Hopson’s big night in Hawaii powers WAC-opener win

3 Jan

Perhaps the nadir of last year’s Idaho hoops campaign was the team’s trip to Oahu — a fiasco from start to finish, where the Rainbow Warriors embarrassed the Vandals by 22 points.

Last night in Honolulu, coach Don Verlin’s Vandals tasted sweet, sweet revenge.

Led by a season-best 24 points from star point guard Mac Hopson, Idaho basketball opened Western Athletic Conference play with a crucial road victory over Hawaii, 59-52. The Vandals improve to 8-4 on the season, 1-0 in WAC play, while the Rainbow Warriors fall to 7-7 (0-1 WAC).

What’s most promising about the win is the way in which it came — a team-wide offensive explosion building a 14-point lead, then surviving a late-game Rainbow Warrior surge to clinch the victory. The Vandals have struggled to put away games this season, blowing big leads with second-half collapses. Verlin’s squad has seemed like a paper tiger, ready to fold up its tent at the slightest hint of a challenge. Not this time.

“There’s been a couple games where we’ve imploded when we hit adversity,” guard Steffan Johnson admitted. “As a team, we have to respond better and we did that tonight. We came together, not bickering or fighting but supporting each other to get the win.”

It wasn’t a pretty triumph by any means, as Idaho managed just 23 points in the second half on dismal 35 percent shooting. But a stout performance on defense carried the day for the Silver and Gold, as Hawaii’s shooters were comprehensively shut down. In particular, the Vandals’ zone gave the Rainbow Warriors fits, largely neutralizing the home team’s size advantage. To break a zone, you have to shoot outside — and that’s something Hawaii simply could not do, as they went a horrific 2-for-16 from beyond the arc. Overall, Hawaii shot just 37 percent from the field.

Consider this: Dwain Williams, the Rainbow Warriors’ leading scorer coming into the night, averaged 15.5 points per game. Against the Vandals, he managed only five, three of which came on free throws. He went 1-for-10 on field goals, 0-for-5 outside.

“I tell you what, that’s the best defensive performance we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Verlin said.

Idaho opened the game with a bang, scoring six quick points before the Rainbow Warriors were able to respond, but the lead flip-flopped a couple times early on. A back-to-back-to-back string of 3-pointers broke Hawaii’s back, though — on two consecutive possessions Hopson canned treys, and on the next trip down the court he fed Marcus Lawrence, who drilled a third. The stunned Rainbow Warriors wouldn’t recover until midway through the second half, and Idaho held an 11-point lead at the break, thanks in part to a half-court bankshot buzzerbeater from Johnson.

The Vandals were able to stretch that advantage to 14 points early in the second half, but then the previously-productive offense went stone-cold. Hawaii, smelling blood, began methodically chipping away at the lead margin. Twice, three times it was cut to a one-possession game — but each time, another Vandal would step up and make a big defensive play or a right-back-atcha jump shot to keep the lead alive, even if hanging by a shoestring.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team to show the heart and do the things they did to win this game,” Verlin said. “We had guys make huge buckets late in the ballgame — (Kashif) Watson had one, (Marvin) Jefferson had one — that were the difference tonight.”

Along with his game-high 24 points, Hopson shot 8-for-11 from the floor — including 3-for-4 from downtown — to go with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Johnson chipped in 10 more, along with a team-high 7 rebounds. Jefferson added 7 points, 5 boards and 3 blocks. Leading the Rainbow Warriors was Paul Campbell, who had a stellar night with 14 points (on a pinpoint 7-of-8 shooting performance) and 7 rebounds.

It wasn’t all smiles on the stat sheet, as once again the Vandals were horrendous at the foul line, converting on just 12 of 22 attempts from the charity stripe. If Idaho is to contend for the WAC crown, that’s a number which simply must get better.

Tomorrow, the Vandals finish up their WAC-opening road trip by visiting the Spartans of San Jose State. Idaho has an opportunity to head back home this week on a three-game winning streak, with a 2-0 record in conference. With road wins looking to be tough to come by this season, every away game is crucial in the race for the WAC championship.

“We’ve got a great chance to get a leg up on everybody else in the league if we can go down to San Jose and play with the kind of intensity, the spirit, and the togetherness that we played with tonight,” Verlin said.

