Tag Archives: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors

Blasphemous Rumours: Reactions to the WACsplosion

19 Aug

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.

  • Sam Wasson’s BleedCrimson.net has a great rundown of this morning’s press conference with Karl Benson.
  • San Jose State is left in limbo, Jon Wilner writes in the Mercury News. Join the club, says Louisiana Tech — most damningly, the Bulldogs’ AD all but invites his program to be poached by another conference, preferably C-USA. Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser says Hawaii should quit the WAC and go independent.
  • The Fresno Bee’s Dan Lyght and Bryant-Jon Anteola have a whole slew of stories on the Bulldogs’ jump to the MWC.

    Benson talks much, delivers little in WACsplosion presser

    19 Aug

    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.

    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!

    WAC Power Rankings: Feb. 10, 2010

    10 Feb

    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.

    WAC Hoops Wrap: Jan. 22

    22 Jan

    Wow. What a night it was for Western Athletic Conference basketball.

    Three key matchups were played last night in the WAC, and every one of them ended up with major implications for the conference’s battle for regular season supremacy.

    San Jose State 87, Louisiana Tech 76

    The reigning juggernaut was felled — yes, Louisiana Tech (5-1 WAC) is mortal. We thought that first loss might come at some point on the road — but to the Spartans? That wasn’t our projection. But Adrian Oliver went off for a career night to power San Jose State (3-3 WAC) up and over the WAC’s Eastern Bulldogs. How career? Try 39 points on 12-for-19 shooting. Wowzers. Unstoppable.

    One key to the upset: a big defensive performance against Louisiana Tech’s sharpshooter Jamel Guyton. Usually good for 15 points a night, the Spartans locked him down to just six last night, on a stone-cold 2-for-9 performance from the floor.

    The Bulldogs haven’t faced much adversity this year, and they’ll be continuing their grueling road trip out to Hawaii tomorrow. How they respond will tell us much about the strength of Louisiana Tech down the stretch. If we had to bet, we’d put our money on them bouncing back just fine. For the Spartans, it’s red-hot New Mexico State next on the slate.

    Utah State 69, Fresno State 43

    This game wasn’t even as close as the score — and for the Western Bulldogs, big trouble might be in store. Fresno State’s all-everything stud and projected NBA lottery pick Paul George went down with a sprained ankle early and the team folded like a house of cards shortly thereafter. A big night from Utah State’s juco transfer Brian Green (17 points on 6-for-9 shooting) helped pick up the slack from an off-key performance by Aggie big man Nate Bendall (4 points, 3 rebounds).

    Without George, the Bulldogs (3-3 WAC) look utterly hopeless — they went a breathtakingly awful 29 percent from the floor, boat-anchored by Sylvester Seay’s 1-for-12 epic fail. It’s unknown yet as to how long George will be out, but he’ll at least miss Fresno State’s next game — a tough home test against Nevada.

    Utah State improved to 4-2 in conference play and now has a four-game win streak, clearly putting them back on track to compete for a top-tier seed come March. They come up to Moscow tomorrow in a game the Vandals’ season probably hinges on. Don’t miss it.

    New Mexico State 71, Hawaii 69

    Gotta love the WAC. First half, New Mexico State looks hopeless. Second half, Hawaii looks hopeless. Then Jahmar Young steps back and cans an 18-foot game-winner with 00.9 on the clock. What a battle, what a basketball game. Roderick Flemings did everything he could to boost the Rainbow Warriors (2-4 WAC) to victory on their home floor, throwing down 23 points and cleaning up 10 rebounds, but Young did him three better on the scoreboard — just enough to make the difference.

    New Mexico State (5-1 WAC) is now in a tie for first with the Eastern Bulldogs, but they’ll have to play Bulldog-slayer San Jose State tomorrow. The Aggies have gotten big breaks down the stretch in many close games — can the streak continue? Well, if Young and Jonathan Gibson (19 points, 3 assists, 4 steals) keep playing like they are… it sure can.

    The Rainbow Warriors won’t get any rest either — they face Louisiana Tech, and Kerry Rupp’s squad will no doubt be thirsty for revenge after being handed their first WAC loss of the season. Hiram Thompson was seen limping all game long from a lingering foot injury, but he played 38 ironman minutes nonetheless. Can he keep it up? Hawaii needs him to — desperately.

    WAC Men’s Hoops Preview: Jan. 20

    20 Jan

    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.

