Idaho will hit the court at the Cowan Spectrum on Thursday in an attempt to defend home court in the Battle of the Palouse. Idaho won last year's edition 77-71 at Beasley, but has fallen short at home in every try under Don Verlin. Here's what coach and players Perrion Callandret and Victor Sanders had to say about the game. The Vandals are coming off a 74-55 loss at USC on Monday, the teams were tied 30-30 at halftime.
On the game
"Obviously it’s a big game. We always look forward to this game, no question about it. For our basketball program, it’s the biggest game on the non-conference schedule."
Thoughts on the USC game
"Well, we obviously played pretty well the first 20 minutes, actually the first 30 minutes of that USC game. We just didn’t finish that one. I’m not sure we can take anything because they’re two totally different teams. What we’re going to try to do is go out on Thursday and play as hard as we possibly can."
On having the bragging rights for a year
"Yeah, that’s a good feeling. Hopefully we can do it again. We obviously have a tough order ahead of us. Washington State is a very good basketball team. Josh Hawkinson is as good of a post as we’ll play all year. He can score his ball in all three areas, he’s a good 17-foot shooter, he’s a very good free throw shooter, he can shoot the 3. Ike Irogbu has really improved his game. He wasn’t a great shooter last year, but this year has shown he can shoot the basketball. Que Johnson is an extremely athletic wing. We feel good about last year’s win but we know this team is a lot different than they were a year ago at this time."
On what he says to players for rivalry games
"I think we’ve got to focus in on our game plan. I don’t think you can ever calm them down. It’s one of those things we’ll talk about a little bit but the reason you play college basketball is to play in these rivalry games. I’m going leave it on them to handle it accordingly. A lot of them know what it’s like to play in this game, a lot of them were here last year."
On if he expects the series to continue as a home-and-home
"I’ve got a great relationship with Ernie as well as their assistant coaches. They run a good program, they’re good people, Ernie stands for all the right things. I hope it continues, I’ve heard nothing that it wouldn’t continue. So, hopefully this series will continue and we’ll get to play it for many more years to come."
On the challenges WSU presents on offense
"They’re hard to guard, they play really fast, as fast as anybody we’ve played all year. A lot faster than USC and USC was pretty fast. They’re hard to guard because they make you guard space all night long. Our guys did a great job last defensively … we’re going to need that kind of effort on Thursday night."
On Chad Sherwood's recent struggles
"I think it’s just getting comfortable and playing Division I basketball and getting himself ready to shoot, those sort of things. Chad’s a very good shooter, he’ll make shots for us by the end of the year, no question about it. It’s his first time out there and there’s an adjustment phase there, especially against USC and those types of athletes. He’s taking good shots, I thought he took two good looks in the USC game that could’ve or should’ve went down. I’m not worried about Chad, he’ll make his shots."
On if the team will make adjustments from the USC game
"Nothing different than we always do. We talk a lot about, the most important people are the guys sitting in the room. We put more pressure on ourselves than anybody else. We don’t prepare any differently for a rivalry game than we do any other game."
On how important it is to defend home court
"Defending your homecourt is very important. Not only in nonconference but in the conference season. We’ve had some great games with WSU, we just haven’t come out on top. Reggie Moore hit a 3 at the buzzer to beat us one year, somebody did it to us another year. We’ve had great games. Defending your homecourt is very important. College basketball tells you about 85 percent of teams win at home and we have to defend our home court a little better than we have been."
On how good WSU is in the post
"They both cause a lot of problems. Connor Clifford is a very good basketball player. He was good at Irvine, he was good at Saddleback College, 6-10, 280, he can really score his ball close to the rim. That really helps WSU. The big guy inside who blocks all those shots, he changes the game from a defensive perspective. They’re a whole lot better defensively with him on the court, they’re not better offensively but they’re better defensively. So, I think those are the two big additions to their team. Their improved low-post presence has really helped this WSU team. As well as that Callison kid who transferred from San Bernandino, as well as Suggs, they’re both good players. The big change I see with this WSU team are those inside guys."
