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

Meet America’s Team: the Washington State Cougars

Kyle Smith’s squad built to dance
WSU+forward+Jaylen+Wells+and+guard+Isiah+Watts+celebrate+after+winning+a+game+of+bump+during+ZzuMania%2C+Nov.+3%2C+2023%2C+in+Pullman%2C+Wash.
COLE QUINN
WSU forward Jaylen Wells and guard Isiah Watts celebrate after winning a game of bump during ZzuMania, Nov. 3, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Cougars, meet America.

America, meet your team: the Washington State Cougars.

The Cougars 77-74 upset of No. 4 Arizona was a landmark moment in WSU history. The No. 21 WSU Cougars, sporting the best active win streak in the country, and ranked for the first time since they concluded the 2007–08 season at No. 21, trotted into Tucson with a 6% chance (according to ESPN) to beat No. 4 Arizona.

In 40 spectacular, gut-wrenching minutes, the Cougs and Wildcats traded punches. Arizona sold out the McKale Center, a place WSU coach Kyle Smith accurately characterized as one of the toughest places to play in the nation.

It was neon night, FS1 was broadcasting the game and SportsCenter’s flagship anchor Scott Van Pelt was watching.

The stage was set and the Cougars put on a show.

Seven-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Myles Rice made just 2-of-12 shots and scored 5 points, but that did not matter.

BRANDON WILLMAN
Myles Rice hypes up the crowd after the Cougs took down Colorado, Jan. 27, in Pullman, Wash.

Jaylen Wells, who this time last year was lighting up Division II, led Wazzu with 27 of the most gritty points in his career. He sent six 3-point shots sailing through the net, including, a 4-point play that will be ingrained in the Cougar Pantheon for all time.

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WSU forward Jaylen Wells tries to cross up Stanford forward Spencer Jones during an NCAA men’s basketball game, Feb. 17. 2024, in Pullman, Wash.

And Andrej Jakimovski, the longest-tenured active Coug of four years and one of just a handful of Cougs who had won in the McKale center before, made it possible.

COLE QUINN
WSU forward Andrej Jakimovski passes the ball during an NCAA men’s basketball game against Eastern Washington, Nov. 27, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

With 30 seconds remaining and the Cougs trailing by 3, Rice’s 3-point attempt banked off the rim and met the hardwood. Jakimoski dove on the loose ball to secure the offensive board darted off to his right, and heaved the rock to an open Wells in the wing who took the 3-point shot of his life as he was knocked to the ground.

“Honestly, I caught the ball. I shot it. I didn’t see the rim. Then I was lying on the ground, a dude was sitting on me. I look up and hear someone say, ‘Yeah, dog!’,” Wells said.

Smith’s Cougs are a deep team. A team comprised of underdogs who were each counted out by most of the country.

WSU was Rice’s lone power-five offer. Wells lit up D-II with Sonemoa State last year, Cluff played JUCO hoops in Arizona. The 6-foot-11 Sunshine Coast, Australia native had a slew of his former teammates in attendance and his dad made the trip from Australia to see him play power five college hoops.

Jones, the Orting High School product spent three years at Wenatchee Valley College under head coach Jeremy Harden, lit up the Big Sky Conference with Idaho last year and wasted little time showing out at the power five level with WSU.

On Thursday night, Jones scored 16 with six rebounds and two blocks, including a crucial block in the final minutes of the game.

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WSU forward Isaac Jones jumps for a layup during an NCAA basketball game against California, Feb. 15, 2024, in Pullman, Wash.

That same coach Harden? He became an assistant at Idaho last year then at WSU this year, coaching Jones at every step of his colligate journey. With friends and family in attendance, the Tuscon High School alumnus proposed to his girlfriend and she said yes.

Another Coug who was on hand for WSU’s win in Tuscon last year, was sophomore Frenchman Kymany Houinsou.

BRANDON WILLMAN
Kymany Houinsou celebrating on the bench late in WSU’s win, Feb. 15, in Pullman, Wash.

In his return to the hostile environment, Houinsou provided 8 points, four rebounds (two offensive) and an assist in 20 minutes on the floor.

Perhaps the most underrated performance of the night came from freshman Rueben Chienelyu, the Nigeran native who began playing basketball as a means to pursue his goal of becoming a medical doctor, as highlighted by a recent KXLY story.

Chinelu provided his first career double-double with 12 points, 11 rebounds an assist and a block.

COLE QUINN
Rueben Chinyelu flexes and yells after a big dunk, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

With a much-improved roster from two years ago, WSU has the chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 (I was five years old).

I chose to watch the game at the Coug. It was a true fan experience with the place roaring for every huge WSU moment and breaking out into celebration when the Cougars won.

As I walked away from the Coug after Wazzu’s monumental win, a nearby residence set off a firework. One can only hope that Pullman has basketball fervor and that the side effect is that the Cougars’ final three home games (Feb. 29 vs. USC, March 2 vs. UCLA and March 7 vs. UW) will be packed. Pullman, get ready.

If you need another reason to love this team, watch a unique look at WSU’s postgame meeting. You can just feel the spirit in the room as guys sprint down the hall to congratulate coach Harden on his engagement, dance, celebrate each other, and listen attentively to the man, the myth, the legend Kyle Smith.

“It’s easy to be confident with this group because you guys give us reason to be confident,” Smith said.

Smith’s team concludes their meeting with one of the best demonstrations of WSU spirit I’ve ever seen, spelling out exactly what it means to play “nerd ball” and be “Wheatfield Underdogs.” 

The team gathers in a circle. Smith encourages someone to start the chant and the whole visiting locker room erupts into the following chant, known as the “Ballad of the Palouse.”

“Been around the wheat fields twice 

Winter on the Palouse cold as ice 

Learned a lot of lessons in PEB 142, like closing out and yelling loose! 

Never missed a line on my conditioning time. Ain’t nothing I can’t do. I’m on my hustle stat! 

People like to call us nerds and that’s ok by me. Cause coach always says pull that 3!

Anything in life worth doing is worth over doing. Moderation is for huskies and bruins and …. WILDCATS!!!

When the game gets tough. No one will ever forget…

We’re from Pullman, freakin Pullman, freakin Pullman, we don’t care. 

I would rather be from Pullman THAN A CHUMP FROM ANYWHERE! GO COUGS!!”

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About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
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.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.

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  • BillMar 2, 2024 at 1:55 pm

    So true
    Awesome