Men battle, fall to WSU 66-54

The Cougars came in with a starting front line that went 6-10, 6-10, 6-7, and fresh off a 10-point win over nationally ranked Gonzaga. The Vandals opened with a front line that was 6-7, 6-7, 6-6, and mired in a 6-game losing skid. After falling behind 36-24 at the half, Idaho stood toe-to-toe with the physical Cougars and actually outrebounded the visitors in the second half before losing 66-54.

After Saturday's loss, the Vandals will have a week off for final exams before traveling to meet North Dakota State on December 16.

The Idaho Vandals (1-8), led by senior Desmond Nwoke, were outrebounded 21-12 in the first half, but after the intermission the Vandals pulled in 18 rebounds to 13 for the Washington State Cougars (9-1). Idaho also held an 11-9 edge in offensive rebounds.

Scoring, however, was another matter. Senior Keoni Watson poured in 24 points for Idaho, but no other Vandals reached double figures. Freshman O.J. Avworo had 7 points. The Cougars had 4 players reach double figures – Derrick Low and Mac Hopson with 14 apiece, Daven Harmeling added 11, and Aron Haynes 10.

Senior forward Desmond Nwoke was effective on the offensive boards Saturday.
"I thought Desmond played his best game of the year," Pfeifer said after the game. "He had six offensive rebounds for us tonight."

The coach, however, said the lack of inside scoring continues to plague the Vandals. "We don't score well enough next to the basket…you're constantly going to be in this situation. You're constantly not going to shoot as good a field goal percentage when you put that kind of pressure on your perimeter."

Pfeifer is hopeful help is on the way. "We're pretty confident that Darin [Nagle, a 6-10 junior transfer from Potlatch and North Idaho College] will be with us next Saturday when we go to North Dakota. That will obviously add 6-10, and that will give us some size." He also indicated 6-8 junior forward Mike Kale is getting closer to returning to the team after a knee injury.

Still, he took nothing away from the effort displayed by his squad. "We need to get that (added height), but all that being said I thought our kids competed extremely hard tonight. I thought we had some good looks at the basket at some critical times and just couldn't make them, and then there were some times at the defensive end of the floor I didn't think we were on the edge like we could have been, and as alert as we could have been, but gosh darn it this is a pretty good 9-1 Washington State team that just got through beating Gonzaga.

Senior Keoni Watson led Idaho with 24 points Saturday.
"I think we played a pretty rigorous nonconference schedule. With about four or five of those teams there are only about six or seven losses total when you start looking at Southern Utah (7-3), UW (7-1), Gonzaga (9-2), Washington State (9-1)…not very many losses in there."

He also mentioned North Dakota State at 5-3 but with a road win over then number eight Marquette. The Bison have lost to Texas Tech by four, beat Princeton, and lost to Kansas State 83-81 Saturday night.

In reference to Saturday's matchup between Wisconsin and Marquette, those two teams "had a common opponent in North Dakota State, who beat them both," Pfeifer said. "You look at our non-conference schedule…we're making no excuses…some of those games looked okay back in July, and now if you start looking at WSU's record, Gonzaga's record, UW's record, Southern Utah's record, North Dakota State - we're young, inexperienced, not as good as we'd like to be. We're missing some pieces, and now we kind of get into a buzz saw. Anyway, I thought our kids fought hard tonight. I thought they competed hard tonight. We still have a long ways to go to be good, but I was a lot more proud of their performance throughout the whole game."

True freshman guard O.J. Avworo made his first start of the season and finished with seven points in 34 minutes of play.
Pfeifer said he will give the Vandals some time off to recuperate physically and to prepare for finals. "We're going to give them a few days off now. They haven't had any. I told them today we're going to at least have Sunday and Monday off, and they were kind of looking at me like 'Oh my gosh'," the coach chuckled. "We've been going six out of seven days pretty much the whole time. This is the time for them to catch their breath, heal up. They're kind of banged up a little bit, but then near the end of the week we've got to start gearing up because North Dakota State's an extremely good basketball team."

The Vandals will also be on the road Dec. 21 to face Eastern Washington in Cheney. Next home action will be December 30 against South Dakota State.

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