Archive | November, 2009

Hoops game with #25 Portland moved to Memorial Gym

30 Nov

We’ve confirmed that Sunday’s hoops game between Idaho and the #25 Portland Pilots will be moved to Memorial Gym from its originally scheduled venue of the Cowan Spectrum. This is to accommodate indoor football practice in the Kibbie Dome in anticipation of a probable bowl invitation.

While we can’t fault the decision-making here, it’s disappointing because it represents a blown opportunity for Vandal basketball to put on a marquee showcase.

The Pilots are the first nationally-ranked non-conference team to visit Moscow in at least 50 years, and possibly the first ever. This could be — should be — a premier game for the Vandals, a chance to play against one of the nation’s best teams on our difficult home court in front of thousands of fans.

Instead, it’ll be shoehorned into an admittedly-historic but ridiculously-undersized 1,500-seat gym, meaning tickets will be extremely limited for Idaho’s best non-conference home game of the season. Thousands of Vandal fans will be left out in the cold — and students, in particular, are likely to be shut out, given the requirements to seat the season ticketholders.

Students will be required to pick up hard tickets, though the details have yet to be worked out. We’ll keep you posted.

As a televised opportunity for the Vandals, our program’s facilities will be shown as second-rate at best — there are a good many Division II home courts that put Memorial Gym to shame.

This problem wasn’t anticipated, of course, because nobody thought our football team might be good enough to get into a bowl game. Whoops.

Let this debacle be a wake-up call to our administration: if the Idaho Vandals are expected to compete and win at the top level of American college sports, they need facilities worthy of championship teams. That means an arena Verlin and Newlee’s squads can call home.

Good Morning Vandal Nation: Nov. 30, 2009

30 Nov

As the morning dawns and students flock back to campus, we’re down in the home stretch of the semester. It was an up and down weekend for Idaho sports, but this week promises to hold great opportunities on the hardwood.

On Saturday, Idaho ended its home football season with an disappointing loss to Utah State, after defensive breakdowns once again put the Vandals in a hole they couldn’t dig out of. But Don Verlin’s hoopsters provided a boost that night with a decisive home win over Eastern Washington to go to 4-1, their best start in decades.

Then, Sunday brought the first victory for Idaho’s women, who struggled early on with shooting woes and the loss of team leader Derisa Taleni. Offense was not a problem, as the Vandals whipped up on Louisiana-Lafayette, 90-66.

This weekend promises to be a historic one for Idaho sports, as #25 Portland comes calling in Moscow Sunday. The Pilots, who have beaten Oregon, UCLA and #22 Minnesota, may be the first nationally-ranked non-conference team to ever take on the Vandals at home. That game will tip off at 5 p.m. and is scheduled for the Cowan Spectrum.

Now for the links:

Basketball

  • Last night, Nevada made a strong showing in the defending national champions’ house, taking North Carolina down to the wire despite their lack of depth. Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal has the story from Chapel Hill, N.C. (props to the RGJ for sending him on the road) and observes that the Wolf Pack can claim a moral victory.

Football

Marvin Jefferson: Throw it down, big man, throw it down!

29 Nov

Vandal center Marvin Jefferson says GOOD NIGHT EAGLES with a two-handed exclamation-point jam last night in Memorial Gym, as the Vandals routed Eastern Washington.

Vandals bury Eastern Washington in a blizzard of 3-pointers

28 Nov

With a minute and change gone in the second half of Idaho’s home contest against Eastern Washington tonight, Steffan Johnson grabbed a feed from Mac Hopson at the top of the key and buried his fourth three-pointer of the game to put the Vandals up by 25.

Twenty seconds and a Marvin Jefferson block later, it was an instant replay. Hopson dished off to Johnson in the wing and as his shot arced through the air, the 1,500 fans in Memorial Gym came to their feet even before it swished through the net. They knew it would be good — every one before had been.

On the strength of seven straight 3-point makes and a stifling defensive effort, the homestanding Vandals blew out Eastern Washington, 76-54, to go 4-1 on the young season — Idaho’s best start since 1988. EWU fell to 2-4.

“This was a heck of a win,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We dominated them. We rebounded the ball well, got out in transition and held (the Eagles) to 36 percent shooting. That’s just good execution all around.”

The Vandals made eight of 12 3-point attempts, the third-best team performance from downtown in Idaho history, and Johnson’s 6-for-7 shooting outside was the third-best by a single player. Hopson and Marcus Lawrence also got in on the action from long range, shredding the Eagles’ man-to-man defense. Overall, Idaho shot 54.2 percent on the night — and 66.7 percent in the first half. Idaho leads the WAC in both shooting categories — hitting .489 from the field and .446 from downtown.

