No. 18 WSU’s pursuit of rare Pac-12 hoops title full of storylines

Mar 6, 2024, 2:43 PM | Updated: 2:51 pm

WSU Cougars basketball Jaylen Wells...

Jaylen Wells of the WSU Cougars men's basketball team shoots against UCLA. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

(AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The list of regular-season basketball champions in the Pac-12 record book has plenty of mentions of teams like UCLA and Arizona.

For 83 years, however, the WSU Cougars have been absent.

This year’s Cougars — ranked No. 18 in this week’s AP Top 25 — need some help, but they will go into Thursday night’s regular-season finale against Washington (which airs at 5:30 p.m. on Seattle Sports radio) with a chance to end that long drought and claim the title in the final year of the Pac-12 with its current membership.

“To finish this thing with Washington on our home floor; there’s always something at stake,” Washington State coach Kyle Smith said. “It’s a rivalry but then, you know, we’re still in the hunt to win the league, which is just incredible.”

Preview: No. 18 WSU faces UW with Pac-12 title hopes still alive

There are plenty of storylines this week for the Cougars. It’s the last time they will face the Huskies in a regular-season game while both are members of the same conference. There’s also the broader NCAA Tournament implications, where one more win could help Washington State craft a resume that could help the Cougars land in nearby Spokane for the NCAAs.

Then there’s the Pac-12 title. The last time the Cougars won a conference regular-season title was 1941 — the year they reached the national championship game before losing to Wisconsin. They have finished second six times since 1941, the last coming in 2007.

The scenario for getting over the hump this year is straightforward. A win over Washington, plus one Arizona loss to either UCLA or Southern California, would hand the Cougars the long-elusive title. Washington State beat Arizona twice in the regular season, giving it the tiebreaker if the schools finish tied.

“It’ll be loud. It’ll be exciting. And I told our guys that I’ve been in coaching 31 years, not many, maybe a handful of times we’ve been in a game like this,” Smith said. “It’ll be exciting.”

Virtually every other long-time historical member of the West Coast’s top conference has been able to claim the regular-season title in men’s basketball during the Cougars’ drought.

UCLA has done it, of course — 32 times to be exact. So have USC (seven), California (15), Stanford (11), Washington (12), Oregon State (12) and Oregon (eight). Arizona’s won 17 regular-season titles since joining the league in 1978.

Arizona State, which also joined in 1978, doesn’t have a regular-season title. Neither do Utah or Colorado, who both came on board when the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011.

But Washington State’s drought is unmatched. The Cougars’ two regular-season titles – in 1917 and 1941 — are the same as the number of championships won by Idaho when it was a member of the conference.

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