Photo by Ilya Pinchuk
The preseason No. 5 Idaho (17-12, 8-5 WAC) men’s basketball team silenced WAC critics Thursday evening with an 82-63 thrashing of Hawaii (15-14, 6-7 WAC) at Honolulu’s Stan Sheriff Center.
With the win, Idaho will be no less than the No. 3 seed in next week’s WAC Tournament in Las Vegas and with a win Saturday at San Jose State and New Mexico State loss at Fresno State, the Vandals would clinch the No. 2 seed.
Like they did last week in Logan, Utah, the Vandals busted the game open early and carried a convincing 17-point lead into halftime. However, a sequel to last week’s meltdown against Utah State seemed a slight possibility when the Warriors’ 16-5 run to start the second half hacked the Vandal lead down to eight points.
A calm and collected Stephen Madison netted consecutive baskets and Deremy Geiger’s ensuing three-pointer put Idaho up 17 once again. Shaquille Stokes’ consecutive three-pointers cut the lead to 10 but Hawaii’s chance had come and gone.
Coach Don Verlin insisted the Vandals were at their very best Thursday night.
“We can’t play any better than that, I thought out team played about as well as we can play and I couldn’t be happier for them,” Verlin said. “We talked about having a competitive spirit about us and I really thought we brought that to the island.”
The Vandals, who had won five straight before falling to the Aggies on Saturday, shot lights out, going 26 for 51 from the field. They still remain perfect when shooting 50 percent or better.
Meanwhile, the Vandals’ defensive efforts deserved an applaud, mainly because junior center Vander Joaquim, a potential all-WAC first teamer was held to four points and was a lowly 1 for 7 from the field. Joaquim, who posted 18 points against the Vandals in Moscow, fouled out late in the second half.
Idaho’s Kyle Barone was responsible for Joaquim and the junior’s stellar defense held Joaquim to one of his worst shooting nights all season.
“I just wanted to make it tough on him, I didn’t want him to get a good sweet spot right on the block where he’s a dribble or two away from the basket,” Barone said. “Just fighting him the whole way up the court, frustrated him a little bit and our guards helped us with a little help off the point guards, start digging a bit on the ball… He never got in a rhythm.”
In fact, 41 total fouls were committed Thursday; with Joaquim and Vandal forward Djim Bandoumel being the only two to foul out.
Idaho all but dominated the boards, out-rebounding the WAC’s second-leading rebounding team 46 to 27.
“They were missing their shots and we were getting the rebounds, and we didn’t do that in Moscow, we didn’t do a good enough job contesting shots and boy I’ll tell you I thought we did a great job,” Verlin said.
The feat proves more impressive considering the fact that no Vandal had more than nine rebounds and it was junior Mike McChristian who came off the bench to lead his team with nine boards, a career-high for the junior college transfer.
Shooting guard Deremy Geiger had combined for 10 points in three previous meetings with the Warriors, but the senior broke out of his shell, doubling that total and finishing with 20 on Thursday. Geiger was 4 for 9 from three-point land.
“I mean I guess he was born here, so it was a homecoming for him,” Barone said of Geiger. “We found that out before the game and he lived here for two years and he was born here. I said this is your hometown you’ve got to show out.”
Sophomore Stephen Madison trailed Geiger with 17 points and eight rebounds while bigs Djim Bandoumel and Barone were a few points and rebounds shy of double-doubles.
Idaho’s bench came out firing on all cylinders in the first half and freshman Connor Hill lined up and converted three consecutive trifectas early on. McChristian became the Vandals’ role player and his nine rebounds were complimented with six points, three assists and two steals.
The win was Idaho’s largest ever in Honolulu and extended the Vandals streak in Honolulu to three games. In addition, the Vandals have now beaten every WAC team at least once this season.
It’s back to Northern California for the third time this season for Idaho, who faces one last WAC regular season test against one-win San Jose State (9-20, 1-12) Saturday night. The Spartans haven’t won in conference since they beat Fresno State in double overtime on February 9. Although Idaho had no trouble with the Spartans earlier this season, beating them 74-66 in the Cowan Spectrum, seven of SJSU’s nine wins have come at home. SJSU have already locked the eight seed in the WAC Tournament.