Tag Archives: Jeff Ledbetter

Photo Gallery: Idaho Vandal basketball vs North Dakota

4 Dec

We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us here in Moscow, Idaho, as Vandal football closes out their season and the men’s basketball squad hosts their first tournament in 21 years. Photographer Kate Kucharzyk caught up with the Vandals last night in their dominating win over North Dakota and snapped some highlight-reel quality plays from the young squad.

Don’t forget that Idaho has two more games, tonight at 8 p.m. against Monmouth and will close out the Basketball Travelers Classic on Sunday against Eastern Michigan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo Gallery: Idaho men’s basketball versus Portland

21 Nov

The Vandal men’s basketball squad allowed a big second-half run by an opposing team for the second game in a row, and the outcome of a 66-53 loss to Portland was the result. The Vandals lost at home in the confines of the Memorial Gym for the first time since coach Don Verlin took control of the team. Under Verlin, the team was perfect in defending their home turf, going 9-0.

Photographer Kate Kucharzyk was at the game and snapped some shots of the action. Hats off to Kate, and we hope you enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photo Gallery double-feature: Football and Basketball

7 Nov

Oh boy, was it a rough night for Vandal fans yesterday. We’ve been wracking our brain to spin some sort of positive on Idaho’s embarrassing blow-out loss to Nevada on home, but when you give up an astounding 844 yards of total offense…well, it’s slim pickings. At least quarterback Nathan Enderle didn’t throw any interceptions, and had a sweet 75-yard bomb to Justin Veltung for an Idaho touchdown, but beyond that it was all downhill.

Some more quick stats and facts:

  • Idaho returned the ball down the length of the field twice, compiling 155 yards, but each return was followed by a last-second fumble, which Nevada recovered nullifying Idaho’s drive.
  • The 844 offensive yards are a school record for Nevada. The sad part? It could have been worse, as Nevada chose to ease off the gas in the final quarter. No joke, from the sidelines, it could have easily been 100-17.
  • Nevada had three rushers with 100+ yards….and one of them wasn’t Kaepernick!
  • Speaking of the talented QB, Kaepernick went 20-30 with five touchdown passes. With 20 completions and five touchdown passes, our intricate knowledge of basic arithmetic tells us that every four passes Kaepernick threw a touchdown. W…O…W
  • Idaho’s running game averaged a laughable 3.6 yards per carry.
  • Idaho dropped to below .500, they are now 4-5, for the first time since 2008.

We’ll have a broader overview of Idaho’s loss Monday after we chat with Akey and the team has some time to review the film. For now, however, our resident photographer Kate Kucharzyk snapped some shots of the Vandals loss.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fans hoping for a post-game bummer cure were sorely disappointed if they followed the men’s basketball team’s game against LCSC. The Vandals had trouble closing out the NANI school, missing shots and assignments all night and leaving the game in doubt until the final buzzer. Idaho won, but it wasn’t a pretty win by any standard. As much as it pains us to say it, should the Vandals, who shot 34 percent in the second half and finished the game with less than a 45 percent success rate from the floor against a team which it was expected to dominate, are looking at a long season if they continue this style of play heading into the season opener against Easter Oregon.

A sloppy game didn’t stop Kate from snapping some nice-looking shots of the men in action, which we share with you. Enjoy.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Break out the brooms: Idaho sweeps Fresno State

14 Feb

After a heartwrenching home loss to Nevada, the Idaho Vandals found solace tonight in an unlikely place: the unfriendly confines of Fresno State’s Save Mart Center.

On a tough Western Athletic Conference road trip, in a venue where the Bulldogs had lost just twice this year, the Vandals outshot and outhustled the home team en route to a 68-59 victory — sweeping Fresno State for the second consecutive season.

Idaho’s charge was led by a stellar night from Mac Hopson, who shot 8-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-3 from downtown for 20 points, while sharpshooter Luciano de Souza added 16 more, including four big treys. The win puts Idaho (12-12, 4-8 WAC) in the driver’s seat to secure a berth in the WAC Tournament next month.

“I’ve said this team is going to play some really good basketball at some point and we’re starting to get to where we should be,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “These guys have hung tough all year long and they’re getting better every game.”

The Vandals held a narrow lead most of the first half, but Fresno State (13-13, 6-6 WAC) took advantage of back-to-back turnovers to close the gap, and only a Shawn Henderson putback at the buzzer allowed Idaho to head into the locker room tied with the home team.

