Here come the Cowboys

WHEN IT COMES to playing OSU, Washington State is partial to the abbreviation if it stands for Oregon State or Ohio State. Anything but Oklahoma State, the Cougars' second-round National Invitation Tournament opponent Monday night in Pullman. That OSU has caused some crimson heartburn over the years in football and basketball, though there are reasons to believe that trend is about to end.

The're no doubt the Cowboys know how to put a beatdown on WSU. Oklahoma State's most recent swing at the Cougs came in football. Last fall, the Cowboys pasted the Cougs 65-17 in Stillwater. Two years earlier, at Qwest Field, Oklahoma State rolled WSU 39-13.

But compared to basketball, those football games were nail biters. Oklahoma State and Washington State have played once -- on one, cold and forgettable December day in Stillwater in 2004 that left Dick Bennett wondering why he came out of retirement.

Oklahoma State 81, Washington State 29. The 62-point loss is tied for the largest margin of defeat in WSU basketball history.

The Cowboys left Bennett, then in his second season at WSU, awestruck.

"I have not run into, in my 40 years, that kind of defensive intensity for as long as they played it," Bennett said. "It was most impressive."

Almost 16 minutes into the game, Oklahoma State led 29-2. It was 36-10 at halftime, and 56-12 with 13 minutes remaining in the second half.

"I think once it got to the embarrassment stage, we really lost our spirit. I thought that happened, and I understand that," Bennett said.

So, come Monday night, Washington State has a lot of making up to do.

Oddsmakers believe the Cougars will take a step toward redemption and beat the Cowboys. Depending on who you read and when, the Cougs are 8- to 10-point favorites.

The Cougars are over the NIT hump, so to speak. You never know how a team will react, when it was on the verge of an NCAA berth, but instead lands in the NIT. See Gaels, St. Mary's.

But now that Washington State expressed its desire to continue the 2010-11 basketball season with an emphatic 85-74 win over Long Beach State in its NIT opener, the Cougars can start to see one of the worthwhile NIT positives -- a trip to New York City.

Beating Oklahoma State puts the Cougars within one win of Madison Square Garden.

On paper, not much separates Washington State and Oklahoma State. The Cougars are 20-12, the Cowboys 20-13. Both teams were sensational in December and erratic during the league season.

But two factors strike me in favoring Washington State: home court, and the Cougars' late-season surge.

Washington State hasn't been unbeatable in Pullman, but clearly, the Cougars play better on Friel Court. And you have to go back more than three months to find Oklahoma State's last road win, at Tulsa on Dec. 8. Since then, the Cowboys are 0-9 in road games, including a 73-52 defeat at Gonzaga.

But more reason to like Washington State is its recent play. True, the Cougars are only 3-2 in their past five games. But every game was a solid performance, all against an NCAA or NIT opponent.

Washington State handed Washington its only home court loss of the season, and nearly beat the eventual Pac-10 tournament champions 12 days later in Los Angeles. In Pullman, the Cougars handily defeated USC and Long Beach State. During this stretch, WSU lost in overtime to UCLA, but did it without the services of Klay Thompson and Reggie Moore.

You could successfully argue this is Washington State's best stretch -- at least from a consistent playing performance -- of the season.

Oklahoma State, coming off a 71-54 win over Harvard in its NIT opener, is also playing well. The Cowboys nearly pulled off a shocking upset last week, losing 63-62 to No. 2 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. It should be noted, though, that Oklahoma State gambled with a zone defense to keep Kansas' bigs under control, and the Jayhawks responded by shooting 5 of 25 from 3-point range.

Washington State won't see a zone like that, not unless OSU wants the Cougars to light up its defense.

If the Cougars play the Oklahoma State of today and forget about the past, they should move on to the NIT quarterfinals against the winner of Saturday's Boston College-Northwestern game.


  • For tickets to Monday's 8:30 p.m. game in Pullman against OSU, click here. General admission seats are $15 and student tickets (yes, spring break will be over and the students back in town) are $5.

  • If the Cougars advance to the quarterfinals, they'll play in Pullman, as the higher seed, if the opponent is Northwestern, and on the road if the the foe is No. 1 seed Boston College.

  • For the complete 2011 NIT bracket breakdown head here.

    Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-10 ramblings at

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