Tourney Beat: Ol' Wazzu vs. Oral Roberts

AN INFORMAL POLL of the state's youngest Cougar fans finds considerable angst directed at the NCAA tournament selection committee. The ire has nothing to do with WSU's No. 3 seed (which oddsmakers have translated to a 6 1/2-point edge for WSU). Unless the kids are playing hooky, tomorrow's 11:30 a.m. start time with Oral Roberts means the game will be long over before they can get to a TV.

Thursday's first round game between Washington State and Oral Roberts has been moved up 10 minutes it was announced this afternoon by the NCAA and is now scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. PT.

The contest will be televised on CBS. The Cougars, the second-place team in the Pac-10, bring a 25-7 record into the contest, and Oral Roberts, the champs of the Mid-Continent Conference, are 23-10 this season.

While the kids aren't too thrilled with the early start time, their working stiff parents can't be too pleased either. But at least it's during the lunch hour.

I remember taking three hours of vacation to watch a noonish first-round game between the Cougars and Boston College in 1994. The pub we were at was packed. Charlie Sells, one of the great rebounders in the Marv Harshman era of WSU basketball, sat at the table next to ours. We were all flying high for about 36 of the game's 40 minutes, and then BC won it in the waning moments. At the time, with Mark Hendrickson and Ike Fontaine just underclassmen, I wouldn't have guessed we'd be waiting 13 years for another invitation to the dance.

Speaking of Tony Bennett, he is no stranger to the Mid-Continent Conference. As a star guard at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Tony was twice named Mid-Continent Player of the Year, and he still ranks among the league's career leaders for points and assists.

If you thought Tony, at 37, was on the younger side of the head coaching continuum, consider that Oral Roberts head coach Scott Sutton is 37 -- and in his eighth season as the Golden Eagles' head coach.

THE SEATTLE TIMES' Bud Withers -- one of the finest college hoops writers in the nation -- caught up the other day with the five coaches who preceded Tony Bennett at the helm of the Cougars. The article was full of historic nuggets.

George Raveling, who spent 11 seasons in Pullman, told Withers he never would have left WSU were it not for the fact president Glenn Terrell and athletic director Sam Jankovich were both departing. Raveling, now an executive with NIKE, said he was hoping to retire as a Cougar but didn't want the headaches of dealing with new leadership that didn't have a vested interest in him, so he opted to succeed Lute Olson at Iowa.

Kelvin Sampson, whose Indiana Hoosiers will play Gonzaga this week, said his final two years at WSU (1992-93, '93-94) were the most enjoyable seasons of his coaching career.

And Kevin Eastman, Sampson's successor, confirmed what many observers have long opined: He was obsessed with the Xs and Ox, but didn't devote enough time to recruiting. Eastman is now an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics.

To read Withers' full story, click to Seattle Times: Catching up with Cougar coaches

THE COUGARS ENTER Thursday's first-round game ranked third in the nation for fewest turnovers (10.4 per game) and 14th in points allowed (58.8 ppg). The Cougs also set a school record this season for blocked shots, with 143 and counting. And get this -- 20 of those blocks came from beyond the arc, with Kyle Weaver getting 14 of them.

In the last nine games, each Cougar opponent has gone a span of at least five minutes without a field goal. The largest span was 9 minutes, 25 seconds, by Washington on Feb. 14.

The Cougars are one of only 13 teams in the nation that haven't lost consecutive games this season. All but one of those clubs is in the Big Dance -- and the lone outlier, Appalachian State, was invited to the NIT.

IF YOU NEED ANY tangible proof that Cougar senior forward Ivory Clark has some serious hops, consider these two numbers: He has 29 dunks this season -- 22 more than the next-highest Cougar; and he's collected a whopping 46 of the team's 143 blocked shots.

THE TELLING STAT of the year in the Cougars' remarkable run this season has to be their record when trailing at halftime. Eleven times this season the Cougs were behind at the half -- and nine times they came back to win. A year ago, the Cougs 3-15 in games they trailed at the half.

IT'S NO SECRET WHO the Cougar defense will be focusing on tomorrow. Six-foot-eight Oral Roberts senior Caleb Green leads the team in scoring (20.3 points per game) and rebounds (9.3 per game). Head coach Scott Sutton says his MVP is an NBA-caliber talent.

Oral Roberts is the only team in the nation to lead its conference in both scoring (72.3 ppg) and defense (64.7 ppg).

In its only game this season against a ranked opponent, the Golden Eagles knocked off then-No. 3 rated Kansas 78-71 in the second game of the season. Many pundits this week are projecting the Jayhawks to win it all.


At least two popular Seattle pubs are looking to fill up with Cougar fans tomorrow. The Village Pub in Magnolia is a legendary Cougar hangout, complete with tons of WSU memorabilia on the walls. In addition, KJR Radio host Ian Furness, a proud Cougar alum, will be at Sport Restaurant and Bar in Lower Queen Anne on Thursday for a March Madness party with prizes.

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