For the first ten minutes of the second half, both teams waged a fierce, back-and-forth battle, swapping the lead several times. Then, the Vandals missed three straight shots and Fresno State seized the lead on a Brandon Sperling layup with ten minutes to play. All the momentum seemed to be on the home team’s side.

But the Vandals would not be denied, as center Marvin Jefferson responded with a dunk-and-one to give Idaho the lead for good. That play sparked an 11-2 Vandal run which ultimately broke the game open. Jeff Ledbetter grabbed a steal on the next possession, dishing off to Jefferson for another dunk, Hopson canned a trey and Kyle Barone contributed another bucket-and-one.

The final straw for Fresno State came after Paul George canned a trey with six minutes remaining, cutting Idaho’s lead to just three. Seconds later, Steffan Johnson fired off a right-back-atcha 3-pointer that hit nothing but net, and the Vandals’ advantage would never be less than two possessions the rest of the way.

Continue reading

Nevada 67, Idaho 66

11 Feb

Heartbreak.

The Idaho Vandals closed up a 16-point deficit to lead Nevada with just seconds to play, but an Armon Johnson layup-and-one gave the visiting Wolf Pack a 67-66 victory.

We’ll have a postgame wrap this afternoon, but for now, here’s raw video from an angry Don Verlin and a disappointed Jeff Ledbetter.

White-hot Idaho gunnery obliterates stunned Broncos

6 Feb

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.”

Continue reading

Three Thoughts From the Cougar Slaughter

11 Dec

So, with the benefit of a couple days’ hindsight, I’m going to swipe another idea from Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal (good artists copy, great artists steal) and post up three postgame thoughts from the Idaho Vandals’ beatdown by Washington State on Wednesday.

  1. We *need* either Luiz Toledo or Brandon Wiley, and preferably both, to be 100% healthy. Otherwise, we don’t have the muscle in the low post to get the job done. Downtown de Souza is a fine 3-point specialist winger, but he’s not suited for banging in the paint. With both Toledo and Wiley riding the pine with injuries on Wednesday, I should have recognized the mismatches would hurt us and hurt us a lot.
  2. In a related matter, our 3-point-heavy offense just doesn’t work if we don’t have an inside game. Without Toledo to make the easy layups and force them to pack the paint, Washington State sat in a zone and just dared us to jack up threes all night long. When we drove inside with Kashif or Mac, we got layups more often than not — but we couldn’t buy a basket from downtown, nor were we able to rebound the misses without Toledo’s hands up there. That’s what let Washington State pull out and blow the game wide open.
  3. Kashif Watson and Jeff Ledbetter are two of this team’s keys. Both are guys who know what their role is, play it to the hilt and don’t try to be what they’re not. You see Kashif get the ball, you know he’s going to fearlessly drive to the bucket and a. make a layup, b. get fouled or c. make a layup and get fouled. As for Jeff, he would have been 4-for-6 from 3-point range if not for jacking up a pair of desperation shots in the final minute. As it was, he canned back-to-back threes, including a contested NBA-range rainbow, to make it a 7-point game with 64 seconds left. That’s clutch.

Uninspired Vandals ‘whupped’ by Washington State

10 Dec

PULLMAN, Wash. — With 10 minutes to go in the second half and Idaho trailing Washington State by nearly 30 points, the Vandals’ starting five sat glumly on the bench, watching the clock run down on their upset dreams.

Coming off Sunday’s 20-point blowout victory over the No. 25 Portland Pilots, Idaho seemed poised to knock off its cross-border rivals for the first time since 2002. Instead, tonight the Vandals seemed more interested on getting back on the bus to Moscow.

On the strength of a 21-2 run to open the second half, the Cougars drilled Idaho, 76-64, in a game that was not nearly as close as its final score might indicate. The Vandals fell to 5-3 on the season while WSU improved to 7-2.

A clearly-frustrated Idaho coach Don Verlin minced no words after the game, laying the blame squarely on a lack of effort all the way around the court. His wrath fell particularly hard on an all-senior starting five who combined to go 15-for-39 from the floor, and that only made respectable by Kashif Watson’s team-leading 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.