Both teams started slowly, and an early trey from the Eagles’ Kevin Winford meant Idaho led by just a single point three minutes into the game — 4-3. But the Vandals would score eight consecutive points and go on a 32-12 run in the next 10 minutes of the half, anchored by big inside buckets from Jefferson and Luiz Toledo. The Eagles would not threaten again, and Idaho would build a 31-point lead midway through the second half before calling off the dogs.

Johnson led all players with 18 points on 6-7 shooting from 3-point range, along with 2 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. He was joined in double figures by Toledo’s 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting and ten more from Jefferson, who was 4-for-8 from the field. Hopson, the other half of Idaho’s 1-2 backcourt punch, was 4-of-5 from the field for 9 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished up a team-high 4 assists.

“I was just feeling it tonight,” Johnson said. “When we’re shooting like that, it helps us in so many ways. They had to open up their defense, give space to our big guys inside and it’s a huge mental boost, too. When you hit like that, the bench gets into it, the crowd was really going — you start thinking you’re never going to miss.”

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Idaho 76, Eastern Washington 54

28 Nov

The night finishes on a high note for Idaho, as the Vandals blew out Eastern Washington, 76-54, on the strength of an absurd .667 shooting performance in the first half. Steffan Johnson once again led Idaho with 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting from behind the arc, the third-best 3-point performance in Vandal history. Idaho improves to 4-1 on the season, their best start since 1988.

We’ll have a complete story and video interviews shortly.

Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Eastern Washington

28 Nov

With football in the books, Idaho hoops looks to close the night with a victory over the Eastern Washington Eagles out of the Big Sky Conference.

Pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m., with live play-by-play commentary, analysis and chat after tip-off at 7 p.m.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Eastern Washington!

Utah State 52, Idaho 49

28 Nov

For the Idaho Vandals, it was yet another hole dug too deep. Idaho battled back from a 31-7 deficit against the Utah State Aggies to take the lead with just under 10 minutes to go, but two late turnovers allowed Utah State to get the 52-49 victory and spoil Idaho’s Senior Day. The Vandals fell to 7-5 on the season, 4-4 in Western Athletic Conference play. Utah State improved to 4-8, 3-5 in the WAC.

We’ll have a complete game report tonight after Idaho basketball.

Vandal Football Gameday: Utah State

28 Nov

After a chilly, foggy Friday, the weather gods have smiled on Moscow today — it’s a beautiful day for college football and basketball! The Vandals will take on Utah State at 2 p.m. in the Kibbie Dome and Eastern Washington at 7 p.m. in Mem Gym.

For the 7-4 Vandals, they’ll be looking for a Senior Day to remember as Idaho closes out its best regular season in a decade and looks ahead to its first bowl since 1998. After two ugly losses, QB Nathan Enderle should be back in action and ready to lead the Vandals to a momentum-building victory over the 3-8 Aggies.

We’ll bring you all the action from the Dome with play-by-play commentary, analysis and chat at Vandal Nation Live, starting at 1:30 p.m. with our pregame show. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. We’ll have scoring updates on the Vandal Nation Twitter as well.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Utah State!

At 6:30 p.m., or immediately following football, we’ll have Vandal Nation Live coverage of Idaho hoops, as the men look for their best Division I start since the 1982-83 season. Tip-off against the Eagles is scheduled for 7 p.m. Our game preview is here.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Eastern Washington!

This Weekend in the WAC

New Mexico State takes on San Jose State at 5 p.m. in Dick Tomey’s best remaining chance at getting a WAC win before retirement. Navy visits Hawaii in a game the Warriors must win to keep their slim bowl hopes alive. We’ve got the lowdown on all three of today’s WAC contests here.

Yesterday, Boise State beat Nevada, 44-33, to clinch at least a share of the WAC championship. Louisiana Tech and Fresno State are idle.

Pregame Roundup

Idaho overwhelmed against No. 8 Baylor

28 Nov

Still looking for their first win of the season, the Vandals were severely outclassed by No. 8 Baylor in the first game of the World Vision Classic tournament in Texas, losing 82-37.

“There’s a reason they’re ranked No. 8,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “They definitely belong there.”

Idaho never really had a chance against Baylor’s depth and athleticism, despite an improved shooting percentage and good man-to-man defense.

