Cougar fans are still shaking themselves awake from the dream that was the 2006-07 basketball season.
The sweet reverie set in early this winter during a game against Gonzaga at Friel Court. For the first time in years, a scrappy bunch of mostly juniors and sophomores showed us that channeled energy, resiliency, and strategic coaching could add up to victory. The Washington State University win shattered a seven-game losing streak against the Zags and started a season loaded with ending streaks and broken records.
Sports analysts who predicted we’d finish at the back of the Pac-10 were forced to take a second look at Tony Bennett, the young head coach in his first year in charge. In 2003, his father, Dick Bennett, came out of retirement to rebuild WSU’s basketball program. He brought along Tony, a former NBA player, to work as his assistant. Each year the Bennetts pushed the program forward, preparing us for a series of thrilling second halves and nail-biting overtimes. Now with Tony as coach, WSU has had its first winning season in more than a decade. With 26 wins, the team tied the school record set in 1941.
When they started, there were no stars, just a bunch of really solid players. When one was guarded, another stepped in to shoot the three-pointer or get the rebound. Derrick Low, Ivory Clark, Daven Harmeling, Taylor Rochestie, Kyle Weaver, Robbie Cowgill, Aaron Baynes, and others. They were regular guys on campus who in a few short weeks this winter became heroes of the Palouse. They believed the Bennett dream, and it took them all the way to the No. 2 spot in the Pac-10. Then it carried them to Sacramento, where they played the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, extending the magic into mid-March.
The Cougars became the talk of every sports show and the sleeper team on every bracket. The sportscasters couldn’t help but notice how the players used what they learned in the first half of the game to win in the second.
The team didn’t disappoint. They pounded Oral Roberts in the first round of the tournament. In the second round, they stuck with Vanderbilt into double overtime. It was a hard game to watch. In the end, they lost. And just like that, the best basketball season in a long, long time was over.
A few hours later, the players were home in Pullman asleep in their own beds. And the rest of us were wondering what to do with our Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
A few things are certain, though: First, after what we’ve seen this winter, it won’t be so easy for the Cougars to sneak up on their opponents anymore. Second, since most of the players are sophomores and juniors, the same team will be back on Friel Court in October. And, third, we’re all counting the days until next season.