Reflections on the end of a magical run

Will it ever be like this again?

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Feeling wistful

As the clock hit zero on Saturday night and the Cougs’ NCAA Tournament came to an end, an ache hit my stomach and tears welled up in my eyes. It was over, and the thought that I’d been pushing away for weeks and weeks could no longer be kept at bay — the reality that nothing would ever be the same after this.

With the conference already gone, there would be no more conference title races with Arizona, or any of our other historic rivals. Keeping Kyle Smith would be an uphill battle — Wazzu coaches who do this are highly desirable, for good reason. And players would be leaving, because that’s just the reality of college sports in 2024.

The first postseason domino could be ready to fall: A source told me that Smith has been offered the Stanford job (something I passed along last night in our Podcast Vs. Everyone members-only message board). A little-known — but popular with coaches — Twitter account, @CoachingChanges, reported that Smith will be announced later today and characterized it as “DONE.”

I have to admit that I wasn’t quite ready for Smith to head to Stanford before the body of this season was even cold. There’s nothing wrong with that — Smith has clearly been Stanford’s top target for some time, and his agent did his job, leveraging his client’s success into a more desirable gig. And, unlike Tony Bennett, Smith has been up front about his intention to negotiate. Ripping the bandaid off is fine. But if it is indeed happening, it just underscores what we all inherently knew:

This season was lightning in a bottle.

It was special, and we should cherish it.

We know these experiences don’t come around for us very often. It took a long time to get back to this point, with truckloads of losses in between 2008 and now. These players and coaches are now the proud owners of one of the seven NCAA Tournament appearances in school history, and they amassed more than 10% of the school’s all-time weeks in the AP Top 25.

When seasons like these end, history tells us that it’s not particularly likely to occur again for some time. And that was under the best of circumstances, as a member of the Pac-8/10/12.

Beyond all the wins, this group was incredibly easy to root for. If we’re being honest, Hollywood producers would have rejected this script for being too unrealistic; when a key player returning from cancer is maybe not the most unlikely success story on the team, you know you’ve got one hell of a likeable group.

A guy who quit basketball after high school? A guy who jumped up a level to become a star? A guy from Africa, moving to the United States for the first time? A goofy Australian? A grizzled veteran from North Macedonia … who left the team once, only to come back? Led by a wacky coach with a penchant for Modelo/Coors Light/Bubly, and who has a special needs child at home?

I mean … come on.

These guys have endeared themselves so thoroughly to me, have brought me so much unbridled joy, that it pains me deeply to have to ask myself the obvious question — the question that was at the front of my mind the moment that game ended on Saturday.

Will I ever get to feel this way about Cougar basketball again?

It’s the hope that keeps us coming back to WSU sports, despite all the inherent challenges. Hope that the good times will return someday and, however improbable, it can be like this again.

But can it?

Are we following a program that is just wandering through the desert for a couple of years before finding a home in the Big 12? Or are we now alumni of a school that is settling into permanent midmajor status?

So many questions, with so few actual answers right now.

Both options stink, although one stinks just a little less for what might be on the other side. But even if that one plays out, the damage that will be done in the meantime is so hard to swallow — I mean, it’s not hard to imagine WSU making a truly competitive push to keep Smith if the conference situation was still status quo.

But we’ll keep coming back. We always do.

There will be time to thank Kyle, if it turns out it’s time to say goodbye. Right now, I want to thank the players — thank you Isaac, Myles, Jaylen, Andrej, Oscar, Rueben, Kymany, Isaiah, and Jabe. You brought me so much joy. I’ll never forget it.

Around Pullman

Women’s hoops moves on in WBIT

The Cougar women’s basketball team used a massive fourth quarter to sprint past Santa Clara in the second round of the WBIT, which they hosted at Beasley Coliseum yesterday.

The Cougs took control of the game with a 12-4 run to finish out the first half with an 8-point lead, extended it a little in the third quarter, then exploded for 30 point in the final 10 minutes to blow the doors off the Broncos behind 4-of-7 from 3 in the quarter.

It was an exceptionally balanced attack that led the way, with three players in double figures and seven(!) players scoring 7 or more points. Astera Tuhina led the way with 14 while Kyra Gardner (11) and Jessica Clarke (10) also posted double figures off the bench.

The Cougs will host Toledo on Thursday night at 6 p.m. PT in a quarterfinal matchup of the top two seeds in their part of the bracket, with the game broadcast on ESPN+. It will be their final game in Pullman either way, as the semifinals and finals are at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indiana.

Baseball sweeps ASU

WSU picked up a trio of wins against the Sun Devils to improve to 15-8 overall and jump back up to third place in the Pac-12 at 5-4. Joey Kramer homered for the second straight game in Sunday’s 8-6 win, giving him 6 on the season and raising his batting average to .366 his OPS to 1.018.

The Cougs head to Portland for a midweek game tomorrow, then to Seattle for a three-game set at last-place Washington starting on Thursday. (Did you catch that — LAST PLACE.)

Bracket Contest update!

After one weekend, here’s the top 10 (and ties) in the great race for that Homefield Apparel shirt:


What’s most important, though, is the max points remaining. Here’s those top 10:

I see you, Dustin.

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