The Vandals made their priority to shut down Brittney Griner, a 6-8 freshman and star for Baylor. Idaho was successful in limiting Griner to a season-low six points, but Baylor had too many other weapons. Griner was contained but Baylor’s Melissa Jones, a junior guard, ran unchecked and piled on 23 of Baylor’s 82 points.

Baylor’s bench and other starters did the rest, and Idaho simply couldn’t keep up. Idaho never led in the game, and trailed 47-22 at halftime.

Despite the loss, Newlee was impressed with Idaho’s play against a stronger team. The Vandalss never gave up and played hard the entire game.

“Our goal was to play hard for 40 minutes today, and we did,” Newlee said.

Despite being outclassed, Idaho did not go down without a fight in the first half, shooting 33 percent from the field and drilling 5-18 from the three-point line.

Junior guard Bianca Cheever led Idaho as the only player in the double-digits with 11 points, including 3-6 from the three-point line. Freshman Kanisha Bello had an outstanding game, putting up a career-high 8 points, and shooting 50 percent from the floor.

Newlee continued to get a feel for his players, using the third different starting lineup in as many game, as well as playing bench players, in an effort to find a cohesive unit.

“There are going to be a lot of different lineups,” Newlee said. “It’s only four games into the year and we’ve got to get the old players clicking with the new ones and sometimes it takes longer than you’d like.”

Idaho will get no easy break, as they face Lamar this afternoon, and close out the tournament against Louisiana-Lafayette, both strong teams, Newlee said.

“We’re going to see how tough we are in the next two games,” Newlee said. “Our goal is to play hard for 40 more minutes tomorrow and get ourselves a win.”

WAC Football Preview: Nov. 28

28 Nov

After Boise State convincingly took down Nevada last night, three Western Athletic Conference games remain today and all have, if not bowl implications, some serious pride on the line.

Here’s the matchups, all times Pacific.

  • Utah State (3-8, 2-5 WAC) at Idaho (7-4, 4-3 WAC), 2 p.m. (Altitude/ESPN360)
  • The Vandals are the feel-good story of the season and coach Robb Akey is a deserving candidate for National Coach of the Year. But when QB Nathan Enderle was sidelined by injury at the worst possible moment, Idaho dropped back-to-back games that weren’t ever close. With Enderle back in action, the Vandals are hoping to close out their miracle season on a high note — and grab the team’s first bowl berth of the century. Under first-year head coach Gary Anderson, the WAC’s blue Aggies have undertaken a turnaround campaign of their own. Any designs on postseason play evaporated long ago, but Utah State can still play spoiler on the Vandals’ Senior Day.

    Idaho has won games, quite simply, by outscoring the other team. A “bend, don’t break” defense has struggled to contain opponents, particularly in the first half, and several of the Vandals’ victories have come only with last-minute comeback heroics. Yet, if there’s a team worse than Idaho on defense, it’s the Aggies. Utah State gives up an average of 450 yards per game — 210 on the ground, 240 through the air — and those numbers are just begging Enderle to put up what would be his fourth 300-yard passing game of the year and RB DeMaundray Woolridge his third 100-yard rushing performance. Aggie QB Diondre Borel and RB Robert Turbin are going to have to have the games of their lives — and Utah State’s defense will have to put up a season-defining performance — to beat Idaho in the Dome.

  • New Mexico State (3-8, 1-5 WAC) at San Jose State (1-9, 0-6 WAC), 5 p.m. (Altitude2/ESPN360)
  • In the WAC’s Pillow Fight of the Week, two of the conference’s worst teams collide in a game that means nothing more than bragging rights. But with Spartans coach Dick Tomey retiring at the end of the year, San Jose State would undoubtedly like to close out his career in San Jose with a victory at home — and with a tough season finale at Louisiana Tech remaining, if a win doesn’t come today the Spartans will probably go winless in WAC play. DeWayne Walker’s New Mexico State Aggies are on the other side of the momentum swing, and a road win would close their first season under Walker’s guidance on a high note.

    This game is looking to be a snoozer, as both teams are charitably described as offensively inept. New Mexico State has the conference’s worst scoring production, averaging just 12 points per game — but San Jose State is little better with 13.2. We’re hard-pressed to pick here, because it’s really going to depend on which team’s offense gets even the slightest advantage. But if there’s one place the teams diverge, it’s defensively — the Aggies have been better than the Spartans at stopping their opponents. Given that this is shaping up to be a low-scoring puntfest, one stop and one score could be the difference between winning or losing, so we’ll give the edge to New Mexico State. Then again, the Spartans will be riding a wave of emotions on home turf, and QB Jordan La Secla has shown the ability to make some plays. Will it be enough to give Tomey one last victory?

