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Vandals finally triumph in hardwood Battle of the Palouse

The next time Idaho senior Connor Hill sees his Washington State men's basketball friends around the Palouse, he might just have some trash-talking words to say. 

In a friendly manner of course. 

Idaho and Washington State unofficially scrimmage each other over the summer up to three times a week. And for the last four summers Hill has had to heard the crowing of Cougars about their annual triumphs in the Battle of the Palouse. 

Hill, a senior from Post Falls, will now be doing the crowing. 

 

Idaho ended a 11-game losing streak to Washington State with a 77-71 Wednesday night win at Beasley Coliseum. It was Idaho's first win over the Cougars in Pullman since 1990. 

"It means so much to me, it’s a great feeling inside," Hill said. "We came up short twice to them by one. It feels good. Especially it’s my senior year, there’s no better time for it."

It's a fitting way for Don Verlin to win his 100th game as coach of the Vandals. The mustached leader of Idaho men's hoops took over the program in 2008, and Verlin finally beat the Cougars for the first time in seven tries. 

His players recognized the importance of the rivalry. Idaho's bench was loud and raucous in the second half with each clutch shot.

"This is a big game. If you ask my players who they’re rival is, they’re going to tell you WSU, not Boise State," Verlin said. "If you ask our fans they’ll tell you Boise State. We play together all summer long, and eight miles apart. For the first time in six years we have the bragging rights."

Idaho (3-3) jumped out to a 14-2 lead with two quick 3-pointers from Hill and one from Mike Scott. The Vandals maintained the lead throughout the half, withstanding a late 17-8 run at the end of the first half to take a 32-31 lead into halftime. 

And it was big. Because for the fourth consecutive game, Idaho scored at least 40 points in the second half and scored them in chunks. The only difference between Wednesday and Idaho's last three games, which were all losses: Idaho was winning at intermission. 

The only second half comeback Idaho needed to make was a two-point deficit at the 17:10 mark. Hill erased that with a 3-pointer with 16:33 remaining, assisted by Mike Scott. Idaho wouldn't trail again. 

Hill sparked a 9-0 run, which grew to as much as a 62-48 lead with 6:46 remaining, Idaho's largest lead of the night. 

The Cougars would start to chip away at the lead, which was shades of WSU overcoming a 50-42 deficit last season to win 67-66 at the Cowan Spectrum. 

Ike Iroegbu energized the sparse Beasley crowd with a two-hand jam with 12:04 remaining to cut the lead to 52-46. Hill answered with a corner 3 that a hand in his face couldn't stop to push the lead back out to 55-46.

"I hugged him, I couldn’t stop," Scott said. "I couldn’t stop hugging him, I knew it was a big shot."

Free throws almost did Idaho in later on in the half. The Vandals missed six free throws with under two minutes remaining. Josh Hawkinson hit a layup cut the lead to 73-69 with 28 seconds remaining. 

But it was who else than Hill who iced the game with two free throws to push it back out to six. 

The win ends a series of heartbreaking affairs with Idaho's cross-Palouse rivals for Verlin. In addition to last season's one-point loss, Idaho lost 66-64 to WSU three seasons ago at the Cowan Spectrum. Idaho lost 64-55 the last time out at Beasley. 

"I think it helps. It has to, to beat a Pac-12 team on the road, a rival team, it’s a big win for Idaho and our program," Verlin said. "But, what our goal is to win the Big Sky championship, we have to keep growing."

- - - - - 

More quotes from Idaho's win.

Don Verlin on how much this win means to a certain group of players: "This is his (Hill's) fourth year. WSU asked Connor to walk on when we were recruiting him. It’s big for our Seattle guys too, growing up in Washington. This is big for our program, I’m glad we continued to play this year, it’s a great series. I’m hoping it continues."

Mike Scott on relationship with WSU players: "(We see them) all the time because we have a great relationship with the guys over here. The rivalry, we always talk about it. A lot in the summer, (we scrimmage) probaby like three times a week."

Scott continued: "It means a lot, especially coming in for Verlin’s 100th win. This is going in the books, it’s something we’ll never forget."

Hill on Verlin's 100th win: "I’m happy for our team and for coach, his 100th is great. He deserves it. We deserve it, we’ve been working hard, it’s great," he said. "I feel like we’re young but we’re a good team. We’ve got great pieces, great guards, great post, people who want to work. I think we’re going to a long ways. I like this team, I do."

Hill has taken part in 50 of Verlin's 100 wins. 




Sean Kramer
Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.





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