Archive | March, 2010

Looking for a repeat

26 Mar

A hail-mary with under a minute left. An amazing catch. A two-point conversion — and it’s good. The Vandals storm the field and celebrate.
Sound familiar?

That inspiring win at the Humanitarian Bowl over Bowling Green was the last time Vandal fans saw their rags-to-riches football team in action.

The cold weather of that fateful day has been forgotten, replaced by the warm rays of the sun and chirping of birds. Spring has arrived, the turf outside the Kibbie Dome beckons – and Idaho football coach Robb Akey wouldn’t like it any other way.

“It’s almost time to have fun again,” Akey said with a huge smile on his face. Continue reading

Historic tournament run ends in a Bulldog mauling

12 Mar

RENO, Nev. — After five years of futility, an Idaho Vandals basketball team finally made it to the Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals — just two wins away from a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Unfortunately for Idaho’s women, after a decisive quarterfinal win over New Mexico State on Wednesday, they ran headlong into the WAC’s hottest team, and the improbable dream was over.

The fourth-seeded Vandals fell to No. 1 seed Fresno State, 80-66, ending a season that saw Idaho’s women endure a two-win non-conference campaign before coming together for a historic trip deeper into the WAC Tournament than any Idaho team has ever gone. Idaho finished the season with an 11-20 record, 8-8 in conference play. The Bulldogs advanced to the tournament championship, where they’ll play Louisiana Tech tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Idaho coach Jon Newlee credited Fresno State with taking the fight right at the Vandals, but considers the season a success for the way his team responded to the adversity it faced early on. Last year’s leading scorer Derisa Taleni was lost to a season-ending injury in preseason practice, and her absence was a big reason the team suffered 11 non-conference losses, including a six-game losing streak.

“After a really bad start to the year, to fight back the way we did, to finish fourth in the WAC and get the first ever WAC Tournament win for this team, it’s tremendous for our program,” Newlee said. “Fresno State is an extremely talented basketball team that will go a couple rounds in the NCAA Tournament if they get the right draw.”

But Newlee had harsh words for the game’s referees, who he said were biased against his squad.

“Today was probably one of the most horrendous, one-sided jobs of officiating that I’ve been involved in, and I’ve been involved in a lot of postseason tournaments in my 22 years,” Newlee said. “It was absolutely horrible, and I’m embarrassed for our league, embarrassed for our kids that we had to go and be subjected to that. Fresno State doesn’t need any help, they’re good enough on their own. It was just bad officiating and I’m not happy about it.”

Shortly after the postgame press conference, Newlee was publicly reprimanded by WAC commissioner Karl Benson for violating the league’s sportsmanship code.

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Vandal Nation Live in Reno: (4) Idaho vs. (1) Fresno State

12 Mar

RENO, Nev. — On Wednesday night, Idaho’s women made history, becoming the first Vandal basketball team to advance to a Western Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal game.

Today, they face that challenge — against a No. 1-seeded Fresno State squad that hasn’t lost a game in WAC play this year.

Powered by guard Jaleesa Ross’ unconscious shooting, the Bulldogs have been the class of the conference all season long, and destroyed the Vandals last time out in Fresno. Charlotte Otero, Yinka Olorunnife and the rest of the Vandals will no doubt be out for revenge.

Complete pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m., with tipoff at noon.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live commentary, analysis and chat!

Idaho’s tournament dreams denied

11 Mar

RENO, Nev. — In four minutes and 39 seconds of the first half of Idaho’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup against Nevada, the Vandals’ dreams of making it to the NCAA Tournament were shattered. The remaining 25 minutes of play were merely a formality.

After giving up a 13-2 run to open the game, Idaho clawed back in with red-hot outside shooting from Luciano de Souza, putting the Vandals within striking distance of Nevada midway through the first half. The homestanding Wolf Pack led, 27-21, with 9:43 remaining in the period, but all the momentum was with the black-clad Idaho squad.

Wolf Pack guard Brandon Fields, however, had other plans.