Official Basketball Box Score
Idaho vs Hawai`i
1/2/10 7:05 p.m. at Stan Sheriff Center - Honolulu, HI

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
VISITORS: Idaho (8-4), (1-0 WAC)
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
01 Hopson,Mac.......... *  8-11   3-4    5-8    1  4  5   3  24  2  4  0  1  34
05 Johnson,Steffan..... *  4-10   2-4    0-0    0  7  7   1  10  3  0  0  0  30
21 Toledo,Luiz......... *  2-6    0-1    0-2    2  1  3   5   4  0  0  0  1  27
32 Watson,Kashif....... *  2-3    0-0    0-0    0  2  2   3   4  3  4  0  0  25
53 Jefferson,Marvin.... *  2-4    0-0    3-4    1  4  5   5   7  1  3  3  0  27
02 Ledbetter,Jeff......    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  1  0  0  0   2
03 Henderson,Shawn.....    0-1    0-1    1-2    0  2  2   2   1  0  0  0  1  17
13 De Souza,Luciano....    0-2    0-2    3-4    0  0  0   2   3  0  2  0  0  13
20 Lawrence,Marcus.....    2-3    2-3    0-0    0  2  2   0   6  0  0  0  0  12
33 Barone,Kyle.........    0-1    0-0    0-2    0  2  2   0   0  0  0  0  0  13
   Team................                            1  1
   Totals..............   20-42   7-16  12-22   4 25 29  21  59 10 13  3  3 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 14-25 56.0%   2nd Half:  6-17 35.3%   Game: 47.6%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  5-10 50.0%   2nd Half:  2-6  33.3%   Game: 43.8%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  3-6  50.0%   2nd Half:  9-16 56.3%   Game: 54.5%    4

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
HOME TEAM: Hawai`i (7-7), (0-1 WAC)
                          TOT-FG  3-PT         REBOUNDS
## Player Name            FG-FGA FG-FGA FT-FTA OF DE TOT PF  TP  A TO BLK S MIN
01 Balocka, Petras..... *  0-3    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   2   0  1  1  0  2   7
02 Thompson, Hiram..... *  2-7    1-5    3-5    0  3  3   3   8  3  3  0  3  37
05 Williams, Dwain..... *  1-10   0-5    3-3    0  1  1   2   5  0  2  0  0  22
21 Campbell, Paul...... *  7-8    0-0    0-1    5  2  7   3  14  1  3  1  1  36
24 Mayen, Adhar........ *  3-7    1-4    0-0    0  5  5   0   7  1  0  0  0  22
20 Lay, Jeremy.........    0-1    0-1    0-0    0  0  0   0   0  0  0  0  0   5
23 Flemings, Roderick..    3-7    0-1    4-7    0  3  3   3  10  1  2  0  0  35
32 Adams, Brandon......    2-6    0-0    4-5    1  7  8   5   8  3  1  0  0  34
34 Kurtz, Douglas......    0-0    0-0    0-0    0  1  1   1   0  0  1  0  0   2
   TEAM................                         6     6
   Totals..............   18-49   2-16  14-21  12 23 35  19  52 10 13  1  6 200

TOTAL FG% 1st Half: 10-21 47.6%   2nd Half:  8-28 28.6%   Game: 36.7%  DEADB
3-Pt. FG% 1st Half:  1-5  20.0%   2nd Half:  1-11  9.1%   Game: 12.5%   REBS
F Throw % 1st Half:  4-8  50.0%   2nd Half: 10-13 76.9%   Game: 66.7%   1,1

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Officials: Rick Batsell, Ken Nielson, Newton Chelette
Technical fouls: Idaho-None. Hawai`i-None.
Attendance: 5611
Score by Periods                1st  2nd   Total
Idaho.........................   36   23  -   59
Hawai`i.......................   25   27  -   52

Points in the paint-UI 16,UH 26. Points off turnovers-UI 13,UH 15.
2nd chance points-UI 5,UH 9. Fast break points-UI 0,UH 0.
Bench points-UI 10,UH 18. Score tied-3 times. Lead changed-4 times.
Last FG-UI 2nd-02:02, UH 2nd-00:14.
Largest lead-UI by 14 2nd-16:30, UH by 4 1st-09:56.
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One Response to “Hopson’s big night in Hawaii powers WAC-opener win”

  1. Dee Jameson January 3, 2010 at 11:26 am #

    The Vandals showed some true grit against Hawaii. They were tenacious on defence taking the Bows out of their offence all night. Another plus was when we were running our offense we really ran down and tired Hawaii. Hard work and teamwork paid winning dividends tonight. Go Vandals and let’s get the Spartan’s

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