washington State's opponent, everything comes down to one simple concept. "This is Oral Roberts' shot, really," the Golden Eagles' senior star, Caleb Green, said.
Ben Haynes moved to Pullman when he was 3 years old. He played basketball for the Greyhounds in high school, and all the while he followed Washington State, harboring dreams of playing for a Division I school. "I went to every single game," he said. "I love the Cougs and I guess that's where I grew up watching basketball."
PULLMAN – Some stood and cheered, some remained seated and clapped. But the roaring mass of fans behind the Washington State Cougars coaches and players made it perfectly clear for a national TV audience: They're back in the tournament, and thrilled to be there.
Practices that started early in the fall and games that first tipped off in November have all led to this. Both Washington State and Gonzaga await their NCAA tournament fates on this Selection Sunday. While each is assured of a bid, neither is exactly sure where the coming days will take them.
LOS ANGELES – Beating a team for a third time this season was no problem for Washington State in this year's Pac-10 men's basketball tournament. But doing so on back-to-back nights? Well, that wasn't quite so simple.
LOS ANGELES – Fans wearing nine different colors simultaneously began cheering while the ones wearing powder blue started filing out of the Staples Center. And just like that, California blew a scoreboard-sized hole into this Pacific-10 men's basketball tournament.
LOS ANGELES – The desperate team won the first half. The better one won the game. No. 11 Washington State, 8-1 on the season when trailing at halftime before Thursday night, did it again against archrival Washington.
LOS ANGELES – Beating Washington twice was nice enough for Washington State this season. Now, the Cougars will have to try to prove their in-state superiority for a third time. The Huskies recovered from a sluggish start Wednesday night in the first round of the Pac-10 men's basketball tournament to defeat Arizona State 59-51, and in doing so they set up a final rematch with the Cougars in tonight's quarterfinals.
PULLMAN – Washington State practiced Tuesday morning on campus before heading to Los Angeles for the Pac-10 tournament. As it was the last session before making the flight, the Cougars tried to get ready for their next opponent. The only problem is, they don't know who that opponent will be just yet.
PULLMAN – His voice low and quiet, his confidence clearly shaken, Ivory Clark sat down on Monday and discussed the surprising turn of events that has led to him seeing more time on the bench than on the floor in recent games. "I can say it's been pretty mentally draining, especially to be a senior and to contribute as much as I have contributed to the team's success so far," Clark said. "To be bumped into the back of the rotation, it definitely has bothered me a little."
PULLMAN – Unprecedented events are becoming normal around Washington State this winter, so it should come as no surprise that the Pac-10 honored the Cougars as never before on Monday. First-year head coach Tony Bennett was named the conference's coach of the year, as voted by his fellow coaches, and guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver were both named to the two-deep All-Pac-10 team.
PULLMAN – Washington State could see two players make the All-Pac-10 team for only the third time today when the conference announces its all-league honors. Guards Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver both have a chance to make the list of 10 players after leading the Cougars to a second-place finish, matching the best Pac-10 finish in school history.
PULLMAN – OK, maybe this is unfair to those Cougar fans who have just hopped on the bandwagon over the course of this season. But try this trivia question out anyway. Who was Washington State's leading scorer last season? (Hint: He was a sophomore in 2005-06.)
PULLMAN – Jim Sterk has voiced his public support for women's basketball coach Sherri Murrell, who just completed her fifth season at Washington State. Murrell's Cougars went 5-24 this season and finished last in the Pac-10 for the fourth time in her five years, going 1-18 against conference opponents.
PULLMAN – This history-making season for Washington State could get a lot more interesting in the coming days. By claiming second place in the Pac-10, the 13th-ranked Cougars will await the winner of Washington-Arizona State in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
PULLMAN – Leave it to the most powerful dunker on the team to know that it's not about how you start, but all about how you finish. Ivory Clark did not start his college basketball career in a great position. Nor he did start his Washington State career on the best of terms.
PULLMAN – Imagine two race cars just laps from the finish line, with the fuel light shining brightly from the dashboard of each. One car has the fuel to finish, and the other – well, who knows? Now paint the USC logo on one car and the WSU logo on the other, and you might just have a picture of what today's regular-season finale between the two will look like.
PULLMAN – The superior defense that usually belongs to the Cougars instead came from the visitors. The second-half spurt that has carried the Cougars in many games buried them in this one. In the end, the Pac-10 basketball title that Washington State hoped could be partially theirs now belongs solely to UCLA.
PULLMAN – It made almost no sense at the time. Jeremy Cross, a walk-on, strode on the Mac Court floor in Eugene to guard Aaron Brooks, a leading candidate for Pac-10 player of the year honors. Yet, in this season of change on the Palouse, the move made perfect sense.
PULLMAN – A small handful of Washington State students attempted to begin camping out just beyond the Beasley Coliseum walls days ago to ensure the best seats for tonight's game between the 13th-ranked Cougars and No. 2 UCLA. The ploy didn't work, as building employees and campus police shooed the students away, with the intent of keeping a line from forming until 6 a.m. today. Rest assured, though, once the line starts to form, it will stretch further than a half-court heave from the building.
Ben Howland walked out onto the Pauley Pavilion floor on Dec. 28 after most of the fans had already cleared out for his postgame radio interview. His UCLA Bruins had just defeated Washington State 55-52, and the victorious coach had some words of praise for his opponent. "The team we beat tonight, in my opinion, is an NCAA tournament team," Howland said. "They're going to beat a lot of people."