Let the dance begin: Cougar notes and quotes

CHANCES ARE GOOD there wasn't a fan at the WSU-Oral Roberts game who secured tickets the way Mike Shepard did in 1983 when the Cougs opened the NCAA tourney against Weber State. He was a resident adviser in Streit Hall then, organizing a group to make the long drive to Boise for the game. "The problem was tickets," Mike, now the the publisher of the Yakima Herald-Republic, recounted last week.

"WSU and Weber State were both in the Boise sub-regional, making tickets difficult to come by. And having Ralph Sampson and UVA there was also a big draw," he said. "With the official channels exhausted, our enterprising bunch decided to go the direct route for tickets -- something I doubt would happen in any other Pac-10 city."

They struck upon the notion of taking their case for tickets to someone who was sure to have a line on some: the Cougars' head coach.

"We looked up George Raveling's number in the phone book and called him at home. He not only took the call, but -- after extracting a promise that we would actually show up -- gave us the name of a fellow who would have tickets to sell us when we hit town. True to his word, we arrived at the appointed hotel, grabbed our tickets and cheered our lungs out from the cheap seats high up in the BSU gym."

The Cougars, led by senior forward Steve Harriel, won the game handily and then dropped a close one to Virginia in the second round.

WITH ATTENDANCE AT COUGAR home basketball games this season at its highest levels in a decade, revenue from ticket sales nearly doubled from last season, to $500,000, WSU athletic director Jim Sterk reports. There's still plenty of room to grow, however. If the Cougars sold every seat for every home game they'd bring in $800,000 in ticket revenue per year.

WSU's appearance in the NCAA tournament won't produce any extra money for the school, because the Pac-10 splits tourney revenue equally among all the schools. For this season that should amount to about $1.1 million per school. Money from the tourney and from home-game ticket sales are used by the athletic department for its overall operating budget.

IN ADDITION TO ALL THE excitement it's generating for students and alums, the Cougars' return to the Big Dance after 13 years is creating a load of publicity back at home for Cougar players.

Robbie Cowgill (Austin, Texas), Derrick Low (Honolulu), Kyle Weaver (Beloit, Wisc.) and Daven Harmeling (Grand Junction, Colo.) all have been featured in their hometown papers in the last week. In addition, Taylor Rochestie, while from California, was the subject of a great feature in the Portland Oregonian.

Mike Wolfley, a columnist with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, pored over the rosters of all 65 March Madness schools and came up with various all-something teams based on players' names. Two Cougars -- Ivory Clark and Weaver -- made it. Ivory joined Butler's Mike Green, BYU's Mike Rose, Xavier's Drew Lavender, and Pitt's Aaron Gray on the All-Color Team. There was no explanation why Oral Roberts' star forward, Caleb Green, was overlooked.

Meanwhile, Weaver was picked for the All-Occupation Team along with Justin Mason of Texas, Sean Marshall of Boston College, Daequan Cook of Ohio State and Nick Porter of Creighton.

While it seems like every sports-writing hack this -- and that -- side of the Mississippi is forecasting an Oral Roberts upset of the Cougs, there comes a voice of reason from the Bay Area, where Jonathan Okanes of the Contra Costa Times writes, "How about the lovable Cougars from Washington State? The moment the brackets were revealed, the Cougars became the trendy pick to be upset. We think the opposite. WSU and its funky style will present problems for teams not used to it. It will take disciplined and deep Georgetown to knock the Cougars out."

Presuming he's correct and Ol' Wazzu beats Oral Roberts, it'll be another geography lesson for the Cougar faithful. Just days after learning that ORU is in Tulsa, Cougs will discover that Saturday's opponent -- Vanderbilt or George Washington -- is from, respectively, Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C. Nicknames, you ask? Vandy is the Commodores and G.W. is the Colonials.

YOU CAN'T FULLY APPRECIATE the impact of Cougar guard Kyle Weaver unless you look at the regular-season stat leaders for the Pac-10. Weaver's name is everywhere. He finished second in the conference in steals, third in assists, fourth in assist/turnover ratio, sixth in blocks, eighth in minutes played, and 17th in scoring. He also led the Cougars in charges taken, with 10. Derrick Low was quite the stat man this season, too. He was fourth in the Pac-10 in three-pointers and minutes played, eighth in steals and 16th in scoring.


* No. 1 seeds are 88-0 all-time against 16 seeds.

* This is WSU's fifth trip to the Big Dance. In 1941 they were runners-up to Wisconsin. In 1980 they were upset in the first round by Penn. In 1983 they beat Weber State in round one and then lost to Virginia. In 1994 they lost a 67-64 nailbiter in the first round to eventual Elite Eight team Boston College.

* Former Cougar coach Kelvin Sampson this year will be taking his third school to the Big Dance. He was WSU's head man in 1994 before moving on to Oklahoma and then to Indiana this season.

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