When asked what the turning point was during the 2006-07 season coach Tony Bennett said:
“That game against Gonzaga.”
Bennett began his first season as the Cougar head coach with seven straight wins, marking the best start by a Pac-10 head coach in his inaugural season since 1951-52.
The winning streak was snapped by a loss at Utah, Dec. 2. Next up was a pivotal match-up against Gonzaga in Pullman three days later.
“That game was a big game for us,” remembers Kyle Weaver, a junior guard on the team. “Gonzaga was a solid team.”
Gonzaga established itself a perennial national power with a run of eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, beginning with an Elite Eight appearance in 1999. The Zags continued their winning ways to start the 2006-07 season, bringing to Pullman an 8-1 record and ranked 18th in the nation.
The anticipation was enormous. The day before the game it was announced general public tickets were sold out with only student guess passes remaining. The crowd of 10,755 would be the largest to watch a basketball game at Beasley Coliseum since 1995.
“Beasley was rocking,” remembers junior guard Derrick Low.
“The crowd was phenomenal,” says Bennett.
Gonzaga jumped out to as much as a 10-point lead on multiple occasion before heading into the halftime break with a 41-35 advantage.
But the Cougars outscored Gonzaga 42-26 in the second half. Trailing 66-63 with 3:38 left, the Cougars closed out the game on a 14-1 run to secure a 77-67 victory and unleash many in the sold-out crowd to storm Friel Court in celebration.
“To have the fans rush the court, it was such a great feeling,” remembers Low.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to Gonzaga and served notice to the nation that Washington State had arrived.
“All of the guys stepped up,” Bennett says. “I remember saying, ‘Okay, this group can come together and compete with most teams.’ You could just feel it.”
“That was a turning point for our program,” says Low.
Derrick Low recalls tough training to learn the meaning of T.A.Y.
Read more about the 2006-07 Cougar men’s basketball team and their T.A.Y.