PULLMAN – Just call it being neighborly.
Washington State begins a week of facing two of its closest basketball neighbors today by hosting Eastern Washington, a school it’s played 64 times in its history.
“We’ve tried to play a lot of local teams the past few years,” said WSU coach Ken Bone, whose team will travel to Moscow on Wednesday night to face Idaho. “Pretty much everybody in Washington and Oregon that’s not in the Pac-12, except Seattle U.”
While first-year EWU coach Jim Hayford enjoys matching up with his Pac-12 neighbor to the south, he would like it to happen even more often.
“We would love to turn it into a home and away like we have with Idaho,” Hayford said, “so I’m sure Ken and I will sit down and talk about that and try to make that happen.”
The schools used to play quite often in the 1980s and ‘90s, but this is just the third meeting since 1998. The Eagles last won in 1997 in Kennewick and, with WSU holding a 53-11 edge in the series, it comes as no surprise that Eastern hasn’t won in Pullman since 1952.
“It would be great for the rivalry (to win), but it’s been one-sided,” said Hayford, who was 217-57 in his 10 years at Whitworth University. “We need to do what we can do on our end to make it competitive. When you’re given opportunities, you’ve got to try to make the most of them and that’s what we need to with this opportunity with Washington State.”
But the opportunity to break a 59-year drought is also a real possibility, considering how the season has started for both teams.
Eastern opened up with a 77-69 loss at Gonzaga, which caught Charlie Enquist’s eye.
“I saw them play Gonzaga and they looked pretty good,” said the Cougars’ 6-foot-10 senior. “They were really impressive, going into Gonzaga with a new coach and giving them a good fight.”
Since then the Eagles have won four of five games – the one loss at Oregon after leading late. They are on a three-game winning streak.
The Cougars snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday by routing outmanned Grambling 69-37, but are still 3-4 overall. They also opened their season at GU, losing 89-81.
Bone sees Eastern as a tough out because the Eagles, led by 6-6 newcomer Collin Chiverton (15.7 points a game, 45.7 percent shooting from 3-point range) and 6-7 returnee Cliff Ederaine (12.7 points and 7.5 rebounds a game), are playing with belief.
“Chiverton has definitely added some things,” he said, “but a lot of those guys were in the program last year. They are playing better together as a team. And they are also playing extremely confident.”
The Cougars counter with the inside presence of 6-10 Brock Motum (coming off his first career double-double and averaging 14.6 points and 7.4 rebounds) and the steadiness out front of junior point guard Reggie Moore (5.7 assists per game).
But WSU will have to answer the Eagles’ intensity.
“We’re playing hard, really hard,” Hayford answered when asked what EWU is doing well. “The guys have bought in to playing hard and are starting to understand the system.”