A great crowd. A great atmosphere. A great game. But Idaho couldn't come up with one last shot — or one last rebound — against its border rival on Saturday night. The Vandals fell 67-66 to Washington State, and we have a recap from UI's perspective below.
MOSCOW, Idaho – You could tell how much this game meant to the Vandals by their emotions right after the final buzzer sounded.
Sekou Wiggs bent over with a pained expression on his face. Stephen Madison, with his hands on his knees, looked spent. And then there was point guard Glen Dean – a few moments after ending up on the wrong side of a 67-66 thriller with Washington State, he started jawing at the Cougars' D.J. Shelton.
The schools are only 8 miles apart, and players from both sides know each other well. They play basketball during the summer. Dean and WSU's DaVonte Lacy, both from the Seattle area, are friends who spend time together in Pullman.
“They’re like brothers to us,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “And since 2002 they’ve been the brother that’s getting the best of us.”
The Cougars' come-from-behind win in front of a lively crowd of 4,142 at Cowan Spectrum was their 11th in a row in this series that has been played 269 times. And the last two in Moscow have been heartbreakers for the Vandals.
Down by one with 7.8 seconds left after Shelton had made two free throws to put WSU ahead, Dean drove the length of the court, cut for the basket on the baseline and found Connor Hill open in the opposite corner. But Hill's 3-point attempt hit the back of the rim and spun out, and WSU players rushed the court.
Verlin said the Vandals executed the final play “exactly perfect,” and Dean was comfortable with what transpired, too – up until Hill's miss.
“My first instinct was to try to get all the way to the rim, and with that try to draw a foul,” said Dean, a senior transfer who had 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting. “I thought I could turn the corner, and when I did I stumbled on my foot. I didn’t feel comfortable going to finish it at the rim, so I saw Connor Hill drift to the corner. You know, I tried to give him the best pass for him to just catch it and shoot it.
Idaho (4-5) led 48-38 with 14 minutes left. But its offense didn't generate a field goal in the final 8 minutes, and it couldn't fend off the Cougars on the boards.
WSU won the rebounding battling 35-31, but that doesn't begin to tell the whole story. The Cougs' 21 offensive rebounds turned into 15 second-chance points (Idaho had just four). And Shelton's game-winning free throws came after Lacy missed a layup.
“They killed us on the boards,” Verlin said. “They just got so many extra possessions. They got a big free throw rebound in the second half. The last play of the game was off a missed shot. … We did just a terrible job of keeping them off the glass. And it was our No. 1 key to the game was we knew with their size we advantage we knew we had to keep them off the boards, and we didn’t tonight. That was disappointing.”
Verlin said the Vandals wanted this game badly not just because WSU is their biggest rival – that's from the players' perspective, not most of the fan base – but also because of the more than 4,000 fans that showed up.
“When you get a big crowd, you want to pay them for it,” the sixth-year coach said. “And we weren’t able to pay them off tonight, and our guys really are disappointed with that.”
Dean's disappointment bubbled over with a quick few words to Shelton after both teams were mostly off the court and the fans were filing out. The two players were 10 to 15 feet apart, but kept talking until Lacy came over to Dean to try to calm him down.
Afterward, Dean said it was “definitely (an) immature move” on his part.
“A couple words were said,” Dean explained. “But you know, it’s nothing big. Just two guys in the heat of the moment. You know, I knew the rivalry was big, but it didn’t really hit me until we started playing. Just as a competitor, you definitely want to win. And I think that I let my competitive nature get the best of me at that moment. But we’re both fine.”
As for Lacy coming over to calm the situation, he said, “He’s one of the Seattle-Tacoma guys. I go over to Pullman and hang out with him and a couple other friends quite often. So I’m grateful for him to be there at the moment because he grabbed me aside and made me collect his thoughts and get back in the right (frame of mind).”
Dean tweeted after the game that there's “no such thing as moral victories.” And he had a strong message for his teammates with tough game at Montana on Wednesday.
“That’s a good Pac-12 team that we just played, and we proved we can play at that level,” he told reporters. “But if this one doesn’t sting — I don’t want to take anything from Wazzu — but if this one doesn’t sting and you’re not ready to come to practice Monday and to bust your butt to get better and to eliminate the small things that we did wrong in this game and correct them moving forward, no disrespect to any of my teammates, but you’re not the teammate I’m looking to play with, because this one should sting and everybody should be really motivated to come into practice Monday and (work) hard to get better so we don’t have to feel this feeling again.”