The WSU Men’s basketball team (19-12), was invited to the NIT tournament after being passed over by the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The Cougars will host a first round NIT game as the #2 seed against Long Beach State (22-12), in Pullman Wednesday evening. The WSU team will feature the PAC’s leading scorer, Klay Thompson, who set a new PAC-10 “tournament” record for the most points scored in a game with 43. The Cougars have never lost a NIT game at home (3-0) will go on to play, the winner of Oklahoma St.(19-13) vs. Harvard (23-6) game should they get past Long Beach State. The location of game #2, if the Cougars win, will be played at the campus site of the highest seed. NIT semifinals and finals will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City, March 29 and 31.
This year, WAZZU fan expectations are high after being a NCAA bubble team most of the season. Based on the play of Thompson & crew, many believe that this team could make it to NYC for the semi’s. The 1995 Cougs made it to the quarter finals and recent teams have a couple invites in the past 3 years. CAL (17-14)#4 seed, was the only other PAC-10 team invited NIT. However, new PAC-12 member Colorado (21-13) will be playing in the the NIT as #1 seed. The Cougs would not face until the championship game based on the bracket seeds.
Long Beach State, winner of the Big West Conference, will come to Pullman with head Coach Don Monson as “conference coach of the year.” Many NW sports fans will remember Monson as a former Gonzaga head coach. The Forty-Niners will also bring a talented team with all five starters have been named to the 2011 Big West All-Conference team. Junior point guard Casper Ware is one of the team stars and was 2011 Big West Player of the Year & also 2011 Defensive Player of the year.
The 2011 Cougars are playing well even after losing close games to UCLA and UW. WSU will have to put together a strong defensive effort because Long Beach is a team that can put points on the board. If the Cougs can “dial-up-the-D” and get some scoring help from Reggie Moore or Fasiel Aden, the Cougars should be able to beat Long Beach St in front of the ZOO CREW home town crowd.