Cougar Basketball Notebook

THE RUMORS ARE TRUE. Into the wee hours after Washington State's NIT quarterfinal overtime victory over Northwestern, the faint echo of a bouncing basketball could be heard on the Palouse. Abe Lodwick, the steady-as-rain forward who inexplicably missed two free throws that would have won the game in regulation, stayed up long after the contest's end to practice free throws.

Jessica Schmick in WSU's sports information office confirmed with CF.C on Friday that the message board missive about Lodwick was true. "But he did go to bed eventually," she noted.

For those who have watched and admired Lodwick's leadership and workman-like approach to the game, that bit of insight comes as no surprise.

"He's probably as valuable as anyone else on the team because of his intangibles. He's a no-maintenance guy," head coach Ken Bone said Friday.

Lodwick is a fourth-year-junior from Bend who shoots 70 percent from the charity stripe. Being at the line in crunch time is not new to him. Remember the game at Stanford in mid February? Lodwick hit two FTs in the waning seconds to seal a narrow win for the Cougs.

The look on his face after he missed the pair with .02 on the clock last Wednesday was a cross between shock and disgust wrapped in whole lot of despair. The photo by Dean Hare that accompanies this story speaks volumes; while fans and Cougar players rejoice after defeating Northwestern, there's Abe with a hand on his forehead, relieved by the win but still reeling from his misses.

Klay Thompson said after the game that Lodwick "is a strong kid" who wouldn't let the missed free throws derail him.

Based on the echoes emanating across the Palouse in the wee hours of Thursday, he's absolutely right.

WHILE IT'S TRUE THE Cougar Nation would rather have been invited to the NCAA Tournament than the NIT, the benefits from the Cougars' run to Madison Square Garden are immense.

First there's the exposure -- four games, and maybe a fifth, on national television ... huge chunks of talk time on sports radio ... a banner headline in the Seattle Times. And of course, Thompson's monster dunk against Northwest was the No. 1 national highlight on Sports Center.

There also are the on-court benefits. The Cougars are getting between one and three more weeks of practices and games than most of the rest of the Pac-10, as well as invaluable post-season experience against very good teams. For a club with nary a senior on it, that bodes well for next season. Plus, the chance to play in the mecca of basketball -- Madison Square Garden -- no doubt puts a lifetime spring in the step of any player.

And finally, there's the benefit to fans. We love to watch our team and we're one of only a dozen schools in the land that's still able to do that right now. The Cougars are playing excellent basketball against serious competition and that's a thrill, whether it's the Diamond Head Classic, the NCAA tourney or the NIT. Based on the number of text messages, emails and phone calls my fellow Cougar fans have been firing back and forth in the last two weeks, this NIT run has captured the collective imagination. It also is giving WSU a chance to reconnect with alums on the East Coast, with a pre-game reception set to start at 4:30 ET on game day at the Cellar Room at Stout NYC.

Yep, the NCAA tourney would have been great. But this NIT thing has turned into one giant reason to smile.

NOTABLE NOTES:

  • The Cougars (22-12) and Wichita State (27-8) tip off Tuesday at 4 p.m. Pacific Time, with TV coverage on ESPN2. Oddsmakers have installed the Shockers as 2 1/2-point favorites. The two No. 1 seeds on the other side of the bracket, Alabama and Colorado, face each other at 6 p.m PT. The winners of the two games will face off Thursday at 4 p.m. PT for the NIT Championship.

  • The Cougars arrived in New York Saturday evening and were scheduled to practice Sunday and today at Columbia University. They'll get an hour of practice time at Madison Square Guarden Tuesday morning.

  • The Cougs are staying about six blocks from the arena, in Times Square, but there is no sightseeing planned. Still, said Bone on Friday, the team will see some of the city because they will take different routes to practices and other functions.

  • Two longtime New York City sportswriters are going to cover the Cougs for Cougfan.com this week. Jim Hague, a columnist for the Hudson Reporter and the Associated Press' Seton Hall basketball beat writer, and Brian Heyman, a New York Times freelancer, are lined up to handle Tuesday's game and Monday's coaches briefing, respectively.

  • Washington State and Wichita State have met just once in the two schools' histories. The Shockers won 83-64 on Dec. 15, 1960 at Wichita. Washington State is 6-4 all-time against current members of the Missouri Valley Conference.

  • One of the great hoopers in state of Washington history was a proud product of Wichita State. Xavier McDaniel was a Shocker before he brought his nitro-burnin' ways to the Seattle Sonics so many years ago.

  • At 22-12, Washington State has reached 20-wins for the 18th time in school history.

  • The Cougars have not played in the state of New York since the 1995-96 season when they went 1-1 in the Carrier Classic at Syracuse. Tuesday's game will be the second NIT contest the Cougs have played in the state. In 1995 they lost a quarterfinal game in Buffalo to Canisius.

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