In the fourth attempt to earn his 100th career-victory as Idaho’s head coach, Don Verlin must achieve something that he’s never done before — beat Washington State.
“I didn’t even realize it was my 100th (win),” Verlin said. “What we do here is prepare for every game the best we can, and go out and play and let whatever happen take its course.”
The 269th edition of the men’s basketball version of the Battle of the Palouse tips off 7 p.m. Wednesday, at WSU’s Beasley Coliseum. The Cougars have won the past 11 games and lead the series 162-106.
After Idaho won its first two games of the regular season, the team enters the game on a three-game losing streak.
With a new head coach in Ernie Kent, Washington State (3-3) appears its still adapting to the coaches new style in the first six games. The Cougars barely snuck by Rice, a perennial bottom dweller, with a two-point victory.
“Then one thing you can’t look past with WSU is their experienced coaching staff,” Verlin said. “Ernie Kent took teams to the Elite Eight … They got a quality staff, they know what they’re doing, they game plan really well, they know the system they want to play, so we got our hands full over there Wednesday night.”
Verlin, now in his seventh season as head coach, is winless (0-6) against his boarder rival, but the gap is closing.
In his first three seasons, Verlin lost to WSU by an average of 14.3 points. The past three seasons, however, have been a different story, with four points as the average margin of defeat.
Last season’s one-point loss was the closest a Verlin-coached team came to beating WSU.
It might be the 269th official game, but the rivalry goes beyond that. People don’t see the countless games played with no crowd or team jerseys. And while Vandal fans take a special interest in hating Boise State, Verlin said Washington State is the biggest rival for his players.
“What you have to realize is these guys are 8 miles apart and we play against them, and with them all summer long,” Verlin said. “They come to our games, we go to their games so it’s more of a sibling rivalry for us, but one that our players and our coaching staff look forward to every year.”
Players from both programs developed relationships long before they made their way to the Palouse. The friendship between Sekou Wiggs and DaVonte Lacy started when Wiggs was a high school freshman.
Wiggs said he met Lacy — or, “D-Lacy” as he likes to call him — at WSU’s annual elite basketball camp. He said that’s where the two developed a close bond.
“He’s always been close to me,” Wiggs said. “He has helped me with my game a lot since I was a freshman all the way to a senior (in high school). It’s just a really good friend relationship with him and it’s going to be fun playing against him again for the second year in a row.”
Along with Lacy, Wiggs said he grew up playing against most WSU players through high school competition or AAU basketball. With the familiarity, Wiggs said there has been a little trash-talking going on.
“A few text messages go back and forth,” he said. “… Then just side comments and little sly stuff that happens.”
And if Idaho comes out on top, Wiggs said D-Lacy should expect something from him.
“Definitely D-Lacy or Ike (Iroegbu), they’ll definitely receive a Snapchat from me first.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com