Free at last! Cougs down UCLA in Pauley

SINCE 1977 IT'S BURNED like a branding iron in my side: UCLA's basketball dominance over Washington State at Pauley Pavilion. While the streak dates to the 1960s, the contest in Westwood at the height of the disco era is the one game that burns hottest.

For on that night, almost exactly 27 years ago, it became clear that no one would allow WSU to win a game in Pauley. George Raveling's squad was about to claim a nail-biter of a game with a pair of late free throws when Stu House was called for a lane violation as the first free attempt sailed through the hoop. A lane violation? Nobody ever got called for a lane violation.

It sounded bogus as Bob Robertson described it on the radio, and became more so when you saw the film on the TV news.

No Cougar free throws. Bruins get the ball back and sink one at the buzzer for good measure. The Cougars, who would win 19 games that year, end up losing 65-62 instead of winning 64-63.

It was one of great robberies of the 20th century.

Six years later, in 1983, the Cougars would lose the Pac-10 title by two points -- the margin of difference in their 89-87 overtime loss to the Bruins at Pauley. It was one of the most entertaining and competitive games I've ever seen, with Steve Harriel leading the crimson charge. But again, it seemed the gods of hardwood destiny would not allow a crimson victory in the House of Wooden.

In 1993, with an NCAA tourney berth on the line, a similar heartbreak would play out under Kelvin Sampson, with the Cougars dropping a 71-70 decision as the regular season wound down.

Understandably, many a Cougar fan had given up hope that the Cougars would ever break their 0-for-Pauley streak, especially with the likes of Kevin Eastman and Paul Graham at the helm. Thirty-eight straight losses there -- and 46 consecutive to the Bruins in Los Angeles.

And now comes Dick Bennett's 2004 Cougars. An offensively challenged bunch, they've managed to hover at or above .500 all season long, awaking some of the echoes of Cougar teams past. In fact, a week ago they very nearly ended a 17-year losing streak to Arizona.

But what to our wondering eyes should they do last night, but knock off the vaunted UCLA Bruins --- in Pauley Pavilion. If you had any doubt Bennett was the right guy to resurrect WSU basketball, doubt no longer.

WSU did it in dramatic fashion, gutting out a 55-48 win despite squandering a 14-point lead and despite the fact THE MAN, John Wooden himself, was in the stands. That's kind of like beating Notre Dame in South Bend with Knute Rockne looking on. It just ain't supposed to happen.

But on Thursday it did. The big guns for the Cougars were Thomas Kelati with 15 points and five rebounds, Jeff Varem with 13 points, three rebounds and a steal, and Marcus Moore -- a Los Angeles native -- with eight points, four assists and four rebounds.

The Cougars elevated their record to 10-10 (4-6 in Pac-10 play) --- a level of proficiency not seen on the Palouse since Ike Fontaine took his sweet stroke to the CBA.

Bennett told the Associated Press the victory was symbolic. "This one is so important because it shows we are pointed in the right direction."

Say it again, Dick, say it again.

--WSU led 43-29 with 8:38 to play before UCLA cut the deficit to 45-43 at the 3:27 mark on a turnaround jumper in the lane by T.J.Cummings. The Cougars connected on eight straight free throws to seal the win and finished the night 16-for-18 at the line.

--WSU won for the fourth time on the road this season.last time Cougars had four road wins in a season was 1995-96 (7-7).first time since 1995-96 (4-5),WSU has won two Pac-10 road games in the same season.

--Thomas Kelati connected on two 3-pointers to move into 10th place on the WSU career list with 120.

--UCLA went 12:01 between field goals in the second half (18:10 to 6:09).

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