A Remarkable Year for Cougar Men's Basketball
March 13, 2007
Editor's Note: This is the third installment of a four-part series chronicling the Washington State men's basketball team's four trips to the NCAA Tournament in 1941, 1980, 1983 and 1994.
2007 will mark the fifth trip to the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship for Washington State. The Cougars were selected as the No. 3 seed in the East Region and will play No. 14 seed Oral Roberts in a first round game at Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 15.
Today's Feature: Not since the memorable 1941 national runner-up season had the Cougars played in the NCAA Tournament, but that streak was put to an end in 1980 when WSU took the floor against Penn in a NCAA first round game. The 1980 Cougars amassed a 22-6 record, marking the first 20-win season for the program since 1949.
By Elizabeth Wiley
Washington State Athletic Media Relations
The 1979-80 season was a year of firsts for the Washington State University men's basketball team, featuring firsts for the program, the players, and the coach.
It was the first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1941 for WSU, ending a 39-year absence from postseason play.
The WSU squad featured five senior starters with four of the quintet averaging double figures in points. Don Collins set the tone with a 23.1 points per game average, a league leading figure, and was second on the team with six rebounds a game. Following Collins in scoring was Stuart House (13.1/8.4), Bryan Rison (12.8), and co-captain Terry Kelly (11.1).
As WSU Head Coach George Raveling told the Idahonian, 'We have had some good senior classes . . . but I think this is the best senior class since I've been here.'
Collins was the first Cougar to be named an All-American. Collins was also named the Pacific-10 Player of the Year, and received recognition from AP, UPI (United Press International), and Sporting News in postseason awards.
Those awards came after Collins was a major contributor for the team in virtually every statistical category. Along with leading the team in scoring, Collins led the Cougars in steals (2.7), was second for rebounds (6.0) and blocked shots (10 total), and third in assists (1.7). Collins set school single-season records in scoring and steals.
Collins set a total of 12 WSU records and one Pac-10 record over the course of his career, including points scored, field goals and field goal percentage, and minutes played. He remains in the record books today in a number of categories. In fact, Collins is first all-time for season totals in steals, field goals, scoring average, and third for career points.
'Donald is probably the best all-around player I've coached at WSU, and one of the best I've coached in 18 years,' Raveling said in the March 8, 1980 Idahonian.
Rison and House joined Collins in receiving postseason awards for the athletic achievements.
The experience of the starters also helped the team to split their season series with two ranked Pacific-10 opponents, Arizona State and Oregon State, as well as perennial power UCLA.
The season also marked the first trip to the postseason for the Cougars under Raveling. Raveling entered his eighth year as head coach in the 1979-80 season. WSU steadily improved over the course of his tenure, but the 1980 season capped the rebuilding of the program.
Early on it was predicted that this team would be faster than previous squads. The Cougars entered the season without a major threat at the post position. By using speed and athleticism, WSU was able to outscore their opponents, 75.2 to 64.8.
The Cougars entered the season having lost 7-foot-2 post James Donaldson. This forced House to move from forward to center.
After a 6-1 start in preseason play, the only loss at Alabama-Birmingham, WSU entered conference play ready to compete with the elite. In the first weekend of conference play, the Cougars lost at Arizona State, 75-74, and beat Arizona 59-57.
WSU swept their next three opponents, winning at Washington (72-68) and at home against Stanford (102-74) and California (83-64). Following the wins in Pullman, the Cougars headed to Oregon to meet the second-ranked Oregon State Beavers. WSU fought back from 16 down at halftime but its rally would fall short in the waning seconds of the game.
The Cougars followed the OSU loss with a win at Oregon and headed home to take on Southern California and Pac-10 powerhouse UCLA. Collins scored 36 points in a 20 point win over USC (77-57).
Then, WSU beat UCLA for the first time since 1966 in an 80-64 win at Friel Court. Collins had another 30 point effort for the Cougars, scoring 31 points. The win gave the Cougars a 7-2 Pac-10 record and a chance to be conference champions.
The next week, the Cougars lost to the Huskies (64-63) in a game that no one expected the Cougars to lose. Following the loss WSU won three straight at California (80-68), Stanford (93-75), and home versus Oregon (81-66). Bryan Rison shot and made a Pac-10 record 23-25 free throws in the tilt against Oregon.
WSU carried the three-game winning streak into a home rematch against conference leader Oregon State, ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Cougars used a strong second half to defeat the Beavers 69-51 in front of a capacity crowd. Rison again came up big, with 20 points on 5-10 from the field and 10-11 from the charity stripe.
The victory resulted in recognition for the Cougars. Rison was named the Pac-10 Player of the Week and Sports Illustrated picked Collins. WSU also received national rankings, 20 in the AP poll and 19 in the UPI coaches' poll.
WSU won the last three conference games after an 80-66 loss at UCLA. The team got its 20th win against USC. Stuart House shot a record 92.3 percentage from the field (12-13). Then, the Cougars beat No. 16 Arizona State 71-58 and came back from a double-digit deficit to win its final game against Arizona, 74-71, both at home.
After beating the two Arizona schools, the Cougars ended the regular season with a 22-5 record, marking the first 20-win season for WSU since 1949. The Cougars earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament and was placed as a fifth seed in the Midwest Regional against Ivy League champion Pennsylvania.
WSU went on to lose in the opening round to Pennsylvania 62-55. Three players scored 43 of the team's points: Collins had 20, as he continued to play consistently, and Kelly and Preston contributed 13 and 10 respectively.
With the score tied at 51, a pivotal point of the game occurred when WSU All-American Don Collins, who finished with 20 points, fouled out with 3:57 left. Penn outscored WSU 11-4 the rest of the way.
'I think we're capable of beating anybody when we play up to our ability level for 40 minutes,' said Raveling, in the Chronicle on March 4. 'But there are no easy opponents when you get to this stage of the season - there's no tomorrow in the NCAA. One bad night and you're gone.'
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