BSU put the smackdown on Idaho, but that didn’t stop photographer Kate Kucharzyk from snapping some sweet shots. Enjoy!
BSU put the smackdown on Idaho, but that didn’t stop photographer Kate Kucharzyk from snapping some sweet shots. Enjoy!
With two weeks to go before college football kicks off, the sudden disintegration of the Western Athletic Conference has woken up sportswriters and bloggers from their fall camp reverie. We’ve got a compilation of the best (and bizarrest) writing on the WACsplosion.
With the defections of Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference effective in 2012, the future of the Western Athletic Conference is now in doubt — no matter how much WAC commish Karl Benson might try to deny it.
In an 80-minute marathon teleconference this morning, Benson spun like a top, talking about the “selfish” betrayal of the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack on the eve of what could have been the conference’s grandest coup: recapturing BYU.
Yes, the WAC will get $10 million in buyout money and no, the latest defectors can’t leave for two years.
But the words WAC fans most needed to hear — solid commitments from new members — were conspicuously missing. Lots of what-ifs, possibilities and conversations, with Benson mentioning teams from Texas to California as being potentially interested in joining.
Unfortunately, the WAC can’t afford what-ifs, possibilities and conversations right now. The conference, and its six remaining members, need fresh blood to remain a viable league. If new members aren’t found by 2012, and the WAC drops to six teams for even a single season, we’re essentially talking about a dead league walking.
Already Benson admitted that Louisiana Tech is looking to bolt for Conference USA. Who else is thinking about finding an escape hatch? More to the point, who isn’t looking for an escape hatch at this point?
Imagine one of those ticking 24 clocks. Benson and the six WAC presidents realistically have only a few months to find a savior or two. Otherwise, it’s going to be every man for himself and the Western Athletic Conference will join the Pacific Coast Conference, the Metro Conference and the Southwest Conference, among others, in the annals of NCAA history.
For the Vandals’ part, we’ll have more thoughts after athletic director Rob Spear talks at 2 p.m. Pacific. The upshot? Idaho is in a horrible situation, yet there’s really no better alternative. It’s either ride out the WAC storm, go down with the ship or limp back to the Big Sky and FCS. If anyone has a better idea, let me know.
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.
(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.
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
(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.
Seattle RedHawks center Charles Garcia has been called one of the best players on the West Coast, with a dominating inside game based on unstoppable post moves. But tonight it was the homestanding Idaho Vandals who owned the paint — Garcia notwithstanding.
Holding off repeated RedHawks charges down the stretch, Idaho (13-12, 4-8 Western Athletic Conference) captured an 82-72 victory over Seattle (13-14) in the Cowan Spectrum, giving the Vandals their first winning record since early January. With just five games remaining in the regular season, every win is precious for an Idaho team trying to claw its way back into the postseason conversation. In the teams’ previous meeting this season, on Jan. 30, the Vandals took down the RedHawks in KeyArena, 87-85.
Idaho’s starting inside duo, Marvin Jefferson and Luiz Toledo, combined for 26 points and shot .750 from the floor, contributing mightily to the Vandals’ 44-30 edge on points in the paint. They collectively held Garcia to 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting, well below his average. Meanwhile, Kashif Watson juked and slashed his way to 20 points on a .750 field-goal percentage of his own.
“Coach has been preaching all along that the seniors are going to lead this team in February and March, and it was a night for me and Marvin to step up and have a big game,” Watson said. “The way we played tonight fits my style, getting up and down in transition and converting the easy opportunities.”
As a team, the Vandals shot 57 percent from the field while holding the RedHawks to just 38 percent. Unusually, Idaho hit just one 3-pointer all night on only six attempts, nearly a season-low. Clearly, coach Don Verlin instructed his team to eschew the quick jump-shot in favor of driving the lane and pounding Seattle in the paint.
The fast-paced battle was a pitched, back-and-forth affair for the opening 11 minutes, as the lead swapped back and forth seven times in that span with no team drawing more than a three-point advantage. But the RedHawks’ third-leading scorer, Cervante Burrell, was whistled for three personal fouls in 14 seconds — from 17:57 to 17:43 — and spent the rest of the half on the bench. That might well come back to haunt Seattle coach Cameron Dollar, as Burrell fouled out late in the second half and finished with zero points and one rebound.