    #4 Nevada (3-2) at #9 Boise State (0-6) (7 p.m.)

    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.

    Thursday’s games:

    #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.)

    Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Jan. 14, 2010

    14 Jan

    Between sickness and a new semester, we’ve been lax about posting this last week — it all started with a trip to the hospital on Monday morning. We’ll try to get back on schedule today.

    It’s been a depressing week all around for Idaho sports, as the Vandal men were swept at home in WAC play, giving the lie to preseason predictions of glory. Sure, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State are among the best in the conference — but we’ve got to beat the best in the conference to win the conference.

    Also, the women lost last night at Hawaii — after shooting just 25 percent from the field. Yikes.

    Basketball

    • It’s the Battle of the Bone tonight, and unexpectedly, it’s a fight between the two best teams in the WAC. Louisiana Tech and Fresno State collide in Ruston, and as the Daily Leader reports, the 4-0 Tech Dogs can go a long way toward securing a conference crown by beating the 3-0 Fresno Dogs.

    WAC Power Rankings: Jan. 9, 2010

    9 Jan

    SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s the most beautiful season of all in this great Hoops Nation — conference season. We resume our regularly scheduled posting today with a quick WAC Power Rankings before games begin tonight. Starting tomorrow, we’ll be posting complete capsule previews of all the upcoming WAC matchups.

    The big question in a very even Western Athletic Conference season: who can get road wins? With parity the rule atop the conference, a 12-4 or even 11-5 campaign might be enough to win the regular season. Teams that can win on the road will quickly rise to the top.

    1. Louisiana Tech, 14-2, 2-0 (2) — OK, after taking down Nevada and blowing out Utah State, the WAC’s Eastern Bulldogs are undoubtedly for real. No more cracks from us. The only question left: Can they win consistently on the road in the nation’s farthest-flung athletic conference? With a huge test tonight in Moscow, Louisiana Tech will start answering that question. The power duo of Olu Ashaolu and Magnum Rolle have been tearing up painted areas across the country and opponents will be hard-pressed to beat the Bulldogs without slowing them down.

    2. Nevada, 9-6, 1-1 (4) — There’s no shame in losing to Louisiana Tech on the road, and a win over New Mexico State is solid stuff. Despite having almost no bench production, David Carter’s Nevada Wolf Pack are starting the season quite well. Will the toll of constant travel and the conference rhythm expose their lack of depth later on? Perhaps. But for now, Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt seem determined to carry the Pack to a top seed in the conference tourney.

    3. Idaho, 8-5, 1-1 (1) — After picking up a road win at Hawaii (and in the process avenging last season’s blowout loss in Honolulu) the Vandals fought hard but narrowly lost to San Jose State. A key homestand awaits Idaho this weekend against Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. The corollary to road wins being important is that defending homecourt will be equally vital. Don Verlin’s crew did a stellar job in the Cowan Spectrum last year, and they’ll have to match those kind of performances to lay claim to the WAC title.

    4. New Mexico State, 8-7, 1-1 (8) — Not a bad start to WAC play for the Crimson Aggies, with a home-court win over the defending conference champions to their credit. The arrival of Wendell McKines back on the hardwood seems to have reinvigorated Marvin Menzies’ club, sparking the offense back into its old, highly-productive self. They’re still terrible defensively, but what else is new in Las Cruces? A road trip to Boise State and Idaho this week will tell us a lot about how much shaking down is left to do.

    5. San Jose State, 8-5, 1-0 (6) — The Spartans have only played one WAC game, but it was a good home-court defense against a scrappy Idaho squad fresh off a victorious trip to Honolulu. Tonight they’ll be truly tested, taking on the Wolf Pack in Reno, finishing off the road trip with a visit to downstate rival Fresno State. C.J. Webster and Chris Oakes have created quite an inside teaming for San Jose State, and squads with undersized front lines will struggle against them. George Nessman has done a stellar job putting the pieces together in the Silicon Valley.

    6. Fresno State, 8-7, 1-0 (5) — The way Boise State looks right now, a home-court win over the Broncos isn’t too meaningful — but the Western Bulldogs have a win, and that’s more than two other WAC teams can say. One of two WAC teams to play only one game last weekend, Fresno State gets two more home games (Hawaii and San Jose State) to open the season. Certainly, they’ve got one of the conference’s easiest starting slates. Can coach Steve Cleveland use it to build momentum?