In a minute and 14 seconds, Fields drained back-to-back 3-pointers and slammed home a dunk, making for a personal 8-0 run. Add a pair of Luke Babbitt jumpers and all of a sudden, the Vandals trailed by 18 points with 5:04 to play in the first half. Nevada’s advantage would never be less than double digits the rest of the way.

Idaho fell to the Wolf Pack tonight, 87-71, ending a season that has been, for the Vandals, a frustrating campaign of unfulfilled potential.

“We had a lot of adversity this season, but we’ve kept fighting,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We beat a Top 25 team, we went on the road and won in Utah and I can’t tell you how proud I am of my seniors. There’s so many positives, but it’s still tough to go out like this.”

The Vandals finish the season with a 15-16 record, 6-10 in WAC regular-season play. Nevada (20-11, 11-5 WAC) continues to the semifinals, where they’ll play New Mexico State tomorrow.

On the night, Nevada shot 55 percent from the floor and 55 percent from downtown, while holding Idaho to just 40 and 30 percent, respectively. The Vandals simply couldn’t get the ball in the basket.

The stat sheet tells the tale. After a red-hot 8-for-14 performance from downtown against Hawaii, Steffan Johnson went ice-cold, hitting just one of eight shots from the floor and missing all five attempts from beyond the arc. Mac Hopson shot just 4-for-16 and Shawn Henderson could convert only three of his 11 tries. Another double-double night from Marvin Jefferson — 14 points on 6-11 shooting to go with 10 rebounds — and a career-best 20 points from de Souza couldn’t make up for the lack of backcourt production.

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Vandal Nation Live in Reno: (7) Idaho at (2) Nevada

11 Mar

RENO, Nev. — It’s a tough challenge, being the No. 7 seed facing off against a No. 2 seed. It’s even tougher when you’re playing the No. 2 seed on their own home floor.

That’s the task facing the Idaho Vandals tonight in the Lawlor Events Center, as they square off against the Nevada Wolf Pack in a Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal. The winner goes on to the WAC Tournament semifinals tomorrow.

Don Verlin’s squad has struggled to find consistency this year, as chemistry and mental lapses cost the Vandals valuable victories. Idaho’s season, which started so promisingly with an upset of Utah in Salt Lake City, now comes down to this game. Win, and the dream is alive. Lose, and it’s back to Moscow for the long wait until November.

Can the Vandals pull off the improbable bracket upset? Join us, live from courtside, and find out.

Complete pregame coverage begins at 5:30 p.m., with tipoff at 6.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live commentary, analysis and chat!

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: WAC Tournament Day 2

11 Mar

RENO, Nev. — We’re back in the Lawlor Events Center for the second day of quarterfinal action in the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament.

The bracket for the men’s quarterfinals looks like this:

(1) Utah State vs. (8) Boise State — noon

(4) Louisiana Tech vs. (5) Fresno State — 2:30 p.m.

(2) Nevada vs. (7) Idaho — 6 p.m.

(3) New Mexico State vs. (6) San Jose State — 8:30 p.m.

We’ll have complete liveblog coverage of the Vandals/Wolf Pack showdown, with pregame analysis starting at 5:30 p.m., tip at 6.

The winners will play Friday in the semifinals, with the 1/8 and 4/5 winners squaring off in one matchup, the 2/7 and 3/6 winners in the other.

Yesterday, Idaho’s women made history, becoming the first Vandal team to reach the semifinals in any WAC basketball tournament since Idaho joined the conference in 2005. They defeated New Mexico State, 75-63, and will play the No. 1 seeded Fresno State Bulldogs on Friday at noon.

Men’s basketball

  • Follow us on Twitter — @VandalNation — for live courtside scoring updates throughout the WAC Tournament.
  • The Spokesman-Review’s Josh Wright has a game preview of this evening’s Idaho/Nevada showdown.
  • Idaho’s “sneaky” squad could pose a threat to the Wolf Pack’s NCAA Tournament hopes — at least, so says the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray.

History made as Vandals take down NMSU, head for WAC semis

10 Mar

RENO, Nev. — Since Idaho joined the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, neither the men nor the women had ever advanced past the quarterfinals in the conference basketball tournament. Excepting a pair of play-in game victories, the WAC Tournament represented an unbroken streak of futility for the Silver and Gold.