Though he was relatively quiet the rest of the night, it was Luciano de Souza who would break the logjam and give Idaho the lead for good with a textbook top-of-the-key 3-pointer. His nothing-but-net jumper gave the home team a one-point edge with eight-and-a-half minutes remaining and ignited the small but vocal crowd of 1,287. Seemingly feeding off that energy, the Vandals closed the half on a 22-10 run, punctuated by dunks from Watson, Jefferson and Kyle Barone, and took a 38-28 lead into the locker room.
It’s been a long month since our last power rankings — academics and a three-day spell in the ICU are to blame for that. We’re trying to get back in the groove here at Vandal Nation, and we appreciate your patience. The stretch run to the 2010 WAC Tournament is underway, and these final weeks will set the stage for those amazing three days of basketball.
1. Utah State, 18-6, 8-2 (7) — What a difference a month makes. Last time around, the Blue Aggies were 0-2 in the conference and seemingly had lost their mojo. Not so, and we’ll never think that about a Stew Morrill team again. Since then, Utah State has ripped off eight straight conference wins to take control of their own destiny in the conference race. Finding their groove was pretty simple: just go back to what works, like Jared Quayle droppin’ in jumpers and Tai Wesley banging it in the post. Then, like Stew always manages to do, find some random guy to just have a huge breakout season — like Brian Green’s ridiculous .667 shooting percentage from downtown. It’s the Aggies’ race to lose.
2. New Mexico State, 15-8, 8-2 (4) — OK, we think it’s really fishy that Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater just somehow magically managed to get cleared mid-season, but you can’t argue with the results and the record for New Mexico State. Marvin Menzies’ team is hitting its stride at the right time, as shown two nights ago with a gutty win over Louisiana Tech. Their defense is still utterly atrocious but in Menzies’ trademark style, they have enough firepower to make up for it. That loss at San Jose State could haunt them down the stretch, though, as the all-Aggies season finale in Logan is now shaping up to be a titanic battle for the conference title.
3. Louisiana Tech, 19-5, 7-3 (1) — The WAC’s early juggernaut has staggered somewhat midseason, having lost three of their last five games and with a tough fight at Utah State looming just over the horizon. It seems opponents have maybe started to figure out Kerry Rupp’s system and the Gulf Coast Bulldogs don’t have the depth to withstand foul trouble in the paint. Still, by any measure this has been an excellent season for Louisiana Tech, though their weak non-conference schedule is going to come back and bite them right about now. Thanks to a slate full of cupcakes like UT-Pan American (twice!) and Nicholls State, the Bulldogs have no hope of an at-large bid to the NCAAs despite their gaudy record. If they want to go dancing, they’ll have to be the last team standing in Reno.
4. Nevada, 13-9, 5-4 (2) — The Wolf Pack: they are who we thought they were. Yes, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson are studs — but Nevada’s lack of depth has cost them dearly, most notably in a pair of losses to Utah State and a shocker road upset by Fresno State. Not to worry, Nevada fans, because there’s still more than enough firepower and talent to get the Wolf Pack back into the WAC Tournament title game on their home court. But they’ll have a much tougher path than last year. Nevada hasn’t been great on the road, and a loss tonight at Idaho would put paid to any hopes of a top-two seed for David Carter’s squad.
5. San Jose State, 12-11, 5-6 (5) — We like San Jose State. Scrappy, upset-minded and currently undefeated on their home court. Unfortunately, the Spartans have also suffered some inexplicable losses, most notably being one of Hawaii’s two victories. They’re one of only two WAC teams with no road wins. That perfect home record is also about to get its toughest challenge of the season, too, as Utah State comes calling on Saturday. Still, if you’re looking for a sleeper pick to make some noise in the WAC Tournament, San Jose State is my choice. Their balanced offense and strong rebounding gives the Spartans the tools to maybe pull an upset.
6. Idaho, 11-11, 3-7 (3) — Ugh. January was monthus horriblis for Don Verlin’s Idaho Vandals, who went on a six-game losing streak capped by a heartbreaking overtime defeat at home to arch-rival Boise State. Fortunately for Vandal fans, that seems to have been the final straw for a squad that was way underachieving its talent level. Since then, Idaho has won three of its last four games, including a huge 24-point revenge victory in Boise powered by .500 shooting from downtown. Tonight, a nationally-televised showdown against Nevada awaits. Are the Vandals for real this time? A victory in front of the ESPN2 cameras would say “yes.” Then it’s on to Fresno State, and a road win there would put Idaho in the drivers’ seat for a 5-seed.