“(The Cougars) were coached better, they played harder and they were much more prepared. They flat whupped our tails,” Verlin said. “Vandal basketball and Vandal players need to expect more than what we got tonight. I’m embarrassed.”

Star backcourters Mac Hopson and Steffan Johnson combined to go 5-for-17 and just 2-for-9 from beyond the arc, part of the team’s season-low .390 shooting performance and an awful .292 from downtown. They rode the pine for much of the second half, as Verlin turned the game over to his reserves. Even walk-on Travis Blackstock saw 5 minutes of action, his first of the season. It appeared Idaho’s second-year head coach was making a point to his team leaders, and he said as much after the game.

“I was disappointed. I didn’t think they played hard,” Verlin said of his starters. “You’re not allowed to play in this program if you don’t play hard.”

The opening 5 minutes were promising ones for the Vandals — though WSU’s star guard Klay Thompson got loose for some easy buckets, Idaho managed to hang with the Cougars and even take a 4-point lead.

At that point, things went upside down. Instead of running offensive sets, the Vandals began chucking up contested 3-pointers and turning around with the ball in the air. Rebounding vanished and the Cougars smelled blood, pulling out to an eight-point lead at the halftime break.

Continue reading

Vandal Spotlight: Jeff Ledbetter

8 Dec

With his flowing locks and dead-eye shooting, Jeff Ledbetter has had no problem at all making the transition from sunny Southern California to the wintry Idaho Palouse. The junior guard, who hails from Irvine, Calif., where he starred for the Irvine Valley Lasers, wasted no time establishing himself as one of the Vandals’ top threats from downtown.

In his first Division I game, on the road at Utah, Ledbetter exploded off the bench for 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting, and nailed four of six shots from beyond the arc. Those buckets were key to the Vandals’ season-opening 94-87 upset of the defending Mountain West Conference champion Utes.

While Ledbetter has not had a big-numbers night like that since, as coach Don Verlin plays with lineups and rotations, in virtually every game he’s provided a spark or forced defenders to take notice.

Take Sunday night’s victory over #25 Portland, for example. Jeff played a key role in a quick 8-0 Idaho run midway through the first half that broke the back of the visiting Pilots.

First, he dished to a wide-open Marcus Lawrence, who drilled the Vandals’ first 3-pointer of the afternoon. Just 57 seconds later, it was Ledbetter’s turn to score. Finding himself in position at the top of the key, Jeff pump-faked, stepped back and canned a contested trey. It was his only field goal of the night, but was it ever a big one.

Plus, he’s already grabbed a share of one honor: best hair in the WAC.

We sat down with Jeff last week to find out why he chose Idaho, how he’s developing as a student and an athlete and where he hopes the Vandals will go this season.

How did you get your start in basketball?

As far back as I can remember, my dad grew up playing basketball and my two brothers were playing, so a ball was put in my hands from day one.

I went to Orange Lutheran, and high school ball was a lot of fun. We had a great crowd, it was great to play in front of your friends. We never won CIF or state or anything but it was a fun time and a really good learning experience. It was the perfect school for me to go to.

Tell us about your career at Irvine Valley, and how did you end up with the Vandals?

I ended up going there after high school, I had a shoulder injury so I sat out and put on a bunch of weight, like 20 or 30 pounds. I knew I had to work hard, because my ultimate goal was to get to D-I.

My teammate, Kashif Watson, came up here first. I heard nothing but good things about Idaho and Coach Verlin and everyone, so I made it my mission to get up here too.

Moscow must have been quite a change!

Yeah, it was a lot different. I came out here in the summertime and didn’t know what cold meant, but I loved it from my first visit. All the guys chill together and we all get along, the chemistry was there from the start. I like having the college environment, too. I wanted to get away from California, experience something diferent, experience the seasons and the college town. As soon as I got here, I knew I wanted to play here.

Did you get any other offers?

There were a couple that I almost signed with after my freshman year, because Idaho didn’t have any scholarships available. But I decided to go back and play another year at Irvine. I didn’t want to rush into something because it’s a big decision to decide where you want to play. After that, Verlin called me up and it worked out how I wanted it to.

How do you think you’re developing as a player?

You know, I put on a lot of size in juco and that helped me a lot, getting in the weight room. You have to have strength to play at this level. A lot of is mental, though — you have to keep working, stay humble and never be satisfied with the way you are.

