MOSCOW, Idaho – Taking an eight-point halftime lead to 20 in the first 6 minutes of the final period was in some measure the product of Washington State’s ability to pressure Idaho’s entry passes in its half-court offense, making shooters anxious and motion erratic.
It was also related to a casual defensive effort against the Cougars, according to Vandals coach Zac Claus, and maybe to the fact Idaho had nearly as many injured players on the bench as the eight who played.
In any event, the early second-half run staked the Cougars to an 78-65 victory in the 275th Battle of the Palouse, giving WSU a 165-110 advantage in the series played annually since 1906.
“It was a good game for us,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said.
“They are a talented group. They play fast,” Claus said of the Cougs. “But I didn’t think we had a competitive spirit.”
The Vandals were slow to get out on 3-point shooters. While the Cougars hit just six, they put up a bunch (25). Had they been more accurate, the game would have been a rout.
Tony Miller, who led all scorers with 18 points for WSU on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and 6 of 8 at the free-throw line, got eight of his points during the Cougars’ early second-half burst. That included a basket that began when he picked Idaho’s Keyshaad Dixon’s pocket and finished at the other end of the court with a decisive dunk.
Smith said he trusted his eyes to give Miller, who had been lightly used this season, playing time.
“That’s how I roll,” Smith said. ‘ “Tony, you’re going good. Keep going out there.’ ”
The Cougars built their lead to as many as 25 points before Idaho got on a bit of a roll in the final 4 minutes.
Scott Blakney paced with Vandals with 13 points and added six rebounds before fouling out against 7-1 Volodymyr Markovetskyy at the 3:50 mark.
“He played well,” Claus said of Blakney. “We need to get him some good looks.”
Noah Williams added 12 for WSU.
“He gave us a nice lift,” Smith said, who also singled out Jervae Robinson, who was tasked with defending Idaho’s season leading scorer, Trevon Allen, who finished with 12 points but shot just 5 of 16 from the floor. “He did a great job on Allen, who is a great player.”
WSU evened its record to 4-4; Idaho slipped to 3-6.
The most storied edition of the WSU-Idaho series may have been the 1982 game, when 11,000 people packed the Kibbie Dome to watch the Vandals win in overtime. Now both Smith and Claus got their first taste of the Battle of the Palouse. Each looked forward to future meetings.
“When both programs get good, it’s going to be great,” Smith said.
“This is why you sign up to coach. This is why you sign up to play,” Claus said. “Embrace the challenge. We look forward to doing it again next year.”
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