No more.

Led by a pair of double-doubles from stalwart starters Yinka Olorunnife and Shaena Kuehu, the Vandal women pulled away from New Mexico State late in the second half to secure a 75-63 victory over the Aggies in WAC Tournament quarterfinal action at the Lawlor Events Center. The fourth-seeded Vandals now advance to the semifinals, where they’ll face No. 1 Fresno State at noon Friday.

“This is a big win for our program and I’m proud of this whole team for gutting it out, hanging tough and getting the win,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “I know this means a lot to everyone, but particularly for Charlotte (Otero), who can cap off her senior year with some success in the tournament.”

Idaho and New Mexico State traded the lead back and forth throughout the first half, though the Vandals had to crawl out of a 7-point deficit early. After that, neither team could gain more than a two-possession advantage, and it took Bianca Cheever’s baseline jumper with 3 seconds on the clock to give Idaho a two-point edge into the locker room.

In the second half, the Vandals twice made bids to control the game. Idaho opened on a 6-0 run to push the lead to 8, keyed by buckets from Kuehu and Olorunnife. But the Aggies responded with an 8-0 run of their own to tie the game, with Tabytha Wampler and Jasmine Lowe earning 3-point plays. With 12:17 to play, Crystal Boyd’s free throw gave NMSU a one-point lead — but it would be their last.

That’s because Olorunnife chose that moment to take over the game for Idaho. She drilled a jumper to put the Vandals back in the lead, dished up to Kuehu for a 3-pointer and then canned a trey of her own — Idaho by seven, 10:32 to play.

New Mexico State wasn’t done, though. For the next eight minutes, both teams turned the Lawlor hardwood into a 3-point shooting gallery. Lowe drilled a three — Otero responded likewise. Danisha Corbett knocked down back-to-back shots from long range, putting the Aggies within a point of tying the game. Right-back-atcha came Otero and Cheever to keep Idaho ahead, and time was running out for New Mexico State. A deep dagger from Otero and two free throws from Olorunnife with a minute left sealed the Aggies’ fate.

“Every time they made a run, one of these guys right here (Kuehu, Olorunnife and Otero) made a big shot to keep us in front, and I thought it was important that we keep the lead down the stretch,” Newlee  said. “It just seemed like big shot after big shot. They’d hit one and then we would.”

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Idaho 75, New Mexico State 63

10 Mar

RENO, Nev. — History has been made in the Lawlor Events Center this afternoon, as Yinka Olorunnife’s 23 points and 10 rebounds led Idaho to a 75-63 victory over New Mexico State in Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal action.

The Vandals become the first Idaho team ever to advance to a WAC Tournament semifinal game — the fourth-seeded Vandals (11-19, 8-8 WAC) will face No. 1 Fresno State (26-5, 16-0 WAC) on Friday at noon.

Shaena Kuehu scored a career-high 22 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds. Olorunnife canned three of four attempts from downtown, pacing the Vandals — who, as a team, shot a red-hot 10-for-23 from beyond the arc. Idaho also outrebounded the Aggies, 46-37. It’s the Vandals’ fifth straight win over New Mexico State, as Jon Newlee-coached teams have never lost to the WAC’s Red Aggies.

We’ll have a complete postgame story tonight — for now, here’s raw video from the postgame press conferences and game stats.

Continue reading

Vandal Nation Live in Reno: (4) Idaho vs. (5) New Mexico State

10 Mar

RENO, Nev. — In the Vandals’ five years in the Western Athletic Conference, no Idaho basketball team has made it past the tournament quarterfinals.

That could be about to change.

This afternoon, the fourth-seeded Vandals square off against the fifth-seeded New Mexico State Aggies in a battle royale between a pair of squads that have no love lost between them. The winner goes on to the WAC Tournament semis.

Jon Newlee’s squad has made a miracle turnaround, after losing star guard Derisa Taleni to a preseason injury and winning just two non-conference games. Led by Shaena Kuehu, Rachele Kloke, Yinka Olorunnife and Charlotte Otero, the Vandals have taken down NMSU the last four times the teams have met. Can they make it five? We’ll find out.

