It was just five short seasons ago when Washington State hit an all-time peak. Under the direction of head coach Tony Bennett, the 2007-08 Cougars won the first 14 games they played (including victories against Baylor, Washington, and USC away from home, and Gonzaga in Spokane), finished the season with 24 wins, and earned a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While there they demolished a solid Winthrop team by 31 and beat fifth-seeded Notre Dame by 20. They even hung with top-seeded North Carolina for a half in the Sweet Sixteen before the Tar Heels pulled away. Behind Pauley Pavilion and the McKale Center, Beasley Coliseum was one of the toughest places to play in the Pac-10, thanks to a large and relentless “ZZU CRU.” You’d have to go back pretty far to find a time when the Cougars were this prominent on a conference and national scale.
Excitement in Pullman remained high in the offseason when Bennett turned down an offer to rebuild the Indiana program. However, that would be one of the final good things to happen to the team in the last five years. The losses of Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, and Robbie Cowgill proved to be too much to overcome, and Washington State ended the 2008-09 season by bowing out in the first round of the NIT. With Taylor Rochestie, Daven Harmeling, and Aron Baynes graduating at the end of that year, Bennett decided to jump ship as well to Virginia. The move puzzled Cougar fans as Bennett had been a candidate for many high-profile jobs in past offseasons, and yet he chose Charlottesville over those destinations. Bennett’s replacement came in the form of Ken Bone, who had built Portland State into a Big Sky power. He would be charged with getting the Cougars back to NCAA Tournaments, a tough task as Bennett left a depleted roster in his wake.