On what USC did to break away
"No, not really. They wore us down a little bit but not much. Watching the tape I thought we missed a lot of wide open shots. I thought we executed, thought we played pretty well. Thought we played pretty hard, have to give them credit, they made a bunch of 3s in the second half. A couple of them were unguarded but some of them weren’t either. i don’t think it was the magnitude of the game, I just thought they wore us down a little bit."
On the status of Arkadiy Mkrtychyan's left knee
"(He is) 100 percent, as many as I can. If he’s not in foul trouble, he’ll be out there a lot."
Thoughts on Victor Sanders and Mkrtychyan
"Vic’s been good. I thought Vic was really aggressive at USC, he’s been shooting the ball very well. He’s been good. Ark’s back feeling good, he got in foul trouble there at USC, got his second there early in the second half, didn’t get to play him as much as I’d like to, but I like what I’ve seen from Vic so far and I’m encouraged by Ark’s progress."
On Chris Sarbaugh's role
"Chris knows his role. He’s fit in, he’s a really good defender, he’s our team leader, he really keeps our guys going and keeps us together all the time. I like the way Chris Sarbaugh is playing, I think he has a huge value to our team because he’s the guy who keeps this whole thing together."
On the progress of true freshman Nick Blair
"He’s still trying to compete. We’ve had so many games, we haven’t had a lot of practice time. I’m really looking forward to next week, even though it’s finals week, we’ll have a time where we’ll have three or four practices in a row and I think that will really help Nick."
On Nahshon George
"He played very well at USC and Nahshon is getting better by the game. I’ve been real happy with the way he’s played, the way he’s rebounded. Obviously a little more girth in terms of size with Longrus and Clifford, maybe a little harder for Nahshon but I’ve been real happy with the way he’s played this season."
Perrion Callandret, on WSU guys he knows from back home
“Josh, you know, he’s from my hometown. I know couple other guys like Que (Johnson) and Ike (Iroegbu) just through basketball, really. They actually have a couple new guys, at least one that’s from Seattle. I don’t really know him (Viont’e Daniels) too well, but he’s a local guy. Everybody pretty much knows everybody from Seattle really.”
On if Idaho scrimmaged WSU during the summer
"We didn’t this summer. Last summer we did a lot. Maybe signals got crossed or there wasn’t enough time, with their program or ours, to fit it in. In the past we have, just not this summer."
On if Idaho can take anything away from the USC game
“We can take some positive and negative things. We played really well the first half, even though we gave 15 points off turnovers. If you factor in that, if we limit those a little bit we could have went into halftime with a little bit more momentum, maybe a lead instead of a tie. The little things, more on the turnover side we can take into consideration next game because we have to focus on the fact that we’re playing another Pac-12 team and we saw how those teams capitalized on turnovers. Just some little things we have to touch up.”
More on the USC game
“Like I said, it’s a Pac-12 team, there’s a whole bunch of athletes running around there. They got a dunk off of a turnover and that got their momentum going. Coach told us before that they’re going to get some dunks, they’re going to get some steals and transition layups and they’re going to be up and down. Off that, their momentum took them through that first half and then the second half they just picked up where they left off, really. That’s the biggest thing we really had to focus on in all of our games, so far, has been turnovers. That’s something that was really hurtful.”
On what USC did to take away Idaho's driving lanes
“We haven’t watched our film, exactly, on that game. During the game it didn’t seem like they were doing too much to keep us from getting to the paint; I feel like we got a lot of nice looks at the basket, whether it was our guards or our bigs. The biggest thing they did was they altered some of our shots. That’s the biggest thing they did in terms of keeping us out of the paint.”
Victor Sanders, on being more aggressive offensively
“Yeah, I try to be aggressive all the time because that’s what our team needs: for me and (Perrion) to be aggressive, to spark plug our team and try to get us going. I’m always trying to be aggressive.”
