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Sports >  Idaho basketball

Pause on the Palouse: Washington State-Idaho basketball rivalry, played since 1906, has been shelved for this season

July 20, 2022 Updated Wed., July 20, 2022 at 9:13 p.m.

Washington State guard Tyrell Roberts shoots against Idaho on Nov. 11 at the ICCU Arena in Moscow, Idaho, in the latest Battle of the Palouse.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State guard Tyrell Roberts shoots against Idaho on Nov. 11 at the ICCU Arena in Moscow, Idaho, in the latest Battle of the Palouse. (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – The oldest continuous college basketball rivalry in the country is coming to an end.

Washington State and Idaho have played each other at least once a season since 1906, 277 games over 116 years, with the Cougars holding a 167-110 advantage in the series. WSU, however, has declined numerous overtures from the Vandals to continue the series, and no game between the two will be played this season.

“The schedule is set. Contracts have been signed,” Vandals coach Zac Claus said.

“We don’t have any wiggle room to make this game happen now.”

Idaho tried numerous times to reach out to the Cougars to keep the series going.

“We were told multiple times they weren’t going to play us,” Claus said.

Washington State athletics officials released a statement but declined to elaborate on the decision not to play Idaho this season.

“We are continuing to work through finalizing our nonconference schedule for the upcoming season and will release once complete,” the statement read.

WSU rolled the Vandals 109-61 last season in Moscow at Idaho’s new Idaho Central Credit Union Arena for the rivalry’s widest margin of victory. Claus said no one from WSU has specifically identified a reason why the schools could not play this season. But the record point spread from last year’s game was never referenced as an issue.

The Pac-12 introduced nonconference scheduling standards ahead of the 2020-21 season, designed to improve the conference’s overall strength of schedule and send more teams to the NCAA Tournament. A Pac-12 member’s nonconference opponents are required to have a collective five-year average NET ranking of 175 or better. Pac-12 teams also cannot schedule road games against nonconference opponents with a five-year trailing average NET ranking worse than 200. For reference, the Vandals finished last season ranked No. 325 in the NET.

In the past, the Cougars and Vandals would play as many as four or five times a season. In 1962-63, Idaho won four of five, led by its star Gus Johnson.

The rivalry’s zenith, though, was in the early 1980s when coach Don Monson’s Vandals and George Raveling’s Cougars would fill the Kibbie Dome in Moscow and Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, respectively, in nonconference battles. In December 1982, Idaho set a record attendance of 11,000 at the Kibbie Dome as the Vandals won 62-58 in overtime for the third straight year against the Cougars.

The game has also been played in Spokane on six occasions.

WSU has had the best of the rivalry of late. The Cougars won every year between 2003 and 2013 before Idaho broke through with close back-to-back wins, 77-71 and 78-74, in 2014 and 2015. Idaho’s last win (91-64) was in Moscow in 2017, although the Vandals pushed the Cougars to the end in 2020 before falling in Pullman 61-58.

Attendance figures are a shadow of the records set nearly four decades ago, but recent games still drew crowds of several thousand and were among the biggest nonconference games for both schools. The rivalry continued to resonate. Claus has been with the Vandals for seven years as an assistant or head coach.

“You were indoctrinated right out of the chute,” he said of the basketball Battle of the Palouse.

“It’s arguably our biggest game every year. There is a natural big-game feel to it.

“Our players look forward to playing it.”

Claus said he is dismayed the Cougars and Vandals couldn’t find a compatible date to continue the rivalry this season.

“It’s basketball, not football,” he said. “We have all these random dates available. We could probably take a nice, long walk and make this game happen.”

Idaho athletics director Terry Gawlik echoed Claus.

“It’s very disappointing,” she said of the break in the rivalry. “Perhaps (WSU) will reconsider this game, based on the way the Pac-12 is changing.”

Even though its distinction as one of the longest continuous series in men’s college basketball has come to an end, Claus said Idaho is eager to continue the Battle of the Palouse rivalry.

“We will absolutely reach out to start this game back up,” he said.

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