Complete pregame coverage begins at 2 p.m., with tipoff 30 minutes later.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live commentary, analysis and chat!

Good Morning Vandal Nation: WAC Tournament Day 1

10 Mar

RENO, Nev. — A light dusting of snow fell on the Washoe Valley last night, as the eight Western Athletic Conference women’s basketball teams which qualified for the tournament get ready to play this afternoon. Four of their NCAA Tournament dreams will end today.

The bracket for the women’s tourney looks like this:

(1) Fresno State vs. (8) Hawaii — noon

(4) Idaho vs. (5) New Mexico State — 2:30 p.m.

(3) Nevada vs. (6) Boise State — 6 p.m.

(2) Louisiana Tech vs. (7) Utah State — 8:30 p.m.

The 1/4 game winner and the 2/3 game winner will play Friday in the semifinals.

We’ll go live from courtside at 2 p.m. for pregame coverage of the Idaho/New Mexico State matchup.

Men’s basketball

  • The Wall Street Journal has a brutal take on the Mid-American Conference’s competitive woes.

On the Record with Don Verlin: WAC Tourney Edition

9 Mar

SAN FRANCISCO — We spoke with Idaho men’s hoops coach Don Verlin this afternoon about the challenge facing his squad in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, beginning Thursday afternoon when they’ll take on the heavily-favored home team, Nevada.

The Vandals are coming into the tournament on something of a roll. Is that an advantage?

Yes, it’s good to have won your last couple of games before you go to the tournament. We have played very well offensively down the stretch and our guys are very excited to play in the WAC Tournament.

Do you think some of the issues which have plagued the team are being resolved?

Yeah, maybe a little bit. We did a good job last week of passing the ball and finding the open man. When you have 21 assists to 5 turnovers and 21 assists on 28 field goals, that’s a good sign. We need to keep doing that on Thursday.

What is the status of Kashif Watson? Will he be rejoining the team in Reno?

Kashif is still suspended indefinitely and he will not make the trip.

Playing Nevada on their home floor, what do the Vandals need to do to pull the upset?

(The Wolf Pack) have only lost one home game in league and they have a lot of talent so, it’s a really tough matchup for us, if you look at it optimistically, you have to beat everyone to get to the tournament. We have to slow them down. They’ve scored a bunch of points in the home wins, I believe 100 against New Mexico State. When you have a team like that, who can really score the ball, we need to slow the pace down to a workable number for us. We’re going to have to have our best defensive effort and keep Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt in check.

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Watson to miss WAC Tourney; career at Idaho over

9 Mar

SPOKANE, Wash. — Idaho men’s basketball coach Don Verlin confirmed to us this afternoon that senior guard/forward Kashif Watson remains on suspension and will not travel with the team to this week’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament.

Verlin declined to comment further on the matter.

Watson was suspended indefinitely last week after Spokesman-Review writer Josh Wright uncovered comments made on Twitter which were harshly critical of Verlin’s leadership of the team.

The decision effectively ends Watson’s career with the Vandals, barring a seemingly-unlikely reinstatement for potential post-season play. Watson, who hails from Las Vegas, joined the team as a junior college transfer and was the Vandals’ second-leading scorer this season, averaging 10.7 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists per game. In 62 career games, Watson started 60 times, scoring 651 points and grabbing 201 rebounds in 1,838 minutes.

Ironically, in what would be his final game as a Vandal, Watson banked in a 75-foot buzzer-beating shot just before the halftime break in Idaho’s 86-76 win over San Jose State. The miracle bucket earned him the No. 2 spot on that night’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays.

WAC Tournament Pre-info

9 Mar

MOSCOW — We are getting ready to depart for Reno and the Western Athletic Conference Tournament! This space will have much more preview stuff up throughout the day, but here’s a rundown of where the Vandals stand:

Women:

Jon Newlee’s squad has made a miracle turnaround after losing leading scorer Derisa Taleni to an injury before the first game was played. The Vandals won just two games in non-conference action, but finished .500 in WAC play to nab the No. 4 seed in Reno. They’ll take on No. 5 New Mexico State at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. We’ll go live from courtside at 2 o’clock.

