It’s a drought a decade in the making. Idaho hasn’t come away victorious in the Battle of the Palouse on the basketball court in over a decade, but boy have the Vandals come close. Close includes the last time these two teams met in the Cowan Spectrum when Washington State’s Reggie Moore needed a last second jumper to down Idaho 66-64.
It was the Cowan Spectrum that saw Idaho’s last victory in this series, a 62-58 triumph in 2002.
It should be the Cowan Spectrum that sees this, a roster that could possibly be Idaho coach Don Verlin’s best since arriving in Moscow, become the first team of Verlin’s to beat its border rival, this Saturday in Moscow.
It’ll be as evenly matched a Battle of the Palouse as we’ve seen in years. Looking up and down the rosters, there are a plethora of reasons why Idaho should come away with the win.
Washington State’s struggles might be chief among them. The Cougars have always been a scrappy team under coach Ken Bone, and even play up to opponents at time. But the record speaks for itself, and the Cougars are again reeling in 2013-14 having lost four of their last five games.
Though the one win is over a good Purdue team by 15 on a neutral floor.
Still, Washington State is in the bottom third in the nation in scoring offense and efficiency averaging 69.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field.
At 4-4, Idaho is really no better. Idaho’s best wins are over North Texas and Western Illinois, and it can hang its hat on a close loss to Boise State as much as the Cougars can hang their hat on a close loss to Butler.
But that’s the point. In a rivalry game, with both teams struggling evenly, with both teams still trying to find their identity, this game is as ripe for an Idaho victory as the last two years when the Vandals lost by a combined margin of 11 points.
Two years ago when Idaho was seconds away from overtime against the Cougars, it was a team that had leadership. Guards Landon Tatum and Deremy Geiger were able to put hands on jerseys and corral the team when it needed to. With all due respect to stellar senior Kyle Barone, that didn’t exist last year. It’s why Idaho wasn’t able to sustain a second half run and the Cougars were able to put the game away with ease at Beasley Coliseum.
Leadership exists this season. It exists from senior point guard Glen Dean, whose transfer from Utah was pivotal in the transformation of Idaho’s backcourt. Although, the senior needs to temper his shot selection and do more to facilitate the guards around him, because Sekou Wiggs and Connor Hill are scoring guards who can put up points in a hurry.
But that leadership also comes from senior Stephen Madison who has been in the program as long as any other Vandal. Last year, Stephen Madison led the team in points against the Cougars with 13, but if Madison continues his 17.1 points per game pace, if he continues working the offense from the inside-out and being aggressive in the paint, then Idaho can come through with the signature home win that Don Verlin needs.
No more coming close. Idaho needs to win this Battle of the Palouse.
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com