If you think you can always play better, you’ll keep getting better. That’s how we’ll have success this year. We are going to be the hardest-working team in the WAC.

What does it mean to put that Idaho uniform on and know you’re playing Division I?

It means a lot. That’s what happens when you work hard — you can do whatever you want. I had a few setbacks with injuries that made it really difficult. I spent a lot of time sitting out and wondering if my career was over and my dreams were done.

But my family and my close friends got me through those times. They kept pushing me to get back in there. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it.

You made a strong first impression in that Utah game.

It was fun, it was just fun to get out there and play. My adrenaline was rushing, I don’t even remember how I made those shots. It was fun to be with this group of guys, we played together, we all rallied together and won as a team. It wasn’t me, it was a team effort.

Continue reading

Photo Gallery: Idaho vs. #25 Portland

7 Dec

Thanks to Argonaut photographer Nick Groff, we’ve got a great selection of photos from last night’s historic Vandal victory over the #25 Portland Pilots.

WAC Hoops Power Rankings: Dec. 1, 2009

1 Dec

As hoops season heats up, we’ll take this opportunity to begin our weekly Power Rankings of the Western Athletic Conference’s men’s basketball teams. These are, of course, our subjective opinion, so please feel free to agree or disagree at your leisure.

1. Idaho, 4-1 — The Vandals are off to their best start in more than 20 years. There’s more depth than on any other bench in the WAC and newcomers like Steffan Johnson, Luiz Toledo and Jeff Ledbetter have contributed lights-out shooting. Led by Mac Hopson, Idaho has one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, and the defense isn’t far behind. But the season’s toughest tests lie ahead, with a brutal three-game stretch — Big West champ Northridge, #25 Portland and red-hot Washington State. The next week may be the Vandals’ crucible.

2. Nevada, 2-3 — There’s still a lot of questions about the Pack’s depth, but nobody can challenge the talent found in the star pairing of Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson. After taking defending national champion North Carolina right to the wall, Nevada showed it can compete score-for-score with the best teams in America. What remains to be seen, however, is how well Babbitt and Johnson will hold up down the stretch with virtually no bench support. Right now, the Pack can’t afford an off night from either of them.

3. Utah State, 3-2 — For a “rebuilding year” without inside-outside-do-everything superstud Gary Wilkinson, Stew Morrill’s Aggies are starting off reasonably well. Both losses came in close games on the road against quality opponents, and Nate Bendall is growing into the big shoes Wilkinson left. It’s not clear, though, that the Aggies have the firepower to be the unstoppable juggernaut they were last season. Two big home tests against BYU and Saint Mary’s await, and wins there might answer that question in the affirmative.

4. San Jose State, 2-3 — This may be too high, but I like the spunk the Spartans are showing early. They beat previously-undefeated Pacific, hung with Pac-10 favorite Washington and, last night, very nearly upended WCC powerhouse Saint Mary’s. These are long-awaited promising signs for a long-suffering San Jose State team. The question has long been whether coach George Nessman can put together the talented pieces he has on his roster, and this might be the year he finally pulls it off.

5. Louisiana Tech, 5-1 — The win number is gaudy, but as Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal pointed out, those five wins came against teams with a combined six victories of their own. Now, you can only win the games you play, so it’s a little unfair to dock them too much, but racking up big victory margins over terrible opponents doesn’t really tell us that much about how well the Bulldogs will do against a WAC schedule that’s practically bursting with depth and firepower.

6. Boise State, 4-2 — OK, so there’s not many quality wins here either, and Anthony “Guarantee” Thomas seems to be regressing, but Ike Okoye is growing into a certifiable stud in the paint and the Broncos do have some talented newcomers making contributions. A 26-point thrashing at the hands of a very mediocre Wyoming squad, however, says Boise State has a long way to go before it can think about contending for a spot in the conference’s top tier.

7. New Mexico State, 2-3 — Until the Aggies show some semblance of defense, this might be as high as they go. Getting back Troy Gillenwater and Wendell McKines after next week will be huge, but the fact is right now, Marvin Menzies’ crew is giving up 85 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent. When you win your gimme game against a D-II school by only 10 points, there’s something very wrong. This evening’s game against UTEP could get ugly.

