Cougs-Bruins have been here before

THE COUGAR-BRUIN showdown Thursday night in Pullman isn't the first basketball battle between the schools that has held major post-season implications. Three classics in the series -- also played at the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum -- had big-time tournament repercussions. They also set the standard by which the noise level at this week's game will be measured.

In 1983, George Raveling's 11th and final campaign on the Palouse, a deafening throng was hand as the Cougs and Bruins squared off in the second-to-last regular season game of the year. A win by the Bruins would clinch the Pac-10 crown, while a win by the Cougs would give them a share of the conference lead with one game remaining. The crowd, amped to begin with, took it to new levels when senior forward Aaron Haskins unleashed a stirring rendition of the national anthem on his saxophone.


The game was a donnybrook. Tied at 68 with just seconds left, WSU's Chris Winkler fired up a long one from the right baseline on an in-bounds pass. His missed. But Bryan Pollard nearly jumped out of the building to get the tip – and it went in. Raveling sprung immediately onto the court –- some observers opining that he didn't want to give the refs time to say the tip came after the horn -- and the student section poured out of the stands. Though stories vary as to how it happened, moments after the final shot went in, Pollard fainted and the backboard shattered.

Five days later, WSU lost by a point to Washington and ended 14-4 in Pac-10 play -- one game behind the Bruins. The Cougs made it to the second-round of the NCAA tournament before losing a tight one to Virginia and their three-time national player of the year, Ralph Sampson. WSU concluded the year at 22-6.

THREE YEARS EARLIER, IN 1980, another packed house cheered on Don Collins, Stu House, Bryan Rison and Terry Kelly to WSU's first victory over UCLA in 14 years -- since the days of Jim McKean way back in 1966.

The win helped WSU earn its first NCAA tournament trip since 1941. The Cougs, who finished the year 22-6 overall and 14-4 in Pac-10 play, were upset in the first round by Penn, and the Larry Brown-coached Bruins ended up advancing to the national title game, losing to Louisville.

The season before that, 1979, the Cougars had 17 wins with three games left and the No. 1-ranked team in the country coming to Pullman. In an age when the NCAA tourney field was limited to 40 teams and NIT invitations were dominated by the East, the Cougs were a longshot for the post-season and needed to finish strong to have a chance. Led by James Donaldson in the post and Don Collins on the wing, the Cougs waged a titanic battle with the Bruins before falling in a wild, triple overtime affair, 110-102. WSU wound up the season at 18-9.


Of note in the annals of WSU basketball is that two Cougs were members of the school's NCAA tournament teams of 1980 and '83. As such, Aaron Haskins, the sax player from Tacoma, and Chris Monson from Juanita, hold very unique places in Washington State sports history. They are the only Cougars to play on two NCAA tournament teams.

IT TAKES A LOT TO fuel a 6-foot-10 frame. To call WSU post-man Robbie Cowgill a bottomless pit is no exaggeration. He eats 7,000 calories a day and still can't sneak past 210 pounds. The latest edition of Washington State Magazine, a beautifully styled and well-written publication extolling the virtues of Ol' Wazzu, devotes a page to Cowgill's daily intake. We won't go into all the details, but here's just a snippet of what he consumes in the typical day: five baked potatoes with the works; a whole pizza; a tray of cinnamon rolls; and a steak. And that's not even the half of it!

KUDOS TO COUGAR coach Tony Bennett last week for cutting off the incessant speculation that the first-year wunderkind will be bolting Pullman for a more lucrative job at season's end. "I'm not really going to comment any more," Bennett said when asked the same old question during a conference call with reporters. "This is a good program. I'm very comfortable where we are at and focused on what is in front of us. I enjoy it here."

THURSDAY'S GAME IS sold out and so is Saturday's contest with USC. But through the magic of network executives who actually did the right thing, both games will be televised live. Thursday's game tips off at 7:30 pm Pacific on FoxSportsNet and Saturday's game, also on Fox, gets going at 4 pm PT.

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