The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Americas Team: Mens basketball takeover national spotlight

Social Media reacts to WSU’s win over Arizona
Rueben Chinyelu celebrates toward the WSU crowd after a big upset win over Arizona, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

Coming in ranked No. 21 in the nation and heading into Arizona’s home court, national conversations surrounding the WSU men’s basketball (21-6, 12-4 Pac-12) team were hesitant to name the Cougs as anything more than a feel-good story that is overperforming. 

It’s somewhat understandable, Arizona entered a perfect 13-0 on the season and 45-2 in games played in the McKale Center since the beginning of the 2021–22 season. 

All said and done, the Cougs beat expectations and beat Arizona 77-74, now projecting to be a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament, their first Tournament bid since 2008, and gave captured the national and local media’s attention like no other. 

After their win, 12,200 posts on X featured “Washington State” as of 11:43 p.m., the ninth most-trending phrase in the United States. “Arizona” trended at No. 5, “Jaylen Wells” sat at No. 6, “Kyle Smith” got some love at No. 10 and finally, “Wazzu” rounded off the Cougs top-15 trend at No. 13.

Wells especially, but the entire team captivated social media for their performance not only against Arizona but the entire season, cultivating with the upset in McKale. 

Social media accounts with large reach started tweeting about the Cougs, creating more national conversations and more eyes on the team. Smith received a lot of praise for his work as head coach. 

“If Kyle Smith isn’t the national MBB coach of the year, they should bury the award forever,” posted Nick Daschel, Oregon State Athletics reporter for The Oregonian. “What Smith has done at Washington State this year in rebuilding that roster without much NIL help … he’s a witch.” 

Other accounts put it more simply. SportsCenter segment producer Steve Coughlin, better known as “Stanford Steve,” posted his advocacy for Smith’s candidacy. The simple phrase “Kyle Smith coach of the year.” Reaching over 100,000 impressions, his word carries weight. 

College Basketball Report on X posted a picture of Smith with the caption “Coach of the year.” Their post reached over 40,000. 

All of a sudden, the Cougs are getting love from people watching the team outside Washington. It’s a testament to the play on the court, the coaching by Smith and the story. 

There is a lot of story with the Cougs. In the grand scheme of collegiate athletics, they are playing in the Pac-12, the Confernece that will cease to exist in its current form come the end of their season. 

Individuals on the team are from all different backgrounds. From overlooked players overcoming obstacles to get to D-1 to players coming overseas to America for the first time to play basketball, there is a lot to like about the different walks of life these players have experienced. 

Despite boasting a record of 21-6 and now sitting alone atop the Pac-12 standings, the team still embraces the role of being the “Wheatfield Underdogs.” 

“We have a lot of amazing underdog stories on our team. It just kind of fits,” Wells said. 

Wells, a former D-2 player that Smith recruited from Sonoma State, has been one of those underdog stories. He earned the praise of the media for his role in taking down Arizona, leading the team in scoring with 27 and hitting the four-point play that cemented the win with under 30 seconds left. 

“He is perfect,” posted Morgan Narby, College Hill marketing manager and WSU alum, regarding Wells’ account of the four-point play. 

Far and wide, upsetting the Wildcats opened the nation’s collective eyes to WSU. John Fanta, Fox Sports broadcaster and reporter, took to X to remark he sees no world worth not rooting for the Cougs, and no world believing they are not good enough to hold their own once they make the NCAA Tournament. 

“If you’re not all in on Washington State to do something in the tournament, we can’t be friends. This team is good. Really good,” Fanta posted. 

Scott Van Pelt posted on X his admiration for Smith’s job as a coach. 

“I don’t know how many college basketball coaches are doing a better job than Kyle Smith, but that list is really short if there is even anyone ahead of him,” Van Pelt posted. “What a win for Washington State.” 

His post reached over 450,000 impressions, continuing to bring the Cougs the attention they’ve been working hard to receive. It also was the first time he posted a standalone tweet since Feb. 19, further pushing the narrative that the Cougs are worth covering and worth posting about on a national stage. 

WSU feeds off narrative. They started as underdogs. But now, they are becoming America’s Team.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.