Rivalry games count for more than one win

Idaho's Brayon Blake (4) and Washington State's Connor Clifford (42) battle for a rebound during an NCAA college basketball game in Pullman, Wash., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (Kai Eiselein/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)
On Wednesday, Idaho and Washington State battled for the 271st time.

Jim Calhoun, while working the Iowa State-Iowa game Thursday night, spoke about how much he loves rivalry games. He then lamented the end of the Big East he once knew. Me too, Jim. I love rivalry games (maybe I write about them too much). I love the intensity from the teams and fans, as long as it doesn’t get toxic.

There were two examples of good rivalries this week.

Washington State and Idaho, separated by just 11 miles, have the longest continuous basketball rivalry west of the Mississippi. When they played this week, Washington State coach Ernie Kent sat on the Idaho bench for the first 30 seconds of the game. It was all in the interest of the Coaches vs. Cancer charity.


Idaho coach Don Verlin had donated a “Coach for a Day’’ item for a charity auction, and Kent beat out all the bidders.

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‘‘I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that anywhere in the country, where opposing coaches stood on one side of the field, sat on another team’s bench, sat in another team’s dugout,’’ Kent said. ‘‘But that’s not the importance of what transpired. It was the fact that you have coaches — again, coaches — standing up for such a worthy cause.’’

Despite losing the game, Verlin still felt good about Kent’s actions.

“It’s all about finding a cure for cancer,’’ he said.

With the victory, Washington State now leads the series, 162-109.


Then you have New Mexico beating UTEP, 78-77. This used to be a regular matchup, but the schools had not met since 2011 in the NIT and 2009 in the regular season. El Paso sits along the Texas-New Mexico border, and the Miners also have a big rivalry with New Mexico State. In fact, they play twice every season.

Back on the court again, UTEP and New Mexico provided great entertainment.

‘‘This is why the Miners and Lobos should always play,” said UTEP coach Tim Floyd. “We should probably be in the Mountain West Conference. There’s too much history. I felt it in the building from their fans. It was electric.’’

New Mexico coach Craig Neal: ‘‘I’m just glad that Coach Floyd wanted to play the game and get the series back. I think it’s great for both fan bases.

“We’ll go down there next year and hopefully it will be as a good a contest as this one.’’


OK, now. Let’s keep it going, New Mexico-UTEP and other regional rivalries. Don’t let conference realignment, greed, and fear of losing one game end these contests.

.   .   .

Games I’d like to see Saturday:

Wisconsin at Marquette: The teams have played 122 times, with Wisconsin holding a 66-56 lead. Wisconsin is the opponent Marquette has played the most. Wisconsin is a clear favorite, but with the game in Milwaukee, it should be interesting. An upset would be a landmark victory for Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski.

New Mexico at New Mexico State: This is such a big rivalry — called the “Rio Grande Rivalry” — that the schools play twice a season. This is the second meeting; the Lobos won the first, 72-59, in Albuquerque. I’m thinking a sweep for the Lobos.

Villanova vs. Notre Dame in Beautiful Downtown Newark, New Jersey: Not sure why the game is being played there, but I think location doesn’t matter to Villanova while it’s really important for Notre Dame. The Irish are undefeated but have yet to play a road game. Villanova recorded a nice road win at Purdue. The Wildcats are playing as if they’re better than last season’s national championship team.

UMass at Providence: Derek Kellogg has a really young team, but the Minutemen are a surprising 6-2. Providence is also on the young side, so this is a chance for a nice road win for the UMass.

Tennessee State at North Carolina State: I’m rooting for Tennessee State just because it’s the only HBCU to play in a non-HBCU conference. (I also own a Tennessee State T-shirt). Plus, there are those 18 Olympic gold medals in track. The basketball team is off to a 7-1 start, so an upset is not impossible. To get you fired up, here’s the Tiger marching band, the Aristocrat of Bands:

Wichita State vs. Oklahoma in Oklahoma City: Wichita State lost its two best players to graduation, but the Shockers seems primed to have another great season. Defensively, they hold teams to 35 percent shooting. Offensively, they have 10 players averaging between 5.6 and 11.1 points per game. The 11.1 belongs to Markis McDuffie, who’s only a sophomore and is destined for stardom. He’s from New Jersey, so ending up in Kansas seems unusual. He was a big recruiting target for Boston College, and he would be averaging a lot more than 11.1 if he played for the Eagles. Oklahoma lost a lot from its Final Four team from last season and is regrouping too. It seems Wichita has regrouped better than the Sooners right now.

Cincinnati at Butler: The Bearcats, tough and gritty as ever, are 7-1 and will take on Butler, which is 8-1, in the great and historic Hinkle Fieldhouse (another T-shirt I own). I’ve said this before, I think Cincinnati gets overlooked, and this is the type of spot where the Bearcats can establish themselves with a big win.

Utah at Xavier: X has had a tough last seven days, losing at Baylor and Colorado, so it will be nice to be back home. Utah is 6-1, but this is the first time it will be playing outside Salt Lake City.

Michigan at UCLA: I am completely on the UCLA bandwagon; I just hope it doesn’t collapse under the strain. The Bruins have gobs of talent, but it all comes together because of magical freshman point guard Lonzo Ball.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan