WSU checks in at No. 21 in new AP Top 25, marking first appearance since 2008

Feb. 19—PULLMAN — Washington State no longer needs to imagine being ranked.

The Cougars checked in at No. 21 in this week's AP poll, released Monday, marking the first time they have made a cameo in the Top 25 since the final week of the 2008 season.

That's also the last time the program made the NCAA Tournament, and if the tournament started today, WSU would likely return. That's according to most national projections, including CBS, which predicts the Cougars to earn a No. 7 seed under head coach Kyle Smith.

The Cougs were lifting weights Monday morning when they found out, according to wing Andrej Jakimovski, who combined for 25 points in WSU's weekend wins over Cal and Stanford.

"Coach came and he was like, finally, we got some respect," Jakimovski said after practice Monday. "We're ranked 21st in the nation — congrats. But keep it going. We are not satisfied. We just have to keep going and see what we can do."

WSU (20-6, 11-4 Pac-12) has earned the opportunity by winning seven straight, including home victories over Cal and Stanford last weekend. The Cougs own the nation's sixth-longest win streak.Heading into Thursday's road showdown with No. 5 Arizona, they are one-half game back of the Wildcats for first place in the Pac-12. The winner of the game will be in first place in the conference. WSU, which has five games left in its regular season, last won a conference regular-season title in 1941.

The Cougs had steadily been building to making an appearance in this week's poll. In the Feb. 5 poll, they received six votes, good for an unofficial No. 35 ranking. A week later, after knocking off Oregon State and Oregon on the road, they collected 82 votes, equal to an unofficial No. 30 spot.

WSU has also has not earned win No. 20 this early since 2008. Back then, the head coach was Tony Bennett, who coached the Cougars from 2006-2009. He led Washington State to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2008, making a cameo in the Sweet 16 in the latter season.

He also had a pivotal hand in landing Klay Thompson, the Golden State Warriors star whose number is now retired at WSU. Thompson's first season at WSU (2008-09) was the last for Bennett, who then moved on to the head gig at Virginia, where he currently coaches.

Thompson never made the NCAA Tournament with the Cougs, who then hired head coach Ken Bone, whose WSU programs recorded winning seasons in his first three years. The Cougs then won just seven conference games across the next two campaigns, leading to his dismissal after the 2014 season.

The reins then went to coach Ernie Kent, who failed to lead WSU to a winning season in all five of his seasons (2014-2019). The Cougs went 4-14 in Pac-12 play in each of his final two years.

Washington State closes with these contests: At Arizona, at Arizona State, then home matchups with USC, UCLA and rival Washington. Then it's off to the Pac-12 Tournament, set for March 13-16 in Las Vegas.

Rice, Jones win awards

WSU redshirt freshman Myles Rice earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors and forward Isaac Jones was named Player of the Week, the conference announced Monday.

It's the second time this season Washington State has swept the weekly awards, both times with Rice and Jones. The Cougs are also the only team in Pac-12 history to sweep these awards on multiple occasions in one season.

It's the seventh time for Rice, who has now captured the Freshman of the Week award four straight weeks. He led WSU to two wins last weekend, posting 25 points and 5 rebounds in a win over Cal and 14 points and 5 assists in WSU's win over Stanford. Rice also matches former USC standout Evan Mobley for most Freshman of the Week honors since the award's inception in 2019-20.

Jones also scored in double figures in both WSU wins over the weekend, recording 21 points and 9 rebounds against Cal and 15 points and 5 rebounds against Stanford, in which he eclipsed 1,000 career points. Jones has now scored in double figures in all but two games this season.

Rice (15.9 ppg) and Jones (15.7 ppg) rank ninth and 10th in scoring in the conference.

Bracketology updates

Headed into the final stretch of the regular season, Washington State has firmly played its way off bubble projections and landed in the field of 68.

In ESPN's latest projections, posted Friday, WSU is a No. 9 seed, facing No. 8 Florida in Memphis.

In CBS' latest, updated Monday, the Cougs are a No. 7 seed, playing No. 10 Ole Miss in Indianapolis.

WSU also appears in all 102 bracket predictions pulled by BracketMatrix, a service that compiles projections and spits out teams' average seeds. WSU's is 8.9. That is solidly off the 11-seed line, which would potentially come with a play-in game attached.

Here is Washington State's resume.

AP ranking: 21

NET ranking: 31

KenPom ranking: 33

Quad 1 record: 4-3

Quad 2: 4-2

Quad 3: 5-1

Quad 4: 7-0

Note: Wins are divided into quadrants based on the NET ranking of the losing team. Quad 1 is the highest tier, followed by Quads 2, 3 and 4.