8. Fresno State, 2-3 — A pair of weak wins to open the season has been followed by three straight weak losses, as the Bulldogs fell to Division I newcomer Seattle and perennial WCC mid-packer Santa Clara. Fresno State’s put together a solid defensive package, but despite their obvious talent on the floor, they’re still the WAC’s lowest-scoring and most inefficient team. There’s a lot of youth so it might take a few games to come together as a team — but that seems to be the excuse for Fresno State every year, doesn’t it?

9. Hawaii, 2-3 — The WAC’s basket case program can’t catch a break, as Dwain Williams, a transfer from Providence and a key piece of Bob Nash’s plan to rebuild the Rainbow Warriors (and save his job), was suspended for two games and is reported to be quite unhappy in Honolulu. They’re producing the second-worst shooting percentage and worst shooting defense in the conference. Unless things turn around quickly, it’s shaping up to be another very long season in paradise.

Vandals doing a lot right – but please, stop turning it over!

22 Nov

CHICAGO — With a CRJ hop from Fargo under our belts (we had a nice conversation with seatmate Jose Mohler, NDSU’s starting quarterback), we had some time to mull over the Vandals’ stats after three games. Thanks to WAC media relations honcho Jason Erickson for getting the WAC Stat Pack out so quickly.

There’s a lot of reasons for the Vandals to be pleased with themselves right now, because Idaho is at or near the top of the WAC in an array of statistical categories.

  • The Vandals have the No. 2 scoring offense, averaging 80 points per game and trailing only Nevada.
  • Idaho has the No. 2 team field goal percentage, averaging .488 shooting, and the No. 3 team field goal defense, holding opponents to .406 shooting.
  • Surprisingly, Idaho has the No. 3 free-throw shooting percentage, averaging .725 at the line.
  • Only Nevada hits from downtown more, as the Vandals are No. 2 in 3-point shooting and efficiency. Idaho drills 42 percent of its shots from outside, for an average of 7.3 per game.
  • The Vandals also rank No. 4 in blocked shots and steals.

Individually, there’s another slew of superlatives:

  • Luiz Toledo ranks No. 2 in field goal percentage, making 79 percent of his shots.
  • Mac Hopson ranks No. 3 in assists, with 4.3 per game, while Steffan Johnson is No. 4 with 4.0.
  • Johnson is tied for No. 1 in free-throw percentage, nailing all 8 of his shots from the charity stripe.
  • Johnson has the conference’s No. 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, dishing 12 assists for just 4 turnovers.
  • Johnson is No. 3 in 3-point shooting, averaging 3.0 treys per game.
  • Marvin Jefferson gets in on the stat action, as he’s No. 3 in blocks, averaging 2.3 per game.
  • Jeff Ledbetter ranks No. 6 in 3-point percentage, making 50 percent of his shots from downtown.

Even where the Vandals don’t excel, they’re vastly improved from last year. While Idaho sat at or near the bottom of the WAC in rebounding throughout the 2008-09 season, the Vandals now have a respectable No. 3 rebounding defense, No. 4 rebounding offense and No. 5 rebounding margin. Those numbers could still use improvement, to be sure, but the jump made already is something to celebrate.

What makes that rebounding stat even more interesting is the fact that Idaho doesn’t have a single player among the WAC’s top-10 glass-cleaners. That’s a double-edged sword — it speaks to the Vandals’ inconsistency so far this season, but it also speaks to the depth of a team that doesn’t require perfect performances every night. Against Utah, it was Kyle Barone pulling down all the boards — last night in Fargo, it was Toledo and Jefferson doing the work. Individually they don’t average to the top 10, but together they’ve created a team that can hold its own on the glass.

Now for the bad news: Idaho has regressed, and regressed a lot, when it comes to taking care of the basketball. The Vandals were second-best in the WAC with a 1.16 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. This year, Idaho’s dropped to No. 5, coughing up the ball more than dishing it with an 0.82 assist-to-turnover ratio. The nadir was the disastrous outing at Texas Southern which featured twice as many turnovers as assists.

Whether it’s mental lapses, increased game pace or unfamiliar players still trying to get on the same page, turnovers have hurt Idaho in all three of its games — with losing consequences in one of them. Against NDSU, the Vandals made progress — but 18 assists to 16 turnovers is a stalemate, not a victory. We’ll be watching that stat closely, as it should be a good benchmark to see how well the Vandals come together in the season’s opening stanzas.