    7. Utah State, 10-6, 0-2 (3) — Wow. Just, wow. Nobody’s saying the road trip to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State is easy, but for the WAC’s preseason juggernaut to get swept — and embarrassed in Ruston — was simply unthinkable before last weekend. Unthink no more, because Stew Morrill’s Aggies are in deep trouble this year. Without go-to big man Gary Wilkinson throwing it down in the paint, Utah State’s offense is sputtering and fumbling. Now mired midpack in measures of shooting and rebounding, the Aggies have been forced to become the conference’s slowest-tempo team by a wide margin, playing a ball-control game. That’s not Stewball, and until guys like Jared Quayle and Tyler Newbold step it up, things will stay rough for USU.

    8. Hawaii, 8-7, 1-1 (9) — A victory! Yes, it came over the woeful Broncos, but hey… a win’s a win, right? Well, if only Hawaii’s non-conference slate wasn’t so unconvincing, we might be tempted to boost the Rainbow Warriors above even Utah State (Heresy!) As it is, Bob Nash’s team has to hit the road and play Fresno State and those Blue Aggies. A Hawaii win in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum? OK, it’s ridiculously unlikely… but the fact that those teams are even in the same conversation says a lot about the state of the WAC right now — none of it good.

    9. Boise State, 9-6, 0-2 (7) — Losing at Fresno State and Hawaii to open the season earns the Broncos a quick trip to the bottom of the Power Rankings. They’re the WAC’s worst team from beyond the arc, they can’t rebound and they have no go-to scorer. An epic collapse in the backcourt (LaShard Anderson shoots .412, Anthony “Guarantee” Thomas a putrid .370) has left Greg Graham’s squad with an easily-shut-down one-note offense. Can they even defend home-court? Frankly, with games against New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech, it wouldn’t shock us to see Boise State go 0-4 to open the season, with a road trip to San Jose State and Utah State on deck. Worst team in the WAC? Maybe so.

    Late Spartan surge ends Idaho’s bid to sweep road trip

    5 Jan

    SAN JOSE, Calif. — With four minutes and change to play in San Jose State’s WAC opener against Idaho last night, Spartan forward C.J. Webster looked at the opposing shot clock across the court — it was about to expire. In desperation, he flicked up a no-look shot backwards over his head from the free-throw line.

    Back of the rim. Net. Score. The 1,287 fans in the Events Center sounded like 10,000.

    It was just that kind of night for the home team.

    In a hard-fought road battle for the Vandals, San Jose State made just enough plays down the stretch to thwart Idaho’s designs on a 2-0 start to Western Athletic Conference play away from the comforting confines of the Cowan Spectrum.

    How hard-fought? How about 28 lead changes and 12 ties. Yeah, that hard-fought.

    Despite putting four players in double digits, Idaho fell to the Spartans, 78-75, thanks to a late-game surge that pushed the home team over the top. The Vandals dropped to 8-5 (1-1 WAC) while SJSU improves to 8-5 (1-0 WAC).

    San Jose State was powered by big inside buckets from the forward-center duo of Webster and Chris Oakes, who combined to shoot 18-for-24, leading the way for a Spartan team that scored 44 points in the paint.

    “You have to pick your poison against these guys and we decided not to double-team Webster,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “They found him and drove him down our throats.”

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    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.

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    Blowout in Boise sends Idaho into WAC play on a high note

    29 Dec

    Marvin Jefferson throws down a highlight-reel jam against Lewis-Clark State.

    BOISE — With the Qwest Arena clock reading 38.0, the Vandals’ Travis Blackstock grabbed a feed on the wing and launched a contested midrange jumper that didn’t seem to have a prayer.

    His shot caught nothing but net.

    The 4,111 fans in attendance exploded in cheers and applause for the beloved walk-on forward from nearby Kuna, as Blackstock put an exclamation point on a night that was all Idaho from start to finish. The Vandals rolled Lewis-Clark State, 71-52, in a neutral-court non-conference game that was never as close as its score would indicate. The contest was held as part of festivities for tomorrow’s Humanitarian Bowl.

    Idaho, which improved to 7-4 on the eve of Western Athletic Conference play, was led by a strong showing from floor general Mac Hopson, who posted his first double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds on 4-10 shooting and 5-for-7 from the charity stripe. The Vandals outrebounded the Warriors, 42-32, and shot 50 percent for the game, 35 percent from beyond the arc.