  • Navy (8-3) at Hawaii (5-6, 3-5 WAC), 7:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • For the Hawaii Warriors, this is it — their season all comes down to this game. After six straight losses dropped the Warriors to 2-6, an impressive three-game win streak has put them in position to claim a berth in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. But they must win their last two games to do it, against some of the strongest opposition they’ve faced all season. Next week is nationally-ranked Wisconsin, but Hawaii’s first obstacle is the Navy Midshipmen and their potent triple-option attack that chews up the clock and the opposing defense all at once.

    On paper, this one doesn’t look good at all for the home team. Navy has won seven of its last eight games, including a victory at nationally-ranked Notre Dame. Boasting the nation’s third-best rushing attack, led by dual-threat QB Ricky Dobbs’ 800 yards and 22 touchdowns, the Midshipmen should be able to torch the Warriors’ undersized defensive line. Hawaii has one of the nation’s worst rushing defenses, giving up an average of nearly 190 yards per game, and if they couldn’t stop Idaho on the ground, there’s no way they’ll stop Navy. The only hope for the Warriors is to blitz the Middies’ defense. If QB Bryant Moniz can answer Navy’s rushing attack score-for-score through the air, the Midshipmen might run into clock trouble with their time-consuming ground-based offense. It’s a slim hope, however, and it’s our guess that the Warriors’ bowl dreams die tonight.

Better Know a Foe: Utah State

27 Nov

With football back in action, so is Better Know a Foe! Logan Herald-Journal beat writer Wade Denniston is this week’s victim, as we quizzed him about the rebuilding Utah State Aggies.

It’s been a tough first season for Gary Andersen and Utah State but there’s been flashes of promise — what’s the mindset in Aggieland?

You’re right, it has been a tough season for the Aggies as far as wins and losses. But, they’ve made so much progress and the product on the field is much better. Thanks to Andersen, there is new life in this program. Honestly, the Aggies are 7-10 plays away from possibly being bowl eligible this season. In seven of their eight losses, they were ahead at one time in the game. Three losses have been by four points or less. Compared to year’s past, the future seems bright for the Aggies, which is quite refreshing.

How big would a season-closing win on the road be?

It would be huge. Not only would it give the Aggies a lot of momentum heading into the offseason, but it would also snap a 12-game road losing streak for them.

Robert Turbin — does he not get the national cred he should because of the Aggies’ struggles?

Turbin probably doesn’t get the national cred due to the fact of Boise State. When people think of the WAC, BSU is more than likely the first thing that pops into their mind, and deservedly so. Turbin was recently awarded a helmet sticker by ESPN.com, so his name is definitely out there. And, he had a pretty good showing on national TV against BSU, which was a positive for him and Utah State.

Who are the key playmakers for Utah State on offense and defense?

Junior quarterback Diondre Borel and sophomore running back Robert Turbin make a nice one-two punch for the Aggies on the offensive side of the ball. Borel ranks first in the WAC and 19th in the nation in total offense, while Turbin is third in the WAC and 22nd in the nation in rushing.

Defensively, sophomore linebacker Bobby Wagner has proven to be the playmaker on that side of the ball for USU. He’s currently locked in a nice battle with the Vandals’ Shiloh Keo for leading tackler in the WAC.

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Hoops Preview: Inside Eastern Washington

27 Nov

Eastern Washington Eagles (2-3)

Big Sky — 2009 record: 12-18

The Eagles are in the third year of a rebuilding program under coach Kirk Earlywine, and thus far it’s been something of a struggle. Eastern Washington hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, nor have they made the six-team Big Sky Conference Tournament. That despite having one of the best players ever to play in the Big Sky, current Detroit Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey. But in their meeting with Idaho last season, on their home court in Cheney, Eastern Washington came out victorious, 69-59.

This year’s Eastern Washington squad has just one win over a Division I program, that coming on the road against Southland Conference foe Texas-Arlington. They played close with a young Washington State team, giving the Cougars all they could handle but falling just short, 67-61. That success didn’t carry over, as on Tuesday Boise State easily handled the homestanding Eagles, 82-69.

