On this night, though, they were doing battle in Pullman.
A win by the Bruins would clinch the Pac-10 crown, while a W by the Cougs would give them a share of the conference lead. The WSU student body was amped. But they were about to take it to new heights, courtesy of Cougar senior forward Aaron Haskins of Tacoma.
"Just before tip off, Aaron steps to center court with a saxophone in his hands," remembers Witter, a WSU junior at the time. "He was wearing his warm ups and looked very serious. I was thinking this is a little different, but it's neat that they're letting a senior show off his extra-curricular hobby a bit in front of a packed house."
Haskins, the Pride of Mount Tahoma High, proceeded to unleash his sax for a goose-bump-inducing rendition of the national anthem.
"Words can't describe how powerful it was," Witter recalls. "To say it was stirring is an understatement. It was creative, mesmerizing, electric, passionate. I may be biased, but I've never heard a national anthem like it. Not Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, not Whitney Houston at the '91 Super Bowl. Aaron and his saxophone were pure magic. He sent a bolt of lightning through the crowd."
When Haskins finished the anthem, the crowd was at a fever pitch.
"Everyone was on their feet and I swear not one person sat down the rest of the night. It was so deafening in Beasley that you had to yell in order to talk to the person next to you. I'm not kidding. Aaron's national anthem was like pouring kerosene on a fire. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that's why we won," Witter says. "This was like the 12th man on steroids and Red Bull."
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. He 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.
The Bruins would go on to win the Pac-10 title, but the Cougs, with 22 wins to their credit, went to the Big Dance and advanced to the second-round before losing a tight one to No. 4 Virginia and their three-time national player of the year, Ralph Sampson.
HASKINS (left) and MONSON
It was the second NCAA Tournament appearance for Haskins, who was a freshman on the 1979-80 Cougar team that also won 22 games and played in March Madness – WSU's first trip there in 39 years. Until the most recent run of Cougar basketball success, Haskins and Chris Monson were the only Cougar players in history to play in two NCAA Tournaments.
HASKINS' SPECIAL PLACE IN Cougar lore was recounted fondly Monday by WSU alums of his era when his wife Cheryl sent an email to friends and family announcing that Aaron had died unexpectedly in his sleep early that morning.
"My wonderful husband of 29 years, Aaron Haskins, passed away unexpectedly in his sleep this morning at about 4 am. He was a wonderful and loving husband, an amazing father of three, and grandfather of four. A fabulous Pastor, a faithful brother to eight siblings, loving son, a mean saxophone player. He was an inspiration to so many people around the world. In many ways he was larger than life and leaves a truly great legacy for others to follow," she wrote.
Aaron, just three months shy of his 50th birthday, was a long-time pastor at The City Church in Kirkland.
An online memorial to keep everyone abreast of coming details regarding his viewing and memorial service can be found at http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/aaronhaskinslegacy/homepage.aspx.
"Aaron was a key member of that great Cougar team of '82-'83 but not a superstar -- just a very thoughtful guy who brought a big-time work ethic to the court every day," Witter says. "But I'll tell you what, his magic with that saxophone against UCLA truly makes him a Cougar for the ages."