Three Cougar seniors -- guard Ike Iroegbu (pictured above) forward Josh Hawkinson and center Conor Clifford – all credited Wazzu's success to a mountain of film prep dissected with inside man Tim Marrion, a former Idaho assistant turned Coug (again). Marrion began his third stint with WSU in September as coordinator of basketball operations.
"He's the man that knows everything there is to know about Idaho Men's Basketball, he put together a great game plan for us," Hawkinson said.
Hawkinson, who had 11 points and 11 rebounds, said the Cougs set out to lock down the perimeter knowing Idaho lacked dominant bigs inside.
Iroegbu scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed seven boards, with the Pac-12 Network naming him player of the game. But Iroegbu was most interested in talking about the Cougar D after the win.
"We did a good job locking them up, for the first 10 minutes we held them to about five points. (Defense) is going to be our key the rest of the season.”
Clifford, with eight points and six boards noticed the energy and a larger crowd. No, he really noticed it.
“If we have that kind of crowd here every night I don't think any team is going to be able to stop us," Clifford said.
That’s a bold claim, one that will surely be put to the test in conference play. And you’d have to say on paper the odds would be against it given the Cougs’ 5-4 record to this point against a favorable non conference slate. But with true freshman point guard Malachi Flynn continuing to shine (12 points and two rebounds vs, Idaho despite playing but 24 minutes due to foul trouble) and the Cougars playing with confidence, who knows.
Wazzu played with more confidence over the course of the game than arguably any other this season, and were hitting shots from all over the floor in the first half. The Cougs cooled off considerably in the second half but still had plenty to spare against Idaho, leading by double-digits most of the night.
THE WSU-IDAHO series has been played continuously for 111 years and bringing two universities together -- a quick trip by bus for either school. Ernie Kent on Wednesday got his first win against the Vandals in three tries since coming to Wazzu.
"I'm feeling like we're starting to make some progress, a few mistakes... But the thing about this team is they have growth potential,” Kent said after the win.
The Vandals shot an abysmal 17-66 from the field (26 percent). At least it was a short ride home. Some of that was Idaho having an off night. But a lot of it was also about the Cougar D in the first 10 minutes, as Iroegbu noted.
With guard Viont'e Daniels out on concussion protocol and forward Jeff Pollard battling an illness, Kent was forced to dip into his short bench subbing in guard K.J. Langston, who gave Kent nine minutes.
The Cougs inched closer to a positive rebound game, a key Kent cited earlier in the week, at 42-40. But WSU failed the offensive rebound exam, 20-7, something that has plagued the Cougs all season.
In closing, Kent argued that regional rivalries with storied backgrounds such as WSU-Idaho should continue.
"It's bigger than us not wanting to play someone or worried about strength of schedule or RPI, at least to me," Kent said, in perhaps a subtle dig at mid-major Gonzaga?
Kent began the game on the Idaho bench, an opportunity won at a Coaches vs. Cancer charity auction earlier in the year. Kent afterwards called it one of the more special moments in his career. Kent and Idaho head coach Don Verlin both lost their fathers to cancer.
"Just having the opportunity to reach out to people, to continue to give, to beat this disease. That was the purpose of me sitting on that bench," he said.
Kent also acknowledged assistant Curtis Allen's return to the bench. Allen fell ill last month in a scary moment for the Cougs during their tournament in the Virgin Islands. Allen was hospitalized, and former WSU assistant coach Jeff Hironaka tweeted Allen had suffered a heart attack but was on the mend.
"We have missed him, he'll come back to practice full board starting this weekend," said Kent.
The Cougars travel to Kansas City for a Saturday matchup with red hot Kansas State, who sit atop the Big-12 with an 8-1 record (5 pm, ESPN3). Kent said it will be the greatest road challenge of the young season.
"We're going to have to really handle ourselves and be composed," said Kent.