On how to shake off a sluggish shooting performance
“Just keep shooting. I’m a shooter, it happens. When I hit 4 for 5, or when I hit a lot, it’s good. I’m going to just keep shooting. I’m not really worried about how I shot. Of course I want to shoot better, I could have shot better. I think I had a lot of great looks, it’s just a matter of knocking them down. As a shooter you just have to keep shooting.”
On WSU's intensisty
“We’re just going to have to match it because it is our home court. We have to defend that with everything we got. It is a big rivalry. We were part of that team last year and we got the job done there, I feel like we have a good chance to do it again.”
Perrion Callandret, on the importance of rivalry games
"It’s big, really. This is my third year and those other two years we got to play Boise State, which is really a team we want to beat here at Idaho. This year we don’t get that chance, so this is really our one chance to beat somebody who’s really considered a rival. We don’t get two opportunities like we did in the past. This is really our chance to go out and compete against a really good team, that being our rival, and try to get our first win in the Dome. This is a really big game for us.”
On what he's seen out of WSU
“I watched them play against Gonzaga so I got to see what they have in store. We have really good bigs. They got really good patience down there and I feel like if they be patient like they were at USC then they’re going to be successful down there -- get the shot blockers up in the air, draw fouls and stuff. They’re big, but big isn’t always better. I think we have some really good guys that know how to play around shot blockers. I think we’ll be OK.”
On the play of Nahshon George
“At the beginning, in a couple of games, he had some foul trouble and didn’t really to get a chance to establish himself, especially since he’s in a way bigger role than he has been in the past. When he’s in there he’s a really big factor. He’s patient in the post, he passes really well out of the post, he’s a good screener and aggressive on the rebounding. Him being in there is going to help us a lot, too. Hopefully he can stay out of foul trouble because we’re going to need him the whole game.”
Victor Sanders on what this game could do for them
“This is a good chance to show what we can do and show how good we really are. This is a big game, they’re in the Pac-12 which would be considered a better conference, but that doesn’t matter. We’re going in with a chip on our shoulder, having that aggressive attitude that we’re going to win regardless who’s in front of us. I know we both believe in our ability and we believe in our team. That’s all we got. We’re going to really be able to do something special.”
On what that chip on their shoulder is
“The grind. We work hard,we go to practice, we study film, we do our homework and it’s all going to pay off because you can’t cheat the game. We work hard and we do what we’re supposed to do, it will translate over.”
“We’ll prepare like it’s every other game. We don’t take any opponent lightly or think of them as being that much better than us because we are a good team and we believe in our ability. We’ll just take it like a normal game. Of course there’s going to be a little jitter because it’s basketball, that’s normal, we’re human. I think our confidence will be able to -- and our teammates -- help us overcome whatever type of jitters is there.”
Perrion Callandret on preparation
“Pretty much what Vic said. We’re just going to prepare like we would for every team. We played a lot of great teams this year, whether we won or lost, and we competed with them. Some really great teams. We’re just going to go into the same way, study the film, see what guys like to do and we’re just going to go out there, be aggressive and not be afraid who’s on the other side of the ball. Just play.”
On the nerves of playing a power 5 opponent
“I don’t have any nerves at all, really. I’m confident in my ability and my team. My freshman year, my first real game we came out and played Oklahoma and that game I’m pretty sure any freshman would be a little nervous about that. When we went into go play USC this past weekend, I felt like it was just playing a pickup game with my friends. I wasn’t nervous, wasn’t intimidated or anything. I think that’s just confidence in myself and my team that no matter what we’re going to be there for each other and help each other out.”
More from Perrion on the importance of the rivalry game
“It’s a big game. Those guys are only 10 minutes (away). I’m pretty sure they’re going to try to bring a lot of fans in. Hopefully we bring a lot in. Just to have bragging rights on a couple guys that you know, that’s probably the biggest thing. Just try and defend your home court, especially because our first game in there we got beat by a good Arkansas Little Rock team. This, there’s emotions into it than those games. The emotional side, and the preparation side, is going to be a key focus on this game.”