The problem for the Eagles can be summed up in a word: Efficiency. Like the Hornets before them, the Eagles have started the season stone-cold from the floor — as a team, they’re shooting just .414 and have one of the nation’s worst 3-point percentages at .299. Against the Vandals, who have been holding their opponents to just .400 shooting, that doesn’t bode well for Eastern Washington’s upset chances. They have been slightly outrebounding their foes, but a +2.0 margin won’t be enough of a difference when your team misses 6 out of 10 shots from the field.

The defensive matchups look even worse for the Eagles. Idaho’s strength is in the backcourt, with the nation’s 40th-best 3-point shooting percentage at .420. It’s in that stat that the Eagles’ defense has been atrocious, allowing .404 shooting from outside — one of the nation’s worst.

It’s inside that Eastern Washington has a chance of making things happen. The combination of Brandon Moore and Mark Dunn can make for some matchup issues against Idaho’s big men — particularly given Idaho’s turnover woes there. But get beneath those two and there’s zero proven depth, so early foul trouble could take a toll.

Much like Sacramento State, the Eagles are a program that is poised for improvement, and after the Texas Southern debacle, Idaho well knows the cost of thinking any game is a gimme. But the Vandals have a clear talent advantage at virtually every position, and the guards should have a field day, shooting out the lights in Memorial Gym in front of a friendly crowd. It’s going to take a serious effort from Earlywine’s team to select their shots and convert every opportunity to keep this game close.

Key statistic: Points per possession

  • Idaho: 1.06 (76th) — Eastern Washington: 0.91 (250th)

Measured by dividing the number of points scored by the number of possessions, this is a basic measurement of a team’s offensive efficiency, and the difference is stark. The Vandals have one of the nation’s 100 most efficient offenses, while the Eagles are stuck in the bottom 300.

Projected Starters:

  • G #01 Glen Dean, Fr. — 8.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 4.0 apg

A true freshman point guard, Dean is doing a serviceable job for the Eagles in his first Division I action — but that’s a position where Eastern Washington could sorely use some senior experience. His negative assist-to-turnover ratio needs improvement, but what he most needs to learn is when not to take shots. The Eagles as a whole are a poor-shooting team, but Dean’s terrible .297 average is dragging everything else down. Then again, maybe it’s his ball-handling that’s the worst — coughing it up six times against Boise State? Yikes.

  • G #10 Alden Gibbs, Jr. — 4.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 4.0 apg

Gibbs is another highly-touted JC transfer that has yet to pan out for Earlywine. Called by his coach “arguably the best athlete in the Big Sky,” Gibbs has proven to be a solid rebounder but he’s also been yet another EWU backcourter who can’t shoot. Gibbs has hit just 31.8 percent of his shots this year and went 0-3 in 20 minutes against Boise State. Against the Vandals’ stellar backcourt, those kind of numbers just aren’t going to cut it and Gibbs is going to have to seriously step up the production.

  • G #10 Jeffrey Forbes, Fr. — 9.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.4 apg

Yet another true freshman pressed into service by the Eagles, Forbes has been one of EWU’s strongest newcomers — but even that’s relative. His .419 shooting percentage is just OK, though it makes him by far the best among Eastern Washington’s backcourters. Forbes is also a demon from the free-throw line, converting 90 percent of his trips to the charity stripe.

  • C #45 Brandon Moore, Sr. — 13.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.0 apg

Anchoring the inside for Eastern Washington, Moore will create a formidable matchup. He has size, experience and a solid shooting stroke. Anyone who averages a double-double is someone to take seriously, and Marvin Jefferson should have all he can handle to keep Moore from dominating the paint. Where he should be exploitable is his ball-handling, as he’s given up 13 turnovers and got picked to death by Texas-Arlington.

  • F #42 Mark Dunn, Sr. — 12.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, .600 FG%

A stalwart for the Eagles, Dunn is a serious force anywhere on the court and has the team’s best shooting percentage — inside and out. He can clean up the glass, slam home a dunk or even stroke it from beyond the arc, making for a real defensive matchup issue. Does he go up against Luiz Toledo? Can Toledo defend it outside, and if he’s drawn out there, will it open up the paint? Watch Dunn’s performance closely, as if Idaho can contain him effectively, things get very difficult for Eastern Washington. Conversely, if he gets it going the Eagles will have a chance.

Key reserves:

  • G #5 Benny Valentine — 14.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.4 apg

Coming off the bench for the Eagles is an incredible scoring spark in the person of Valentine, a Texas Tech transfer who led EWU in scoring and assists last year and was named Second Team All-Big Sky. This year he again leads the Eagles in both categories. Why he doesn’t start is a mystery. It may have something to do with the fact that while he scores a lot, he misses even more — last year he shot .390 and this year he’s gotten worse at .339.