Men:

Don Verlin’s second year has been a roller-coaster ride, and unfortunately much of the conference season was a downward plunge. The Vandals’ 6-10 WAC record was good for only the No. 7 seed in the tournament, and on Thursday they’ll face the No. 2 seed, a very talented Nevada squad on the Wolf Pack’s home floor. That game is the prime-time battle, tipping at 6 p.m., and we’ll go live at 5:30.

Finally, a huge thank you to all who have donated to help make this trip possible — or at least, possible without ruining my credit score! We’ll have more on that later, too.

Vandals down Hawaii with beyond-the-arc barrage

6 Mar

In Idaho’s Senior Night battle against Hawaii tonight, it was fitting that all four starting seniors — Mac Hopson, Steffan Johnson, Luciano de Souza and Marvin Jefferson — would play key roles in the Vandals’ game-breaking run to victory.

All night long, Hawaii and Idaho had traded punches, with no team able to pull away. But with seven minutes on the clock, that would change. Hopson came around the right wing, drove the baseline and dished off to de Souza. Left wide-open in the corner, the Brazilian long-ball specialist drilled a 3-pointer to give the Vandals a 57-54 lead.

That shot broke the dam, as Johnson followed up with back-to-back-to-back triples — three of his career-high eight 3-pointers — before Hawaii coach Bob Nash had seen enough and called timeout with four minutes to play.

Whatever he drew up, it didn’t work. Out of the timeout, Jefferson swatted away Roderick Flemings’ jump shot, grabbed a feed from Johnson and dunked it home. Twenty seconds later, a Jefferson rebound found its way into Hopson’s hands. He chucked a cross-court pass at Johnson — and the 6-1 sharpshooter snagged it, leaped through the paint and threw down an exclamation-point jam, putting Idaho up by 11 with 3:28 on the clock. Timeout Hawaii — but everyone in the Cowan Spectrum knew it was game over.

Thanks to a season-best 14-for-27 performance from distance, the Vandals took out the lame-duck Rainbow Warriors, 78-69, to close out their Western Athletic Conference season on a high note and secure the 7-seed in next week’s WAC Tournament. Idaho improves to 15-15 (6-10 WAC) while Hawaii finishes at 10-20 (3-13 WAC).

“Steffan Johnson delivered tonight — he just caught fire and knocked them down,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “I thought we did as good of a job passing the ball to each other as we’ve done all year. Mac Hopson had 11 assists and no turnovers, Marvin Jefferson with four assists, no turnovers. We did a good job finding the guy with the hot hand and getting him the ball.”

Johnson, a transfer from Pacific, finished with 28 points on 9-for-16 shooting, 8-for-14 from downtown — all career highs as a Vandal. He was also a perfect 2-2 at the stripe, pulled down three rebounds and even recorded a block.

“I just wanted to finish with a bang,” Johnson said. “You know, Senior Night, you want to make it a memorable night. I told Mac when we were warming up, ‘We’re going to put on a show for the fans tonight’ and we did.”

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Vandal Nation Live: Idaho vs. Hawaii

6 Mar

It’s Senior Day in Moscow, as the Idaho Vandals look to clinch the 7-seed in next week’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament by defeating the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in both team’s regular-season finale.

But the Vandals will have to do it without second-leading scorer Kashif Watson, who’s been suspended indefinitely by Don Verlin after making Twitter posts critical of the second-year coach.

That’s going to put big pressure on guys like Shawn Henderson, Jeff Ledbetter and the rest of Idaho’s bench, who will have to put up big numbers to help cover for Watson’s absence.

This will be the final Vandal Nation Live home Webcast of the season. We will be on the road in Reno starting Wednesday for complete coverage of the WAC Tournament, as Idaho’s men and women fight for the conference’s pair of automatic bids.

Honored will be graduating seniors Mac Hopson, Marvin Jefferson, Luciano de Souza and Steffan Johnson.

Join us for Senior Day pregame coverage at 4:30 p.m., tip at 5.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live commentary, analysis and chat!

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