KENNEWICK – There was a time when Ken Bone wanted to play as many games in Pullman as possible. That’s where his Washington State team practices every day, the coach thought, so why shouldn’t they schedule all of their home games on their home floor?
Then he saw what attendance can be like during Christmas break, with students gone and not-so-marquee opponents on the schedule.
“The way the crowds have been the last two times out against Fresno State and Jackson State, maybe there’s something to be said about going on the road – if the road’s two hours away or an hour and a half away to Spokane, or to Seattle – to get better support,” Bone said last week.
That’s a big reason why the Cougars (8-4) will play their final nonconference game today in Kennewick, where they face Idaho State at 3 p.m. game in the Toyota Center.
Those attendance figures to which Bone referred: 2,651 for a Dec. 9 win over Fresno State, and 2,686 for a win over Jackson State on Dec. 13.
And while a roughly 2 1/2- hour drive to the Tri-Cities probably isn’t ideal for WSU’s Palouse-based ticket holders (it’s a little more than two hours from Spokane), a school spokesman said Friday morning that nearly 4,000 tickets had been sold for today’s game.
The last time the Cougars played a game in Kennewick was Dec. 19, 2009, when 6,286 watched WSU beat Portland State, 93-69, in Bone’s first year as coach. Walk-on guard Bryce Leavitt, a freshman, attended Kennewick High School.
Today’s game marks WSU’s second consecutive home-away- from-home game. The Cougars defeated Buffalo a week ago at KeyArena in Seattle, where they drew an announced crowd of 7,269. And last season, the Cougars moved their Pac-12- opening games against Oregon and Oregon State to the Spokane Arena because they were scheduled on the final weekend in December. Attendance for those two games totaled 18,171.
Idaho State’s (1-9) first and only win of the season came one month ago, when the Bengals defeated Montana Western at home. ISU is 0-2 against the Pac-12 this season, losing 57-46 to Utah and 87-35 to Oregon.
WSU begins Pac-12 play by hosting Washington – yes, in Pullman – on Jan. 5.