|Border battle set for Saturday|
MOSCOW, Idaho -- It’s a rivalry game that has been played 267 times dating back to 1906. Two teams separated by just eight miles. But when the Idaho and Washington State men’s basketball teams meet for the 268th time on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Cowan Spectrum, it will be a friendly competition according to Idaho head coach Don Verlin.
“It’s a friendly rivalry, like a sibling rivalry,” Verlin said. “We play with each other all summer long and we watch each other. They come to our games, we go to their games. I hope they win every game but one to be honest with you.”
Idaho senior forward Stephen Madison echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve got good friends over there, it’s a friendly game but we’re fighting for the win,” he said. “We both want it so bad. We’re so close and we know each other so well, so it’s a lot of fun and a lot of competition.”
With all the familiarity between the two teams, the Vandals will be sure not to overlook WSU’s DaVonte Lacy, who averages a team-best 21.1 points per game to go with 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
“He’s a great player, he’s a great scorer and he has great talent,” Madison said of Lacy. “We’ve got to really focus on him and try to take away what he does.”
But Verlin is also keeping his eyes on WSU’s supporting cast, recalling the Cougar’s 64-55 win in Pullman last season.
“Lacy is having a great year but they’ve got some other really good players,” Verlin said. “(WSU coach) Ken Bone always does a great job and Lacy is obviously a great player but D.J. Shelton really hurt us last year and there are a number of guys who can hurt you on that basketball team.”
The Vandals will be looking for their second straight victory after erasing a 15-point deficit to beat UC Davis 80-76 last Saturday to improve to 4-4 on the season. The Cougars have struggled against a tough schedule in their last five games, going 1-4 with losses to Gonzaga, TCU, Butler and Saint Joseph’s and a win over Purdue. WSU enters the game at 3-4 overall.
Idaho is led by Madison’s 17.0 points 8.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The senior is shooting 43.6 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from 3-point range. Junior Connor Hill is coming off a career-high 29 points on 7-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc, and he averages 13.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. Senior Glen Dean, who is no stranger to PAC-12 competition after playing at Utah last season, averages 11.9 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for the Vandals, and has knocked down 16 3-pointers.
“The thing I’m happiest with is we’re getting better,” Verlin said of his team’s progress through the first eight games. “We’ve got so many new guys and we’re putting in a whole new system. Every day we seem to be getting better and that’s what our goal is, get a little better every day and hopefully be playing our best basketball at the end of the season.”
Saturday’s game will be televised live regionally on SWX. After hosting the Cougars, Idaho will hit the road again, visiting Montana (Dec. 11), Portland State (Dec. 14) and hosting Idaho State at Boise’s CenturyLink Arena (Dec. 20) before visiting Cal State Northridge (Dec. 22). Idaho’s next game in Moscow will be Dec. 28 against Montana.