At the Key: a little hoops, a lot of emotion

SEATTLE - The biggest home crowd -- 12,417-- ever to watch a Washington State basketball game, descended upon Key Arena Thursday night and was as energized as a crowd can be when its team, ranked No. 7 in the nation, jumps to a 13-0 lead and then wins in a rout, 67-45, over The Citadel. The halftime festivities, however, truly stirred the emotions and brought the faithful to their feet.

First came a nice tribute to Tony Harris, the MVP of WSU's 1994 NCAA tournament team, who was found dead in Brazil last month. Following a video tribute, his mom, wife, son and other family members came to mid-court -- wearing t-shirts proclaiming "Once a Coug, Always a Coug" -- and received gits and condolences from WSU athletic director Jim Sterk and Al Harriston, Harris' old coach at Garfield High. The Cougar faithful came to their feet in applause.

A few moments later, Cougar quarterback Alex Brink walked to center court where hall of famer LaVell Edwards, the former BYU coach, presented him the Sportsmanship Award given annually by the Awards and Recognition Association to one college player for outstanding performance on the field and outstanding citizenship off it.

Cougar fans took to their feet in a prolonged ovation when Brink was introduced. It was a fitting tribute to a young man who gave his heart and soul -- often in the face of harsh criticisim from some fans -- in his record-setting four years as a starter. The ovation seemed almost cathartic, serving as a personal thank you to Brink for his fouth quarter heroics against the Huskies and for the classy way he handled the boo birds over the years.

Brink, who graduated with a degree in sports management, told CF.C before the game that he would be playing in the Hula Bowl next month and then will start working out with trainers in Texas or Florida to prepare for the NFL Combine and Pro Day in Pullman. He plans to sign with an agent Friday. He said all indications are that he'll be a late-round draft pick or a free-agent signee. If given the choice between getting drafted in the sixth or seventh round or going as a free agent, he said he'd prefer the free agent route because it would allow him to pick the best situation.

Brink wasn't the only member of the Cougar football family on the hardwood Thursday. Halftime festivities were wrapped up with the introduction of new head coach Paul Wulff. The crowd gave him a racucous welcome as he pumped his right arm in the air before taking the mic. The former WSU lineman told the partisans it was great to be back in crimson and said they'll love the style of football the Cougs will be playing. He vowed that it would bring victories and consistent bowl invitations.

AS FOR THE BASKETBALL game, which marked the third straight year WSU has come to Key Arena in December, it was most notable because of the size of the crowd, which more than doubled the previous Hardwood Classic high and surpassed, by one body, the all-time WSU record for a home game.

The outcome of the contest itself was never in doubt, though Citadel's spirited come back from that 13-0 deficit to tie things up at 13, certainly turned heads. The win improved the Cougs to 10-0 for the first time since 1991. They travel to Idaho State next and then return to Pullman against North Carolina A&T before opening Pac-10 action back in Seattle against the Huskies on Jan. 5.

Aron Baynes and Daven Harmeling were the Cougars' leading scorers, with 16 and 11 points, respectively. Baynes also nabbed a whopping 12 rebunds.

But it was the passing of Kyle Weaver and Taylor Rochestie that really made things click for the crimson. Weaver had six assists and Rochestie five.

And senior Robbie Cowgill was all over the place. He had nine points, four rebounds, two steals, one block and one assist.

ROUGHLY MIDWAY THROUGH the second half Tony Bennett gave fans a glimpse of next season when the only senior he had on the floor was Derrick Low. The rest of the line up was second-year freshman Thomas Abercrombie, sophomore Nikola Koprivica, junior Caleb Forrest and Harmeling, a fourth-year junior. Another youngster who figures to be a prime time player next season, freshman guard Stephen Sauls, played the final three minutes of the game.

It was clear the young guns have some hops. Forrest blocked two shots, Koprivica one and Abercrombie had a beauty that was ruled a foul but replays showed to be clean. Forrest and Koprivica had identical stats lines: 16 minutes, four points and two rebounds.

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