This weekend’s game might be the most important home game of the season for Idaho men’s basketball. The Vandals take on border rival Washington State at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Cowan Spectrum in the hardwood edition of the Battle of the Palouse.
The Cougars, just like the Vandals, have a lot of new faces on the team this year, and are trying to replace their leading scorer from last year as well, Brock Motum.
One player emerging as a candidate to take Motum’s title is junior guard DaVonte Lacy, who is currently fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring, averaging 21.1 points per game.
“Coming from the Seattle-Tacoma area, I know about DaVonte Lacy, and what kind of scorer he is,” Idaho senior guard Glen Dean said. “Us guys on the perimeter are going to have to do a good job at making it tough for him to get off shots and clean looks.”
The key will be to shutdown Lacy as the Cougars have yet to see a second scorer emerge. Lacy is the only Cougar who is averaging in double-digit points this season. The next highest scorer is Royce Woolridge, averaging 9.4 points per game.
Another player to watch will be freshman point guard Ike Iroegbu. The Cougars recruited him from Oak Hill Academy, the same high school that has produced NBA stars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.
Iroegbu had a breakout game on Nov. 21 against Gonzaga, where he scored 20 points on the then ranked No. 13 Bulldogs. He is currently averaging 8.7 points per game.
Washington State coach Ken Bone has implemented a new system this season. He is now running a high pressure, full court defense. This is the same defense that the Vandals struggled with when they lost to Oklahoma.
“You hope that the experience you gain in other games, you can apply to the next game,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “They’re going to pressure us, play the sideline principle, glue our ball screens, they’re going to try to keep us on one side of the floor and that’s what we’re expecting Saturday.”
The WSU student body is expected to come out in full force for this game, even going as far as making t-shirts that read “pack the dome.” Regardless of how the fans react to this rivalry, Idaho looks at this game a little differently.
“I think it’s a friendly rivalry,” Verlin said. “We play with each other all summer long and we watch each other play, they come to our games, we go to their games. I hope they win every game but one, to be honest with you.”
For Idaho, the game comes off of some much-needed rest. After a hectic November, where the Vandals played eight games, six of which that were played on the road, the team starts off their December with a breather. They will have had a full week off from competition by the time they play the Cougars on Saturday.
“We needed some time off, no question about that,” Verlin said. “It feels like we’ve just been playing game after game, eight games in the month of November is a lot of games, so it was good to take a couple of days off. We came back to work (Tuesday), but it was good to catch our breath.”
Idaho senior leader Stephen Madison will be playing in his last Battle of the Palouse rivalry game. He said he is looking forward to getting out of Memorial Gym, where they spent their first two home games. They will finally be moving into the much bigger Cowan Spectrum, however, he doesn’t want to see too much crimson and gray though.
“It’s always great to get into the Cowan, it’s our arena. It’s where you can sit the most people and get the most fans, so Cowan is going to be a lot of fun and be a great atmosphere,” Madison said. “The fans help us out so much, they bring the energy and help us get these wins, so we can’t have the Cougs bring more people than we are. It’s our home court.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com