    “It’s always good to get a win, but in this great environment in front of a packed house, this was something special,” coach Don Verlin said. “I thought we played pretty well at times, especially defensively, and we rebounded the basketball well which is a real key.”

    A near-NBA-range 3-pointer from Hopson sparked a crowd-pleasing 18-0 Vandal run early in the first half that put a quick end to any thoughts of a Warrior upset. The streak was punctuated by a two-handed fastbreak slam from Marvin Jefferson, who took a beautifully-placed feed from Steffan Johnson and jammed it home. LCSC coach Tim Walker called a timeout, but Idaho would score five more out of the break before giving up a bucket.

    “I talked to Coach (Verlin) after the last couple games, he said I should try to be more aggressive about attacking the lane rather than settling for threes, and that’s what I did tonight,” Johnson said. “I have to keep developing my game week in and week out.”

    Unlike Idaho’s last game against an NAIA foe, there was to be no miracle second-half comeback from the underdog this time. The period featured sloppy play all around, as LCSC was whistled for 7 fouls in the first 4 minutes while Idaho missed four of its first five shots.

    After being down by as many as 20, the Warriors managed to cut the lead to 13 points with just under 7 minutes to play, backed by six straight points from forward Alex King. But they’d get no closer, as Vandal long-ball specialist Luciano de Souza drilled a dagger from downtown with five minutes left, snapping the run and putting paid to LCSC’s miracle hopes.

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    WAC Power Rankings: Dec. 19. 2009

    19 Dec

    SPOKANE, Wash. — Finals are done and we’re back from hiatus, ready to rock and roll with you all the way to March Madness. We’ll kick things off with our hoops power rankings.

    All stat links go to Basketball State — it’s far and away the best hoops stats Web site around and the $16 subscription is well worth it. Use promo code DREAMHOSTSUCKS to sign up. (Yeah, they had some hosting issues earlier.)

    1. Idaho, 6-3 (1) — Justifying this was not easy, and I’d love to find a reason to put someone, anyone above the Vandals. Two unimpressive games last week — a near-blowout loss to Washington State and an awful, far-too-close-for-comfort win over NAIA Eastern Oregon — show that coach Don Verlin still has a lot of work to do before conference season rolls around. But the “good” news (which really isn’t good for the conference) is that the rest of the WAC has been just as inconsistent. The Vandals will rematch against Portland on Tuesday, a game that is absolutely key to Idaho’s season. A win sends them into conference play on a high note, while an emotional revenge victory by the Pilots could blow things up at precisely the wrong moment.

    2. Louisiana Tech, 9-2 (3) — If the Bulldogs had beaten, or even hung tough, with Arizona, they’d be an easy pick for first. They didn’t, though, and that raises a lot of questions about how they’ll fare against the best of the WAC. The Murray State win is solid, granted, but we’re still just not convinced by all the other victories over palookaville foes. Two more unimpressive opponents — McNeese State and Texas-Pan American — await this week… but if Louisiana Tech pulls off the sweep to go to 11-2, we’ll be hard-pressed to keep them out of the top spot because that kind of record is impressive in and of itself.

    3. Utah State, 6-4 (2) — The season isn’t falling apart for Stew Morrill’s Aggies, but nor is it exactly going to plan. As expected, they annihilated Utah Valley and easily manhandled Cal State-Bakersfield, but then dropped a tough one at Long Beach State after coming unglued in the second half. The absence of go-to man Gary Wilkinson is clearly being felt, as Utah State has had to resort to an unbalanced outside attack from its guards, and when they’re off, they’re way off — like, 4-for-20 against the 49ers. There’s no question the Aggies will be one of the top teams in the WAC when conference season rolls around, but it’s not looking like they’ll be the unstoppable juggernaut of a year ago.

    4. Nevada, 5-4 (5) — The Wolf Pack move back up a spot, as they’re in the midst of a four-game homestand against a string of ridiculously tasty cupcakes. But the danger signs for their season are no less apparent — edging Eastern Washington at home in the final seconds does not impress, and Nevada got just 4 points off its bench in a 3-point win. Every real test the Pack have faced, they’ve failed — their best victory has come over South Dakota State, 170th in the RPI. No road wins, no quality wins, no depth… the jury is still very much out on Nevada. Neutral-site games against BYU and Tulsa or Oklahoma next week are the Pack’s last chance to show something in non-conference play.

