Welcome back, Idaho fans — tonight it’s a showdown between the Vandals and Lewis-Clark State on a Qwest Arena floor that promises to be anything but neutral. Word is, the game’s nearly sold out, and with the Humanitarian Bowl tomorrow, it’s going to be a house packed with Vandal backers.
On paper, this should be a blowout — a Division I program that should contend for the WAC title against a middling NAIA squad. But the Vandals are in a deep funk, having lost two of their last three games and playing terribly in the one game they did win — a squeaker over NAIA Eastern Oregon. Conference play begins on Jan. 2 in Hawaii, and last year the Vandals were torched in Honolulu by the bottom-feeding Rainbow Warriors. If Idaho hopes to live up to its billing and fight for the WAC championship, they’ll have to turn their play around, and quickly.
Tonight’s contest is their last shot to show it.
We’ll be courtside with Vandal Nation Live play-by-play coverage. Pregame starts at 5:30 p.m. Pacific, tip at 6. Click here to join.
Lewis-Clark State Warriors (8-5)
Frontier Conference — 2009 record: 11-14 (lost to MSU-Northern in Frontier Conference Tournament First Round)
The Warriors started the season hot, but much like the Vandals, have struggled of late. They’ve lost four of their last six, including a narrow loss last night at home to NCAA Division III (non-scholarship) Wisconsin-Stout. They’ll jump on the bus and head for Boise today to play on one night’s rest, which does not bode well for their chances at pulling off a shocker upset.
In their two prior games against NCAA Division I opponents, Lewis-Clark State was comprehensively destroyed — an 82-53 pasting by Montana and an 73-51 beatdown by Washington State.
Nor does history provide comfort for the Warriors — the Vandals have won all 13 previous regular-season meetings between the Gem State’s northernmost four-year colleges.
However, for the Warriors the game counts only as an exhibition, not as part of their win-loss record, so there’s not much penalty for losing. Therefore, going for broke is always an option, and we’ll probably see LCSC throw everything they have at Idaho. It almost certainly won’t be enough, but as the Vandals found out to their terror against Eastern Oregon, it could scare the living daylights out of Idaho fans if Don Verlin’s crew don’t come out firing on all cylinders.
The “Key statistic” feature is taking the night off because it’s not particularly illuminating to compare season-long stats between NAIA and NCAA teams.
- G #20 Markus Monroe, Jr. — 19.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
A bigtime scoring machine for the Warriors, Monroe quickly earned himself a starting spot with smart shooting and bigtime moves. He’s the best backcourt shooter LCSC has, hitting at a .461 clip, and like Mac Hopson, he can clean up the glass, too. But Markus has been off the mark from beyond the arc, making 9 of 35 attempts for an awful .257 pace. Nor is he a great ball-handler, with 32 turnovers for just 19 assists. But he can go off for 30+ points in a game, so keeping him in check will be another key test for Idaho’s defense.
- F #24 Tanner McIntosh, Sr. — 12.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 apg
Boasting some serious power forward size, the 6-8 big man has been the workhorse of Lewis-Clark State’s paint rotation. McIntosh is the team’s best shooter, knocking ‘em down at a .542 pace, and leads the Warriors in rebounding. He also plays nearly 32 minutes per game, also a team high. While McIntosh’s moves might not be up to Division I standards, the Vandals have proven vulnerable inside and Luiz Toledo needs to lock him down if Idaho wants to quickly dispel any upset hopes. Hack-a-McIntosh is a valid strategy, as he averages just .500 at the charity stripe.
- G #5 Daniel Williams, Sr. — 11.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
OK, forgive us for chuckling, but this guy is listed at 6-4, 220. Yipes. That’s not the normal setup for a shooting guard, and he might be huffing and puffing up the court against the Vandals’ Kashif Watson. That said, Williams can score in bunches. He’s not a great shooter — just .410 on the season — but he’s a solid ball-handler and grabs plenty of rebounds while cutting and slashing to the hoop. Note to Idaho’s defense: Let him shoot outside all he wants. He’s 3-for-22 (yeah, that bad) from downtown.
- C #22 James Craft, Sr. — 8.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.3 apg
A Division I-quality big man who’s filtered down to the NAIA ranks, Craft’s 7-foot frame will even overshadow (if barely) Idaho center Marvin Jefferson. For a guy in the paint, he doesn’t shoot that well — just .444 from the floor — but he’s an astounding .864 free-throw shooter, so the Vandals’ inside rotation will have to be very careful not to send him to the foul line. One reason he might have lost his spots at Wright State and Tennessee State? Terrible ball-handling. He has 25 turnovers in 12 games for a .12 assist-to-turnover ratio.
- G #2 Terrell Wallace, So. — 6.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.2 apg
As a freshman last season, Wallace was thrust into the starting spotlight after the Warriors’ returning point guard was sidelined with a season-ending back injury. He made a fine account of himself, posting a team-best 1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio and hitting a respectable .341 from downtown. Now a sophomore with a year of starting experience under his belt, Wallace is picking his shots better and is dishing up assists more efficiently. He’ll present an interesting defensive challenge for Mac Hopson.
- G #4 Derek Gianukakis, Jr. — 6.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.8 apg
The Warriors’ designated Annoying White Jump Shooter, Gianukakis takes two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc and cans them at a team-best .426 clip. When he’s out on the floor, Idaho’s defense will have to watch out and lock down, or risk being peppered with 3-point rainbows. The good news? That’s pretty much the only dimension to his game, as he’s neither a great ball-handler nor does he have strong inside moves.
- G #3 Jared Giammona, Jr. — 6.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.4 apg
Another reserve guard with a weird last name that starts with a G, Giammona is nearly as committed to the 3-point shot as Gianukakis. He’s started more than half of the Warriors’ games but seems to have fallen out of favor with the rise of Markus Monroe. Giamonna doesn’t seem to excel anywhere but he’s got a good set of skills all over the ball and that makes him a solid candidate to be first off the bench for Lewis-Clark State.