  • G #21 Kevin Winford — 4.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.0 apg

One of the few Division I players to come out of Alaska, this redshirt freshman was expected to be one of the Eagles’ strongest pieces this season — Earlywine called him the team’s best shooter. But he hasn’t lived up to the hype, averaging just 4.0 points and putting up an awful .294 shooting percentage in his three appearances. Winford lost his starting role after the season’s opening games and saw limited minutes against Boise State.

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Nov. 27, 2009

27 Nov

Fog is blanketing Moscow today as shoppers scramble around for the best Black Friday deals. We already blew our stash on a Flip UltraHD camcorder for our nifty video interviews, so we can spend this afternoon talking sports.

Today, the Vandal women open their tournament season against Baylor, one of the nation’s top teams. They’ll have a tough fight of it, but undaunted, they’ll be looking for their first win at 5 p.m. this afternoon.

Tomorrow is a back-to-back extravaganza of Idaho sports.

First, football closes out its regular season against Utah State — it’s Senior Day in the Dome, and a victory would assure the Vandals of their best season since 1998. That game kicks off at 2 p.m. and we’ll have it for you on Vandal Nation Live with pregame at 1:30 p.m.

Then, the doubleheader’s second half — basketball vs. Eastern Washington — tips off in Memorial Gym at 7 p.m. The Vandals will be looking for their best start in 21 years with a victory over the Eagles, and we’ll have that game for you too on Vandal Nation Live, with pregame starting at 6:30 p.m. or immediately following the football game.

We’ll have complete football and hoops previews on the blog this afternoon. Now for your links:

Basketball

  • The Portland Pilots — a team Idaho plays twice this year in a home-and-home series, beat up on UCLA last night, 74-47, and the score is closer than the game. They’re going to be a dangerous foe for the Vandals, with lights-out shooting from the backcourt and a stifling zone D.
  • Tonight’s marquee WAC matchup: Nevada takes on Virginia Commonwealth in a key clash of mid-major titans. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray previews the game, and thinks the Rams’ D will do just enough to beat the Pack.

Football

Happy Thanksgiving, Vandal Nation

25 Nov

It’s soon to be Turkey Day across this great Vandal Nation, and we hope our kind readers will not begrudge us a couple days off.

We’ll be back on Friday, with previews for Saturday’s Vandal doubleheader — the football home finale against Utah State and a hardwood showdown with Eastern Washington.

Thanks, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Diversity lifts Vandals to victory in home opener

24 Nov

Idaho’s star guards Mac Hopson and Steffan Johnson combined for just 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting in Idaho’s home opener tonight against Sacramento State. The Vandals must have lost, right?

Wrong.

It was a night for Idaho’s unheralded guys to shine, as Luiz Toledo led four Vandals in double figures to claim a 75-61 victory over the Hornets in Memorial Gym — giving the 3-1 Vandals their best start in nearly a decade.

Toledo’s 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting paced the Vandals, and the sophomore big man converted on seven of his eight free-throw opportunities. Kashif Watson and Marvin Jefferson each poured in 12 more, while long-ball specialist Luciano de Souza canned a three-pack of 3-pointers to finish with 11.

“This basketball team is deep – we’ve got a number of weapons and a number of guys who can score the basketball for us,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “That’s something you’re going to see all season.”

The Vandals dominated the post with uncontested buckets all night long, as Idaho’s three big men — Jefferson, Toledo and Kyle Barone — combined to shoot 10-of-14 from the field.

“When we got the ball inside, we scored,” Verlin said. “I thought Toledo and Marvin were big factors for us early on.”

Idaho never trailed and was rarely threatened, jumping out to a 11-2 lead three minutes into the game and never allowing Sacramento State (3-3) to get closer than two possessions the rest of the way. Every Hornet run was answered right back with a Vandal run.

“We did a good job of slowing down their momentum and making shots of our own,” Verlin said. “Luciano buried a couple threes that shut (the Hornets) down and broke things open.”

Hopson and Johnson weren’t entirely absent from the offense, of course, and it was their ball-handling that made many of those points possible. Mac finished with 6 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, while Steffan scored 9 points, dished up 4 assists and grabbed 5 boards. Six of Johnson’s points came on back-to-back 3-pointers early in the game, which helped the Vandals take control of the contest.

“Mac always does everything to win,” Verlin said. “He does whatever it takes, finds a way to help his team and makes good things happen.”

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