    5. Fresno State, 5-5 (7) — A quality week for the Bulldogs, as they grabbed a road win at Pepperdine, hung tough with BYU and took down UC Davis. There’s still questions to be answered about Fresno State, though, centering around one of the conference’s most inefficient offenses — a .991 points-per-possession stat won’t get it done in when it comes time for WAC play. Also unusual: despite having one of the deepest and best front-courts in the WAC, Fresno State is just eighth in rebounding. Make no mistake, this is a vastly improved West Coast Bulldog squad, but we don’t see anything in the preseason that makes us think anything better than a midpack finish is in the offing.

    6. San Jose State, 5-4 (4) — Poor Spartans, we cursed them, because no sooner did we talk about their cupcake schedule for the week to come than… they lose at San Francisco, one of Division I’s worst teams. They’ve rebounded with back-to-back wins over a pair of bottom-tier California squads — Cal State-Bakersfield and UC Irvine — but there’s a lot of work to do in San Jose. For instance, they’ve got the conference’s worst 2-point shooting percentage, making just 45 percent of their shots inside the arc. Playing at Northern Colorado on Monday will be a good marker for the Spartans’ progress.

    7. Boise State, 5-4 (6) — Who are the Broncos, really? We just don’t know. Their non-conference schedule has been absurdly easy — ranked 310th in the nation by strength of schedule — and yet they’re barely managing a split. The latest insult was a home loss to San Diego, a team that had lost five straight coming into Boise. The Broncos combined to go 3-for-12 from beyond the arc in that game and were outrebounded despite the efforts of glass-cleaning machine Ike Okoye. Boise State isn’t done with the cupcakes, either — two of their final four non-conference opponents boast sub-200 RPI ratings while a third is an NAIA team. Only Monday’s battle against scrappy Portland State promises a challenge.

    8. New Mexico State, 4-6 (9) — A big, big road win over UTEP bumps the Crimson Aggies out of the conference basement, but that’s been overshadowed by the news that both NMSU power forwards, Wendell McKines and Troy Gillenwater, are academically ineligible for the season. That takes what should have been a WAC title contender and knocks them down to, at best, a team scrapping for the midpack seedings. They got another road win this week, against woeful Pepperdine, and have three palookas at home before conference season. So, the Aggies could head into WAC play 7-6, but it would be a very, very hollow record.

    9. Hawaii, 5-4 (8) — Bob Nash’s coaching career in Honolulu is on the ropes, and the Rainbow Warriors’ deceptively-mediocre record hides a team in crisis. Their four D-I wins have all come against teams in the bottom 70 out of all 347 teams, and two of those are against, literally, two of the worst five teams in D-I hoops (Chicago State and McNeese State). They’ve basically been blown out by every quality opponent, have zero road wins and have shown no sign at all that they’ll do anything more than fight for the eighth and final seed in the WAC Tournament. In fact, we’ll give even money right now that Hawaii will be the team left home from Reno come March.

    Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Dec. 10, 2009

    10 Dec

    Well, it was a disheartening evening in Pullman last night, as the Vandals got blown up by the Cougars.

    Finals week is upon us, so posting will be rather light right about now. We’ll have a practice report from hoops tomorrow, and a preview of Saturday’s game against Eastern Oregon.

    Football is back to practicing in anticipation of the Humanitarian Bowl!

    Now for the links, an all-roundball affair today:

    Basketball

    • Hawaii overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to crush D-II Chaminade’s upset hopes. With the gamer is Dayton Morinaga of the Honolulu Advertiser.
    • Another WAC/Pac-10 upset attempt went awry, as Arizona managed to beat back and then disassemble Louisiana Tech. The Arizona Daily Wildcat’s Kevin Zimmerman has the scoop.

    WAC Hoops Power Rankings: Dec. 8, 2009

    8 Dec

    For week two, there’s been a few things shaken up and a new team has found its way to the bottom of the list.

    All stat links go to Basketball State — it’s far and away the best hoops stats Web site around and the $16 subscription is well worth it. Use promo code DREAMHOSTSUCKS to sign up. (Yeah, they had some hosting issues earlier.)

