Eastern Washington tends to get the best out of rival Idaho, no matter how much the Vandals are struggling.
Idaho went into Reese Court a year ago and shocked the Eagles 74-71, one of EWU’s two home losses in a Big Sky Conference championship season.
The Vandals, who have been at the bottom of the Big Sky standings for three straight seasons, also split with the Eagles two years ago.
When EWU travels to Moscow on Thursday to face winless Idaho (0-13, 0-10), it knows it can’t take third-year head coach and former EWU guard Zac Claus’ squad lightly.
Especially in a year when in Big Sky every win is pivotal in an unpredictable, coronavirus-altered season, in which several teams are still in contention for the conference crown.
“It’s always hard, and we won the league last year, but they kicked our tails pretty good at home,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “That was one of our only losses at home last year. They play really tough and hard, and will obviously be up for this game. They have some good players and a good coach.”
Just two teams in the 11-team Big Sky Conference have a winning record against EWU since Legans was promoted to head coach in 2017: Idaho (4-2) and Montana (5-2).
But this is among Idaho’s worst offensive teams going up against one of EWU’s most experienced and balanced.
Idaho averages just 61.5 points a game and eight of the Vandals’ conference losses were by double-digit margins.
EWU (75.9 ppg), the conference’s preseason favorite, brings a three-game winning streak into Moscow. Its two Big Sky losses (splits with Southern Utah and Northern Colorado) were by an average of 3.5 points.
The Eagles have looked to versatile forward Tanner Groves (17.3 ppg, 9.3 rebounds) and Tyler Robertson (12.6 ppg, 2.9 assists), but still have plenty of firepower in the backcourt in Jacob Davison (13.5 ppg) and Kim Aiken Jr. (10.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg),
EWU had its best shooting this season on Monday when it connected on 7 of 10 3-point attempts in the second half to beat Sacramento State 94-79 in Cheney.
“If we can play defense and rebound, it will be a good game, Legans said. “We have to be ready, smart, tough and disciplined. We have to play our game and do all the small things to win against Idaho.”
Idaho is paced by 6-foot-8 forward Scott Blakney (11.6 ppg) and guard Damen Thacker (10.8 ppg, 2.7 apg ).
EWU will host the Vandals on Saturday as part of a home-and-home series.
EWU women look to end Idaho’s streak: The Eagles look to snap a five-game losing streak against Idaho on Thursday at Reese Court.
The second-place Vandals (9-5, 8-2) are still in contention for a Big Sky title and have been relying on the services of All-Big Sky wing Beyonce Bea (16.2 ppg) and All-Big Sky guard Gina Marxen (13.9 ppg).
Idaho remains a force from beyond the arc, ranking 41st nationally in total 3-pointers made (112) and 44th in 3-pointers made per game (eight).
But EWU (6-9, 5-5), which is fifth in the Big Sky standings, can fill it up, too.
The Eagles rank 56th in made 3s (106), averaging 7.1 makes a game.
Former Liberty High star and EWU freshman standout Maisie Burnham (14.7 ppg, 6.1 rpb) leads the young Eagles.
Freshman guard Aaliyah Alexander (11.9 ppg), sophomore guards Kennedy Dickie (12.5 ppg) and Jenna Dick (9.9 ppg) and junior wing Grace Kirscher (10.3 ppg) have also been steady for scores for EWU.
Idaho will host the Eagles on Saturday as part of a home-and-home series.
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