Meet the Vandals: The Guards

17 Nov

With this post, we begin a series breaking down the Vandals’ 2009-10 roster by position, starting with the guards.

The backbone of Idaho’s offense last year was its backcourt, led by First Team All-WAC point guard Mac Hopson. Things should be no different this year, as with a relatively undersized frontcourt, coach Don Verlin will be relying on big production from his guards to keep the Vandals’ opponents on their heels. Fortunately, this year he has the talent and the depth on the bench to pull it off.

  • #1 Mac Hopson

A 6-2 senior from Portland, Ore., Hopson is the Vandals’ undisputed leader. Son of Idaho great Phil Hopson, who led the Silver and Gold on an unlikely charge to the 1982 Sweet 16, Mac transferred from Washington State in order to lead a rebuilding project at his father’s alma mater. Idaho couldn’t have asked for more. The younger Hopson was one of just four players nationally to break the 15/5/5 barrier, averaging 16.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, and became the first Vandal ever named First Team All-WAC.

Back for his senior season with Idaho and surrounded by a stronger supporting cast, Mac’s numbers could explode. As the Vandals’ only instant threat last year, he was often double-teamed and mobbed by opposing defenses. This season, backed up by shooters like Steffan Johnson and Shawn Henderson, focusing on Hopson will be a very bad idea. More open looks and more guys to dish to? Yeah, that’s all a guy like Mac could ask for.

  • #2 Jeff Ledbetter

A 6-3 junior from Brea, Calif., Ledbetter was brought in to give Idaho another potent threat from beyond the arc. Playing for Irvine Valley College, he shot 39 percent from downtown and averaged nearly 14 points per game. But Ledbetter is more than a pure shooter — he’s also proven to be an excellent ball-handler.

He exploded in the season-opener, contributing 16 points in just 14 minutes in Idaho’s road defeat of Utah. While he’s definitely going to play a specialist role in reserve this season, his minutes will be critical and all his shots will be big ones.

  • #3 Shawn Henderson

Perhaps the revelation of the Vandals’ exhibition game, the 6-3 junior from Renton, Wash. exploded onto the court. Last year at North Idaho College, Henderson led the Cardinals to a Scenic West Athletic Conference title with 17.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

In his first outing as a Vandal, Henderson hit his first five shots and ended 6-7 for the night with 12 points, four rebounds and two assists in only 15 minutes. He’s got a nifty double-clutch floater that’s almost impossible to defend, and he’s unafraid to drive strong. Idaho may have found one of its primary go-to guys off the bench.

  • #5 Steffan Johnson

The key to Idaho’s 2009-10 season, and that’s no exaggeration. The 6-1 senior from Kent, Wash. lit up the Big West two years ago, dropping 14.5 points and dishing up 4.9 assists per game for the Pacific Tigers. The First Team All-Big West point guard headed north last season to join the Idaho rebuilding project. He spent his redshirt season learning Verlin’s system and building a close rapport with Hopson and his teammates.

As the Vandals’ starting shooting guard, Johnson not only gives Idaho a serious second scoring threat in the backcourt, he’ll take some of the defensive pressure off Hopson too. Leave him open and he’ll make you pay — Johnson shot a lights-out .410 from beyond the arc. Too, he has the ball-handling abilities to spell Hopson as point guard, giving the Vandals’ star some much-needed bench time. If Stef and Mac play up to their potential, there won’t be a better backcourt in the WAC this year.

  • #10 Landon Tatum

A skilled pure point guard, the 5-11 junior from San Antonio will redshirt the year, given how deep the Vandals are at the point this season. Vandal fans should look forward to seeing Tatum on the court next season, however, because he was a star for South Plains College.

Playing for the Texans, Tatum started all 33 games, averaged 7.1 points and 5.8 assists per game, led the team in minutes and was named a national juco All-Star enroute to the Regional title game. As a freshman, Tatum won the NJCAA National Championship. With that kind of talent waiting in the wings, Idaho’s backcourt future looks bright.

  • #20 Marcus Lawrence

Idaho’s backup point guard, Lawrence comes into this season with something to prove. The 5-11 junior from Las Vegas played two years at UNLV, posting a 3.5 assist-to-turnover ratio and finished third on the team with 53 assists despite limited minutes off the bench.

