The Border Battle between Washington State and Idaho was revived Sunday evening in Moscow, ID. There's always plenty of interest when these two teams match up.
Mac Hopson began his collegiate career at Washington State two years ago. When Taylor Rochestie arrived on the scene, Hopson saw his playing time dwindle and asked to be released from his commitment to WSU. He didn't have to go far to find someone interested in making him a featured guard, driving just eight miles from Pullman, WA to Moscow, ID to join the Vandals.
The Vandals were undefeated at home this season with a 4-0 mark and coming off an impressive defeat of Texas Southern Saturday night, 67-46. That win improved their record to a 6-5 mark.
Coach Tony Bennett changed things up a bit with the starting lineup, giving senior Caleb Forrest the nod over Nic Koprivica. That's what non-conference games are about. Coaches try different combinations to see how players react.
In their first road game of the season, Washington State won 55-41 going away.
The game got off on the right foot for the Cougs once again as senior Aron Baynes control the opening tip. That is a trend for the Aussie this season.
Another trend for WSU has been freshman Klay Thompson getting off to a nice start shooting the rock. This game followed true to form as he knocked down his first field goal attempt, a perfect three-pointer.
Playing in front of a modest crowd in Moscow, ID, WSU raced out to 9-2 lead on 67 percent shooting from the floor.
The Vandals proved they are a much improved basketball team by countering with a nice 7-2 run of their own to close the score to 11-9.
Making his presence known on defense, freshman DeAngelo Casto swatted away a dunk attempt that stunned the Vandals while thrilling the fans on hand.
At the midway point of the first half, both teams went stone cold from the field for about three minutes. That continued over the final six minutes where the Cougs outscored Idaho 6-5. When the two teams left the court for the locker room the scoreboard displayed a 22-20 game with Washington State leading.
The first half was all about defense for both teams. WSU converting just 38 percent of their shots while the Vandals were held to just 29 percent. The only thing colder than the weather outside was the shooters touch.
Amazingly, the first half was cleanly played...unless you look at the shooting percentages. Both teams had just two turnovers and two team fouls. The deliberate pace of Bennett Ball kept the time clock moving for a quick first half.
Trends? The Cougars are 7-0 this season when leading at the half. Yes, that would match their total wins thus far.
Whatever Coach Bennett told his troops in the locker room, the Cougs came out fired up in the second half and dominated Idaho. WSU dramatically improved their shot selection and execution. They finished the game shooting 47 percent while holding Idaho down to just 31 percent.
Despite playing solid defense, WSU saw the Vandals make remarkable shots that kept them in the game for about ten minutes. Over that span, the Cougs shot a little better, too. They just weren't as hot as Idaho.
The Vandals hot shooting cooled off under the constant pressure applied by the Cougar defense.
How cold did Idaho go? The only managed three points over the final 11 minutes of the game. That's what Bennett ball will do to the opposition.
Coach Bennett's young guns all played nicely.
Marcus Capers celebrated his birthday by making both of his shots on spectacular tips. The freshman played smart basketball forcing a steal, blocking a shot and was all over the court on defense.
Klay Thompson was smooth as usual with nine points, four assists, one block, and a steal.
In just eight minutes of playing time, DeAngelo Casto had two monster blocks but missed all three shots from the floor. After a couple of turnovers, Casto found himself watching from the bench a little more than usual.
Playing superb basketball, Aron Baynes and Taylor Rochestie looked like seniors. Baynes was unstoppable in the second half and finished the game with 18 points and nine rebounds, just missing a double-double. Rochestie ran the offense nicely and looked much more like the player he's been for the past two seasons on offense logging 11 points while dishing out five assists.
Washington State improved to 8-3 on the season and head into a brief holiday break on a roll.
The Cougs have one more game before heading into the Pac-10 schedule on January 3rd. Their next game will be this coming Saturday in Baton Rouge against LSU who are 7-1.
With the young guns learning and the seniors rounding into form, Washington State is looking good. Very good.