The Washington State Cougars opened up the 2023-24 season with a victory over their longtime rival Idaho Vandals, 84-59.
In the 188th men’s basketball version of the Battle of the Palouse, WSU (1-0) ultimately controlled the game wire-to-wire. Idaho (0-1) made runs but could never pull within single digits after the 10:24 mark in the first half. The longest tenured Coug, Andrej Jakimovski, led the way with 21 points, one shy of his career high.
The leading scorer fittingly scored the first bucket of the season to get things going. Rueben Chinyelu put in his first bucket as a Coug and Myles Rice also tacked on his first bucket, one that had to feel way more than the two points it added to the scoreboard. Rice concluded the 7-0 run with a free throw before Idaho finally got on the scoreboard. It didn’t take very long for WSU to get off to another run. Isaac Jones, playing against his former Vandals team, scored four points in the paint and Isaiah Watts capped off the 11-0 run with a trey. Quinn Denker’s layup was the only thing separating the Cougs from an 18-0 run as Jakimovski began to heat up with a personal 7-0 run to push the lead to 20 with just under six minutes left in the half. The Vandals were able to cut the deficit to 11 with just four seconds remaining, but that was plenty of time for Joseph Yesufu to fly down the court and find the Australian big man Oscar Cluff underneath who beat the buzzer.
WSU stretched the lead out to 21 with an 11-3 run to open the second half. The game began to draw to a stalemate as Idaho couldn’t pull back within 13, but WSU couldn’t push the lead past 20. Jakimovksi continued to flash with some great buckets at the rim with the rest of the frontcourt punishing the interior Vandal defense. The Cougs finally snuffed out any last minute thoughts the Vandals had of a comeback with a 12-2 run in the final minutes to push the lead to a game-high 25 where it would stay as the clock reached 0 at Beasley.
With respect to the Vandals, it’s no secret they aren’t expected to make a run towards March this year. However, the Cougs looked impressive all around. They outrebounded Idaho by 19, shot 54.4% from the field, hit a respectable 38.9% of their threes and had three players finish with double digit points. You’re only real gripe was the 51.9% from the charity stripe that hopefully a trip to the infamous “Free Throw Boot Camp” can’t fix.
The biggest story of tonight wasn’t just the return of WSU basketball, it was the return of their point guard. Tonight was the long awaited return to the court for redshirt freshman Myles Rice, who has spent the past two seasons watching from the bench. Before last season could begin, Rice was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After months of chemotherapy and treatment, Rice was declared cancer-free in March of this year. He made his collegiate debut tonight and put on a show, scoring 13 points, dishing three assists and pulling in four boards while flashing a big smile from time-to-time.
WSU will welcome in the Prairie View A&M Panthers to Pullman on Friday night.