MOSCOW, Idaho – For the 277th time over 115 years, Washington State and Idaho will renew their basketball rivalry Thursday in the Vandals’ new building.
The Cougars have won the past three and hold a 166-110 series lead. But the intensity of these meetings may be characterized by the fact that while WSU beat a one-win Idaho last December, it did so barely (61-58).
Now, a revamped Vandals team will have an opportunity to see what its new ICCU Arena can provide in the way of a home-court advantage as it faces its most familiar foe.
Both teams have shown an ability to get up and down the court and to score in bunches from the perimeter.
“I hope it’s as much fun as it feels like it could be,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said . “I hope there are going to be some moments where it gets really loud.”
As the host this year, Claus said the Vandals appreciate what it means to play this rivalry game every season.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us. I don’t know many other teams in our conference, our size, who get an opportunity to host a program as well-respected at Washington State. To have them play in our arena we do not take lightly.”
The Cougars come into the game 3-0 with wins at home against Alcorn State, Seattle University and UC Santa Barbara. Idaho is 1-2, having fallen to Long Beach State in overtime and securing its first win against George Fox in the new arena. The Vandals lost to Fresno State on the road Monday.
WSU coach Kyle Smith expects a motivated opponent.
“We were fortunate to beat them last year,” he said. “They are improved, and they play fast.”
Smith points to Idaho’s Mikey Dixon (15.7 points per game) and Trevante Anderson (17.3 ppg).
“They are going to be a load to guard,” Smith said.
The Cougars counter with Tyrell Roberts (14.7 ppg), Michael Flowers (9.3 ppg) and Noah Williams (11.3 ppg). Sophomore Efe Abogidi (6-foot-10), who averages 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and had 12 blocks in WSU’s first three games, and 6-11 freshman Mouhamed Gueye (8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) give the Cougars “tremendous length,” Claus said.
Idaho may counter that to an extent if 6-10 Tanner Christensen can go for the first time this year. In a debut campaign last season, he led Idaho with 4.3 rebounds per game. He has grown to a sturdy 260 pounds, but he hasn’t been on the court this season after suffering a broken nose and concussion in practice and subsequently becoming unavailable because of COVID protocol.
“Hopefully, he’s had everything bad happen to him for a very long time,” Claus said. “He’s anxious to get on the floor.”
It’s a short trip for the Cougars to Moscow, but Smith said it will be valuable for his team to play in an opponent’s building for the first time this season
The history of the rivalry suggests he can count on a good test from the Vandals.
“They’re going to come out punching,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be able to punch back.”
The Cougars will return home for a Monday night game against Winthrop. The same day, Idaho begins play at a tournament in San Juan Capistrano, California.
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