MOSCOW – Idaho and Washington State have played 273 times in the oldest college basketball rivalry west of the Mississippi River.
It’s known as the Battle of the Palouse, but Wednesday evening at the Cowan Spectrum, only one of the teams seemed to take the “battle” portion of the game seriously. And it wasn’t the one that’s ruled the rivalry for the majority of its 113-year existence.
The Vandals won the opening tip, got 3-pointers from Perrion Callandret on their first two trips down the floor and continued to ambush WSU from beyond the arc, dropping in 14 long balls to drub the Cougars 91-64 in front of a raucous Moscow crowd that numbered 4,329.
The 27-point margin of victory was the third-largest for the Vandals in the Battle of the Palouse and the largest since 1963. Idaho hadn’t won the game by 20 points since 1984.
There’s still a big discrepancy in the all-time series – WSU owns a 163-110 edge – but UI’s seniors will graduate feeling all right about the stamp they left on the yearly border battle.
“I’ve played it four years and I’m 3-1,” said Idaho guard Victor Sanders. “When you play in this game, it’s the whole state of Idaho behind you against the whole state of Washington. When it’s at home, you feel the energy, you feel the love. I think that helped us, too. When it’s a packed house, you can’t have nothing but goosebumps and excitement.”
If the Vandals continue to stroke from the three-point line like they did on Wednesday, the fans will probably continue to show up in masses – and they’ll do it more often.
Don Verlin’s roster doesn’t lack capable 3-point shooters per se, but the Vandals, who make just 7.5 3’s per game, found a new gear right in time for the biggest test of their nonconference slate. They shot 56 percent from beyond the arc and it was largely because of a trio of players that included Sanders, Callandret and Brayon Blake.
Those three nearly matched the Cougars on the scoresheet, combining for 61 points on 11-of-17 from three-point range. Blake broke out for a career-high 26 points, making all four of his tries from beyond the arc. Callandret was also 4-for-4, finishing with 16 points and Sanders, the shifty senior who can score in a variety of ways, hit three long bombs and chipped in 19 points.
Idaho hit triple-digits in a 101-63 thumping of NCAA Division III George Fox earlier this year, but the Vandals eclipsed 80 points against a D-I opponent for the first time this season.
“I don’t know if they’ve shot it that well all year long, but they shot it well, their energy was great,” said fourth-year WSU coach Ernie Kent, who’s yet to beat Idaho on the road. “Everything they put up went in.”
The Cougars matched the Vandals for about 10 minutes in the first half, but that came after Idaho opened the game with a 22-6 run. WSU then cut the lead to eight points, at 36-28, but the Vandals, sparked by Blake’s shooting, went on another tear and buried the Cougars with a 13-0 run to close the half. Two of Blake’s four 3-pointers came during that five-minute span and Idaho entered the locker room with nine made 3’s on just 14 attempts.
Idaho’s boisterous student section rooted for the Vandal barrage to continue in the second half – and it did. The home team extended its lead to a game-high 29 points, drilling five more 3’s after the break.
The Vandals haven’t really had a penchant for shooting the 3-ball this season, but they’ve sure proven they can defend it. Four days after holding Nicholls to 1-of-20, Idaho’s perimeter D transferred well against a WSU team that came in shooting the 3-pointer at a 41 percent clip. Playing in their first true road game of the season, Cougars were well below their season average, hitting just 7-of-26.
“We’ve worked extremely hard on it,” Verlin said, “of getting out there with high hands, getting out there quick. It’s been our emphasis. … I didn’t think we could guard it any better (tonight).”
Robert Franks scored in double digits for the eighth consecutive game with 16 points on 6-of-12 from the field, but he was the only WSU player to do so. In their second straight loss, the Cougars were just 25-of-61 from the field.
The team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 also lost the battle on the boards, 43-31, to an Idaho club that’s projected to win the Big Sky.
“Players circle games on their schedules, I circled this week,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “We went to Nicholls State on Sunday all the way across the country, we come home for our rivals on Wednesday and we have to go visit the WAC champions (Bakersfield) on Saturday. So I thought this was a big week and I told them I really believe this will determine what we can and can’t do.”
And if Wednesday’s game was any indication, all those preseason Big Sky votes seem to be well-placed.