    1. Idaho, 5-2 (1) — A split for the week is par for the course in the WAC, and the Vandals’ stunning demolition of No. 25 Portland on Sunday is far and away the best win in the conference. Still, Idaho has to prove it can be consistent — the stifling effort against Portland came after a horrible defensive night at Northridge — and tomorrow’s game against red-hot Washington State will be a huge test. WSU transfer Mac Hopson would love to finish his Idaho career with a win over the Cougars. Saturday will provide a bit of a rest with cupcake Eastern Oregon coming to town.

    2. Utah State, 4-3 (3) — Last week was a time of great joy and great pain for the Aggies. Stew’s crew upended rival BYU in an electric Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, but then had their 37-game home winning streak snapped by red-hot Saint Mary’s. Utah State is still searching for scoring firepower lost when Gary Wilkinson graduated and depth lost with Stavon Williams’ transfer. The good news? They get most of this week off before hosting a terrible Utah Valley squad — that win should seal the Aggies’ umpteenth Old Oquirrh Bucket crown.

    3. Louisiana Tech, 7-1 (5) — They haven’t beaten a single Top 100 RPI team and in their only game against a quality squad (at New Mexico) they were crushed, but the Gulf Coast Bulldogs have the best record in the conference and that has to count for something. Last week, ULM and Northwestern State were the Bulldogs’ victims. Tomorrow’s road throwdown at Arizona will provide a key datapoint in the WAC’s current burning question: is Louisiana Tech for real? They finish the week out with another palooka, Centenary.

    4. San Jose State, 3-3 (4) — OK, so beating Utah Valley on the road isn’t exactly a signature win, but it’s more than Nevada did last week. Are the Spartans really this good? Probably not, but this isn’t about who’s going to be the best in March — it’s about what have you done for me lately? San Jose State’s won. With another winnable road game today at woeful San Francisco and a homecoming tomorrow against Cal State-Bakersfield — one of the worst teams in the country — the record should get gaudier. Unfortunately, their sky-high RPI will also come back down to Earth.

    5. Nevada, 2-4 (2) — Well, like we said last week, there’s no depth in Reno. There may be some kind of curse in Stockton, with the Wolf Pack losing at Pacific for the zillionth time, but with every passing game it gets clearer and clearer that playing Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson every minute of every game isn’t sustainable. And it only gets worse from here on out, with hellacious travel being the rule of thumb in the WAC. Nevada gets two gift-wrapped wins at home this week — Fresno Pacific and South Dakota State — so at last the Pack’s big two should get some rest.

    6. Boise State, 4-3 (6) — We can’t justify moving the Broncos up after losing to Illinois, but they showed a lot of fight on the road against a quality Big Ten team and Ike Okoye kept showing his awesomeness inside. Coming out from under the shadow of the blue turf, Boise State has a pair of eminently winnable games. First up tomorrow, a roadie at Idaho State, then a Saturday showdown with reeling San Diego. If the Broncos can’t pull off a sweep this week, they’ll continue to look like a team yet to find itself.

    7. Fresno State, 3-4 (8) — Signs of progress in the West Coast Bulldogs camp? Fresno State fans are certainly hoping so, after a 69-37 beatdown of San Diego (albeit with the Toreros lacking their leading scorer). But the week’s other game — an uncompetitive loss to Pacific — says Steve Cleveland’s crew still has a ways to go before their undeniable basketball talent is molded into a consistently winning team. Today the Bulldogs travel to a mediocre Pepperdine before a Saturday home showdown with their greatest challenge yet: BYU.

    8. Hawaii, 3-4 (9) — There’s not much to cheer about in Honolulu right now, what with football’s bowl hopes crushed and the hoops team seeming to collapse into a black hole of suck. But the Rainbow Warriors split their week — losing at UC Irvine and beating the awful Lamar Cardinals — and that’s more than the last-place team can say. Two more cupcakes at home — Chaminade and Chicago State — should help their record, but will they do anything to get Hawaii ready for a ridiculously deep and talented conference season? Sources say no.

    9. New Mexico State, 2-5 (7) — The Crimson Aggies have knocked Hawaii out of last place. Unbelievable. But with just one win against a Division I school and a passel of ugly losses that keep getting worse, how can anyone justify putting them higher? Last week featured a 21-point home beatdown by UTEP and a 17-point thrashing at New Mexico. Marvin Menzies’ squad gets most of this week off to lick their wounds, but they’ll be facing the Miners again on Sunday, this time in El Paso. Just keeping it close would be something of a win.

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