Idaho coach Don Verlin earns 100th win in Battle of the Palouse
In the final seconds of the game, the few Vandal fans in attendance sang “hey, hey, hey, goodbye” to the Washington State fans who made an early exit as Idaho coach Don Verlin and his Vandals celebrated their 77-71 Battle of the Palouse victory.
With the win, Idaho put an end to its three-game losing streak and improved to 3-3, but it meant more than that. Verlin, in his seventh season as Idaho’s head coach, earned his 100th career-victory against a rival team he’s never beat.
“To come over here, the first time in 25 years Idaho’s won over here, that’s a pretty big win for us, no question about it,” Verlin said of the victory.
Not only did the win end Verlin’s six-game winless streak against the Cougars, but it snapped an 11-game skid in the boarder rivalry, which started five years before Verlin arrived at Idaho.
“It was a good win and we gotta feel good about it now,” Verlin said. “But tomorrow, we got to get back to work.”
The Vandals hope to carry the momentum into their next game against UC Davis, which is at 2 p.m. Saturday and is the first game inside the Cowan Spectrum.
Idaho wanted it more right from the start. After he missed his first 3-pointer, senior shooting guard Connor Hill converted his second attempt, and helped lead the Vandals on a 14-2 run to open the game.
To Hill’s advantage, the Cougars started the game in a zone defense. Hill said it felt like every shot was going to go in for him.
“Yeah, my eyes get bright, wide-open,” Hill said of when he sees the opposing team in a zone defense. “Anytime a team goes zone, it’s great for shooters.”
Hill and senior point guard Mike Scott tied for the team lead in points, with 19 each. Hill had five of Idaho’s seven 3-pointers and added four rebounds, as well.
“Connor Hill and Mike Scott played great,” Verlin said. “Connor hit some big shots, Mike did a good job finding him — another great game by Mike, six assists, one turnover.”
Throughout the game, Idaho put together big runs and increased its lead, but the Cougars managed to comeback with a couple runs of their own.
The Vandals held a 12-point lead on two separate occasions in the first half, but WSU closed the gap with a 17-8 run and trailed Idaho by one point at halftime.
“Basketball is a game of runs, it’s just back and forth,” Hill said. “The other team makes a run, you make a run, you hit a shot, they hit some shots. I feel like our defense was extremely good tonight and felt we played the game plan very well and we were able to get them to shoot some contested outside shots.”
Verlin said his team played good defense against WSU, which allowed the Vandals to get out on fast breaks and score easy baskets. Also in Idaho’s favor was the Cougars’ poor shooting, especially from beyond the arc. WSU was 16.7 percent from 3-point range (5-30).
Washington State claimed its first lead early in the second half, and held it three minutes in. The Vandals, however, made a 20-11 run and led 52-42 with 13:05 left in the game. Idaho never trailed again.
“We’re still young and still growing,” Verlin said. “This group, we have enough weapons to make a run in the Big Sky Conference. What we got to do is keep getting better … Beating a Pac-12 team on the road, in their building, a rival team — it’s a big win for Idaho and our program. But what our goal is, is win the Big Sky Championship.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org