7. Fresno State, 12-12, 5-5 (6) — This is a team on the way down, unless they can find a way to put things back together, and fast. The WAC’s West Coast Bulldogs have lost five of their last seven, with only a nice home win over Nevada to hang their hats on. Some of the blame can be put on Paul George’s absence for some of those games, but some of it has to fall on coach Steve Cleveland. Fresno State was a talented but utterly disorganized mess against Idaho, and they lost to Boise State, too. A two-game homestand against New Mexico State and the Vandals awaits this week, and we’ll find out whether the Bulldogs can get back together or not.
8. Hawaii, 9-14, 2-8 (8) — Bob Nash’s team has hit the wall with a sickening “splat.” His best players are walking wounded, his marquee transfer guard is suspended indefinitely and he hasn’t recorded a win in nearly a month. Next up for the Rainbow Warriors? The doubly-grueling road trip to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Ouch, ouch, ouch. Nor does the rest of the schedule promise any relief — in fact, it’s quite possible they won’t get a win the rest of the season. If that happens, Nash is toast. For students of sports history who want to see what a program in crisis looks like, book your tickets for Honolulu now.
9. Boise State, 11-12, 2-8 (9) — Boy, we feel for Greg Graham. No sooner does he look like a hero for spoiling Idaho’s season with an upset win in Moscow… than he becomes the goat of the Broncos’ worst-ever home loss to the Vandals in the history of the basketball rivalry. The things that were said about him on various Internet message boards are not fit for family consumption. Even the Idaho Statesman’s Nick Jezierny got in on the action, wondering if the Broncos had shown up to Taco Bell Arena thinking it was bake sale day — they sure brought the turnovers. Ouch. Nor do things get easier, with games against Utah State and at Nevada on the docket this week. Boise State is on the verge of the unthinkable: missing the WAC Tournament.
Tonight in Boise, the Idaho Vandals took to the hardwood of the Taco Bell Arena with one thought in their minds: revenge.
The homestanding Broncos never knew what hit them.
Idaho avenged its heartbreaking overtime loss to Boise State at home earlier in the season in dominating fashion, capturing a 79-55 victory — marking the worst loss for the Broncos in the history of the intra-state rivalry series.
The Vandals (11-11, 3-7 Western Athletic Conference) quickly established to the 7,734 fans in attendance that the visitors, quite simply, wanted the game more than Boise State (11-12, 2-8 WAC) did. The two teams traded buckets for the first seven minutes to find things knotted up at 8-all.
But it was at that point a Luciano de Souza 3-pointer broke the logjam — and Idaho never looked back. That trey would spark a 37-11 Vandal run for the rest of the half, keyed by a 4-for-5 performance from beyond the arc by de Souza and two more downtown shots from Steffan Johnson. Overall, Idaho would shoot 7-for-11 outside in the opening 20 minutes and take a 45-19 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We just got hot,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “De Souza got hot, Johnson made a couple, and then away we go. I looked up and we’re up 20 and it was like, ‘Oh my’.”
Meanwhile, a stout defensive effort held the Broncos to just 30 percent shooting (and an abysmal 17 percent from downtown) while collecting 14 turnovers. Idaho’s big men dominated inside, holding a 14-to-4 scoring margin in the paint and leading the Vandals to a 17-14 rebounding advantage.
Sophomore forward Luiz Toledo continued his string of solid performances, going 5-for-6 from the floor for 11 points and a game-high seven rebounds. Boise State inside banger and leading scorer Ike Okoye was kept to just one field goal and five points.
“We did a great job early in the game,” Verlin said. “Our posts did a great of getting around and not letting them get close post seals near the basket like we did last time, and then our perimeter guys did a great job of keeping them out of the middle of the floor.”
Well, it’s do or die time for the Idaho Vandals. Is there anything left? A Paul George-less Bulldog squad comes to town tonight, and it’s the Vandals’ last chance at getting a win out of a three-game homestand that’s seen losses to Utah State and arch-rival Boise State.
We’ll have all the action for you with pregame at 6:45 p.m., tip at 7.
Somewhere in the locker room, there’s an Idaho basketball team that dropped 94 points on Utah and beat No. 25 Portland by 20 points. But those are now distant memories.
Idaho blew a 9-point lead over arch-rival Boise State, giving up an Anthony Thomas buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime — and from there the Broncos took over. Boise State avenged its sweep at the hands of the Vandals last season by defeating Idaho, 77-67.
The Vandals fall to 1-6 in the Western Athletic Conference, while the Broncos get their first win of the conference season and improve to 1-7.
We’ll have a complete postgame report later, but for now, here’s postgame interviews with coach Don Verlin and center Marvin Jefferson.
