The Cougars' season was officially extended Sunday night when WSU became one of 32 teams selected to play in the 74th annual NIT.
Washington State (19-12), seeded second in the Boston College Region, opens at home Wednesday night at 7 against seventh-seeded Long Beach State (22-11). The game will be televised on ESPNU.
Long Beach State, the regular-season champion of the Big West Conference, is coached by former Gonzaga head man Dan Monson. The 49ers were riding an 11-game winning streak until they were upset by UC Santa Barbara on Saturday in the championship game of the Big West tournament. Attendance figures to be somewhat iffy at Friel Court, since WSU students are on spring vacation this week. If the past is prologue, a little less than 6,000 stand to be on hand – that's what WSU averaged in three first-round NIT games it hosted in the 1990s.
A win would keep the Cougars at home in the second round to face the winner of the game between No. 3 seed Oklahoma State (19-13) and No. 6 seed Harvard (23-6). Second-round dates and times have yet to be determined.
The way the NIT is structured, the higher seed plays at home in the first three rounds. The March 29 semifinals and March 31 title game will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
"It's an honor to be invited to the NIT," said Bone, a longtime acquaintance of Monson, who attended Moscow High School and the University of Idaho. "There's a lot of tradition."
The Cougars held a short practice Sunday. Bone said point guard Reggie Moore, limited by an ankle sprain in Thursday's heartbreaking loss to Washington at the Pac-10 tournament, was moving better. "He's doing fine," Bone said.
Moore's ankle figures to get a stiff test Wednesday, since the 49ers are led by point guard Casper Ware. The 5-foot-10 junior is the first player to win both the Big West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Ware averages 17 points, 4.4 assists and 1.7 steals. Ware hits 38 percent of his 3-pointers -- he averages 5.6 attempts per game -- but his team-leading 199 free throws (six per game) demonstrates his willingness to venture into the paint.
Ware was joined on the All-Big West first team by backcourt partner Larry Anderson. A 6-5 junior, Anderson averages 14.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Junior T.J. Robinson, a 6-8, 215-pound forward, averages 13.5 points and 10 rebounds. He made second-team All-Big West.
Like the Cougars, Long Beach State lacks size. The 49ers have four players scoring in double figures and a fifth averaging 9.0 points, but no one else averages more than 2.4.
Bone said he's not worried about his players taking the NIT lightly because their NCAA tournament hopes were not realized.
"I think I would if we'd won a couple more games and were truly, truly right on the bubble and there was a lot of talk about us getting in," Bone said.
"I think we pretty much knew that once we lost to Washington (on Thursday at the Pac-10 tournament) that our chances of getting into the NCAA tournament were slim and none."
Long Beach State played an ambitious non-conference schedule this season, losing to North Carolina, Utah State and Saint Mary's, as well as two teams – Washington and Arizona State – that the Cougars know well.
Long Beach State lost 102-75 at Washington in November and fell to Arizona State, 72-55, in December. WSU was 2-1 against Washington and 1-1 against ASU.
WSU and Long Beach State have met only two times in basketball. The Cougars won 79-69 in Pullman on Dec. 1, 1962, and Long Beach State won 84-70 on Dec. 19, 1975 at a tournament in Dayton, Ohio.
Washington State is 4-4 in four previous NIT appearances (most recently in 2009), including 3-0 at home. The Cougars' best showing in the NIT came during a quarterfinals run in 1995.
Klay Thompson, coming off a 43-point night in a memorable performance against Washington, ranks ninth in NCAA Division I with 22.1 points per game. Don Collins set the WSU record of 23.1 in 1979-80.