Washington State’s players know that their top 10 ranking can disappear very easily.
After a receiving a bit of a scare in their last game, the No. 9 Cougars aren’t likely to be taking their lofty spot in the poll for granted when they host Idaho on Friday.
Playing with its highest ranking since coming in at No. 9 in February, Washington State (2-0) found itself behind by six at halftime Tuesday, but a hot-shooting second half lifted it to an 86-74 win over unheralded Boise State.
The Cougars learned a valuable lesson they can apply during the early portion of their non-conference slate before they play road games against Baylor and No. 14 Gonzaga.
“We can’t walk around like fat cats, thinking we’re better than (our opponents), which isn’t true if we don’t bring” our best game, said junior forward Daven Harmeling, who had 18 points and six rebounds. “We got pumped up at halftime and came out pretty strong.”
Derrick Low scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half and Kyle Weaver made all three of his 3-point attempts to finish with 19 points for the Cougars, who shot 56.3 percent from the field - 61.5 percent after the break. Washington State was 9-for-19 from beyond the arc for the game and 6-for-10 in the second half.
“That’s what good teams do,” said Low, who had a team-leading 14 points in a 66-54 win at Idaho on Dec. 9 in the teams’ most recent meeting. “We needed to get that (first half) out of our system. We came out soft. In the second half, we carried the game and made plays when we needed to.”
With four starters returning from last season, when Washington State won 26 games and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 12 years, the Cougars have high expectations and certainly doesn’t want to suffer an early loss against less-formidable opposition.
Washington State looks to extend its home winning streak over non-conference opponents to 12 on Friday. That run started with a 63-37 victory over Idaho on Nov. 26, 2005.
The Cougars will try for their fifth straight victory over the Vandals (1-1), who face their second straight ranked opponent after losing 80-43 at Gonzaga on Tuesday.
Idaho trailed 36-30 at the half, but fell flat in the final 20 minutes after three players fouled out.
“We told ourselves before the game we were going to be the aggressors,” Idaho coach George Pfeifer said. “We ran out of bodies.”
Junior reserve guard Brandon Brown scored 12 points for Idaho, a program which won eight games over the previous two seasons.
Guard Trevor Morris, who scored 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting in the Vandals’ 110-52 win over Cascade College on Nov. 9, was held to 10 points on 4-for-17 shooting against Gonzaga.
Idaho is winless in its last 14 games against Top 25 opponents.