NIT BOUND: Cougs to host Santa Clara Tuesday
PULLMAN, Wash. – For the first time since 2011 the Cougs are headed to the postseason as Washington State earned an at-large bid to the 2022 National Invitation Tournament. After a reduced field in 2021 the NIT returns to a full field of 32-teams with the Cougs taking one of the spots as a 4-seed. The Cougs will host Santa Clara at Beasley Coliseum Tuesday, March 15 at 8 p.m. on ESPNU in the opening round of the tournament.
The Cougs are coming off one of their most successful seasons in the last decade as they enter the NIT 19-14 overall. Most recently the team went 1-1 at the Pac-12 Tournament, defeating Cal in the opening round before falling to the tournament runner-up, UCLA, in the second round of action. The Cougs win total was bolstered by strong run through the Pac-12 going 11-9 on the year for just the program's 13th winning season in conference play since the Pac was formed in the 1968-69 and the first since Tony Bennett roamed the sideline in 2007-08. In all the Cougs finished tied for 5th place alongside of Oregon and Washington. The finish was the team's best in Pac play since 2007-08 when the Cougs finished tied for 3rd. It marks just the third time WSU finished in the top-5 since 1994-95.
All time at the NIT the Cougs are 7-5 including going 3-1 in 2011 as the WSU, led by Klay Thompson, played its way to the semifinals, defeating Long Beach State, Oklahoma State, and Northwestern before falling to Wichita State. The Cougs have played in the NIT five times in their program history winning their opening round game in all but one season. That one loss in 2009 happened to come at the hands of Saint Mary's with coach Kyle Smith on the sidelines as an assistant coach for the Gaels. The loss also came on the road in the only first round game WSU has played away from Pullman in its five tournament appearances. Of the seven tournament victories, six have come inside Beasley Coliseum including three in the teams run to the semifinals in 2011.
WSU and Santa Clara last played in 2019 in coach Smith's first season with the Broncos coming out on top, 70-62, at home in Santa Clara. All-time the Cougs hold the 5-3 edge in the series including a perfect 3-0 record in Pullman with the last contest coming in 2016 with WSU winning 69-68. The Broncos enter the NIT at 21-11 overall after posting a 10-5 record in the WCC.
Playing at campus sites the first round takes place March 15-16, with the second round March 19-20, the third round March 22-23. Teams that survive the opening rounds will head to New York and the Mecca of basketball with the semi-finals and final at Madison Square Garden March 29 and 31, respectively.