MOSCOW, Idaho – The offseason scrimmages that used to be a staple of the rivalry between the Idaho and Washington State basketball teams are now a relic in the oldest college basketball rivalry west of the Mississippi River.
Second-year WSU coach Ernie Kent, not wanting to give an undue glimpse at his team to a yearly opponent, put the kibosh on the summer runs.
But it was toughness and determination on the glass, not superior scheme or scouting, which made the difference in UI’s 78-74 win over WSU in Cowan Spectrum on Thursday night.
The Vandals outrebounded the Cougars 39-22 and, more importantly, held a 14-1 advantage on the offensive boards. The latter margin yielded a 16-0 lead in second chance points, and UI’s hustle led to 17 points off turnovers, compared to just eight for the Cougars.
“The bad thing is the breakdowns on the defensive end of the floor, particularly when it came to the little things – blocking out,” WSU coach Ernie Kent said. “Until I can look at tape, I don’t think it’s a physical thing, as it is a mental thing forgetting to do your job.”
The Vandals (6-5) have now won consecutive games against WSU (5-2) after going winless against the Cougars since 2003-04, prior to last season. The last time UI won consecutive games in the series was the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons.
Thursday’s win was their first over the Cougars in Cowan Spectrum since 2002. The teams have played against each other in 110 consecutive seasons.
Guards Perrion Callandret (25 points) and Victor Sanders (20) led the charge offensively for the Vandals, and combined to shoot six-of-10 on 3-point attempts. Sanders’ length frustrated WSU’s guards when the Vandals were on defense.
WSU saw the largest, loudest student section it has encountered this season, and for the first time it wasn’t cheering for the Cougars. The team played its first road game of the season, and the first road game in the NCAA careers of its seven newcomers.
While the partisan crowd did not throw the Cougars out of their shooting rhythm, but both WSU and Idaho players credited the crowd’s energy with stifling the Cougars comeback attempt.
“We don’t get crowds like that every night – and to be able to go out and pay them back, I know that was on their minds,” said Idaho coach Don Verlin.
The Vandals constantly had to fend off the Cougars. After jumping to an early lead, UI allowed WSU to tie the game before storming off to halftime on a 7-0 run with a 44-37 lead.
That lead evaporated quickly, as the Cougars used a 7-0 run of their own to tie the game, which seesawed to eight lead changes before UI began to assume control late in the second half.
“I think some of the new guys got to see the environment and the crowd factor, and runs the other team made and how effective that is, and how one simple mistake can throw off the rhythm of your own runs and lead to a loss,” said Josh Hawkinson, who led WSU with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The last time these two teams played in Moscow, WSU won by a single point after DJ Shelton hit two free throws late in the game to put the Cougars up, and UI’s attempted winner rolled off the rim.
Thursday’s game nearly had some similar fireworks late when Ike Iroegbu stole a pass and hit a layup with 50 seconds left to cut UI’s lead to 75-72. The Cougars got a quick stop and Renard Suggs, who made three-of-five 3-point attempts at that point in the game, missed a potential tying shot.
Missed free throws gave the Cougars one more shot to tie the game with 13 seconds left in the game. But the play Kent drew up never materialized, and all the Cougars could muster was a contested 3-pointer by Que Johnson, which sprung off the rim, giving the Vandals a few extra seconds to celebrate with their raucous students section partying right alongside them.