Yes, the time has come again — it’s the Battle Royale, the Gem State Grudge Match, the rivalry renewed. Tonight in the Cowan Spectrum, the Idaho Vandals and the Boise State Broncos will clash head-on for intra-state men’s hoops supremacy.
Last year, Don Verlin’s Vandals pulled off the first silver and gold sweep in a decade, and the second-year head coach will be looking to keep his record perfect against the Broncos. Mac Hopson, Steffan Johnson and Kashif Watson will lead Idaho into action against Ike Okoye, Daequon Montreal and Paul Noonan of Boise State.
We’ll have all the action for you from courtside, with pregame coverage at 7:30 p.m., tip at 8.
In a season where Idaho has struggled to make free throws and hang onto the ball, tonight at home against Utah State the Vandals did both of those tasks quite well. The Vandals converted on 14 of 17 attempts from the charity stripe and gave up just six turnovers all night.
But in the second half, it was the shooting-the-ball-into-the-hoop thing the Vandals couldn’t quite get the hang of.
Bewildered by the Aggies’ lockdown zone defense, Idaho converted on just four of 22 shots from the floor in the second period — scoring a season-low 18 points in those 20 minutes. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that will get it done against Stew Morrill’s Utah State squad, and they didn’t. The Vandals took their fifth straight Western Athletic Conference loss, falling to the Aggies in the Cowan Spectrum, 60-48.
“We got two holes plugged and some others busted tonight,” coach Don Verlin said, with a frustrated chuckle. “I made some personnel changes to get us to be more efficient and I thought we were at times, but then we don’t rebound or shoot as well as we have been. We just have to keep grinding. It’s the only thing I know to do.”
Early on, the game looked like it would become a punch-for-punch slugfest. The Vandals (8-9, 1-5 WAC) struggled to find consistent offense, as Utah State (15-6, 5-2 WAC) stifled point guard Mac Hopson’s game early. But Idaho’s Steffan Johnson and Kashif Watson joined together to pick up the slack with cut-and-slash drives and high-percentage shooting. Hopson recognized his situation and cleanly moved the ball out of the traps, dishing up five assists for just one turnover — one of his best ball-movement nights of the season.
But in the paint, it was all blue. The Aggies’ interior combo of Tai Wesley, Nate Bendall and Brady Jardine appeared to be unstoppable all night long, exploiting holes in the defense and tearing through the paint at will. Utah State owned a 35-23 rebounding edge in the game.
“They outphysicaled us, tonight they just beat us in the trenches,” Verlin said. “Wesley and Bendall and Jardine, they kicked our tail on the boards and in the paint and it was about that simple.”
Tomorrow, the Idaho Vandals come off a week-long bye to begin a week-long homestand against three tough Western Athletic Conference foes — Utah State on Saturday, Boise State on Monday and Fresno State on Thursday.
We talked with coach Don Verlin, guard Kashif Watson and center Marvin Jefferson about what the Vandals have to do to get back on the winning track — and potentially use this three-game stretch to put Idaho right back in the WAC hunt.
We’ve been swamped with start-of-the-semester academics and been under the weather, to boot, but tonight we get back on track with our regular previews of the day’s action in the Western Athletic Conference.
There’s just one game on tap tonight.
The Broncos are off to their worst start in conference play since the 1980s, and the fanbase is growing restless. Nor does the prospect of taking on a tough, talented Nevada Wolf Pack squad make for any smiles in Taco Bell Arena. For Boise State coach Greg Graham, this may be the beginning of the end.
In a year that’s been full of surprises in the WAC, the utter collapse of Boise State has to be near the top of the list. This is a team just two years removed from the NCAA Tournament, and last year the Broncos finished tied for third. But the graduation of anchor forward Mark Sanchez has apparently left Boise State a rudderless wreck. Point guard Anthony Thomas hasn’t been the same since losing to Idaho last year — he’s shooting just 35 percent from the floor and has nearly as many turnovers as assists. It didn’t help, either, that promising guard Westley Perryman was lost for the WAC season with an injury.
Whatever the causes of the Broncos’ woes, tonight’s game should be a bloodbath because there’s no reason to expect anything better from the Blorange Boys right now. The Wolf Pack can gain some separation on the WAC pack with a victory — and Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson know it. The sparse crowd in the Big Burrito will probably be filing out early.
#3 Utah State at #5 Fresno State (7 p.m.)
#1 Louisiana Tech at #6 San Jose State (7 p.m.)
#2 New Mexico State at #7 Hawaii (9 p.m.)