Lawrence redshirted last year, so he’ll have a year under Don Verlin’s system to prepare him for the task ahead. In 13 minutes of action at Utah, he scored 7 points and dished up two assists without turning over the rock once. Expect Lawrence to be the Vandals’ primary option off the bench to give Hopson a rest.

  • #23 Justin Stewart

A 6-1 freshman from Spokane, Stewart walked on during open tryouts this year and impressed the coaching staff enough to land a roster spot. A 56 percent shooter, he helped Ferris High to an undefeated 29-0 Washington State 4A Championship season in 2008.

Stewart will likely redshirt this season to adjust to Division I ball and learn Verlin’s system, while playing a key role on the Vandals’ scout team. Playing as a walk-on is a somewhat thankless task that takes a huge commitment of time and energy. We congratulate Justin on making the team, and we look forward to seeing him out on the court down the road.

  • #32 Kashif Watson

The Vandals’ returning glue, Watson, a 6-4 senior from Las Vegas, will play a key starting role for Idaho this season. He was quiet, generally unspectacular and absolutely reliable last year. Averaging 10.3 points and 3.5 rebounds, ‘Shif could be counted on every night to deliver points when the Vandals needed them. Not an outside shooter, Watson’s game is the quick drive and layup or the stop-and-pop midrange jumper, with which he can be deadly.

A transfer from Irvine Valley College, Watson was a teammate of Ledbetter, and helped lead the Lasers to a program-record 27 wins and a trip to the Southern California Regional Finals. This season, he should be getting more open looks and a few more minutes to rest his legs — he averaged 32 minutes per game last year, second only to Hopson in the Vandals’ “ironman” category.

Newcomers power Vandals to ‘Super Bowl’ victory in Utah

13 Nov

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Utes coach Jim Boylen told the media tonight’s game between his squad and Don Verlin’s Idaho Vandals was “Idaho’s Super Bowl.”

If that’s so, then give the Vandals the Lombardi Trophy right now.

With veteran stalwarts Mac Hopson and Kashif Watson mostly looking on from the bench, newcomers Steffan Johnson and Jeff Ledbetter powered the Vandals to a 94-87 season-opening victory over the defending Mountain West Conference-champion Utes in the Huntsman Center.

Playing in his first Division I game as a Vandal, Johnson took over when Hopson and Watson got in foul trouble. He scored 19 points to lead Idaho, while Ledbetter joined Hopson in pouring in 16. Every Vandal scored a bucket. It’s the first season-opening Division I win for Idaho since 2003.

“This is a huge win to start the season,” Verlin said. “We got after them today, we took them out of their sets and we made some plays when we had to.”

The revelation of the game: the play of Ledbetter, a JC transfer playing in his first Division I game. Ledbetter shot 5-for-7 from the field, including four from downtown, contributing 16 points in just 14 minutes on the court. He also swapped over to guard Marshall Henderson, the Utes’ lights-out long-range shooter, effectively neutralizing him in the game’s late stages.

“Jeff did a great job, not just as a shooter but as a defender,” Verlin said. “He came in tonight and knocked ‘em down. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Ledbetter was modest about his breakout performance.

“I didn’t come out here looking just to get my shot off, but this was just my night,” Ledbetter said. “My guys got me open and I did the easy part.”

Though he rode the pine much of the second half with four fouls, Hopson came back and took control of the game in its waning moments. With 23 seconds remaining and the Vandals leading by three, Hopson took the ball around the corner in what Verlin described as a blown play.

As the shot clock was about to expire, Hopson launched a falling-away 3-pointer with a hand in his face — and hit nothing but net. He sank two free throws seconds later to ice the victory.

The Vandals’ other bench players chipped in big contributions, too. Reserve point guard Marcus Lawrence scored 7 key points and dished up a pair of assists without recording a turnover, while backup center Kyle Barone relieved the foul-burdened Marvin Jefferson, scoring 9 points and pulling down 4 rebounds.

“We never would have been able to win this game last year because we didn’t have the depth,” Verlin said. “The bench was huge.”

Despite being overmatched in the paint by the Utes’ 7-3 center David Foster and 6-11 forward Kim Tillie, the Vandals won one of Verlin’s key points for the season: the rebounding battle. Idaho outhustled Utah on the boards, 40-34, with sophomore forward Luiz Toledo leading the way for the Vandals with six.

We’ll have a complete version of this game report tomorrow, plus video interviews.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 463 other followers