The thunderous crowd at the Kibbie Dome had fallen silent and on the field, all that could be heard were the anguished cries of senior safety Shiloh Keo and junior linebacker Robert Siavii and a stream of verbal outbursts from Vandal defenders.
In the middle of it all lay senior Jo Jo Dickson, writhing in pain, clutching his fractured left leg.
On the previous play, Dickson had made a block for Idaho before being side-swiped by New Mexico State’s Kenny Turner on a late hit that sent Dickson to the turf.
Turner was whistled for a personal foul, but the damage had been done. Dickson was quickly attended by medical staff, put on a stretcher and rushed to Gritman Medical Hospital for surgery on an injury that will likely end the senior’s career as a Vandal.
Dickson’s final gesture in Vandal uniform – a wave to his teammates and the crowd in the Kibbie Dome, which erupted in cheers of ‘Jo Jo, Jo Jo’.
The single play overshadowed a huge night that saw Idaho’s offense build a 31-0 lead early on and, in large part due to the stifling play of Idaho’s defense, defeat the NMSU Aggies 37-14.
“It feels good, but it feels bad at the same time — it’s really hard to swallow,” said a visibly shaken Siavii, who is Dickson’s roommate. “He’s like my older brother. I’ve lived with him for two years. To see him out of the field really hurts me and just gave me an extra push to be even stronger.”
Following the play, Idaho coach Robb Akey knew of the dire situation of his teammates, calling them together and consoling Keo and Siavii.
“I saw some rage and a lot of hurt,” Akey said. “They lost one of their brothers during the course of the game today. You have no idea what kind of an impact that had. The guys overcame that and played hard and played well for the remainder of the game.”
The loss of Dickson is a staggering blow for Idaho. Not only did Dickson provide steady senior leadership on the field, he was Idaho’s fourth-leading defensemen, recording 34 total tackles and one interception in seven games.
“It’s really disheartening,” Siavii said. “But the whole defense — we’re strong. We have strong backup and we feel we are going to get our team back together again.”
For the third time this season, Idaho used strong-arm defense to clamp down on the opposition. The Vandals forced numerous three-and-out situations against the Aggies, who were looking for their first WAC win after entering the game with a woeful 1-5 record, and didn’t let the Aggies get on the board until the game was well out of reach.
“I think we got to comfortable,” said receiver Maurice Shaw. “We came out strong, but didn’t come out with the same desire and intensity after the half.”
NMSU got their first touchdown with seven second in the half on a 17-yard passing play, and struck late once again with 19 second remaining in the game.
“Defensively, I thought our guys continued to play pretty well,” Akey said. “I don’t like the score we gave up there at the end. We learned a lesson from that, but it’s an inexpensive one, ‘cause all it cost us was points on the board.”
Idaho’s offense was, once again, powered by Nate Enderle, who threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns. The Aggies came into the game being in the WAC cellar in regards to defense, and Idaho capitalized.
Idaho’s offensive cause was helped greatly by the return of Maurice Shaw, who returned from a one-game suspension and led the Vandal receivers with 73 yards and a touchdown reception. Shaw made the most of his six catches, including a Randy Moss impersonation in the end zone, as Shaw reached out and pulled in a one-handed pass for the score.
Idaho’s rushing game, however, is still lagging. Idaho brought up 88 rushing yards on 27 carries against New Mexico State. Several lapse in defense also cost the Vandals, who gave up a big NMSU touchdown pass that was waved off on an illegal formation on the part of the Aggies.
Akey said the squad will need to overcome the loss of Jo Jo and prepare for next weekend, when the Vandals travel to Hawaii to take on the Warriors.
Hawaii has been the surprise in the WAC, and are unbeaten in WAC play with a 4-0 record. Akey aknoladged it will be a tough battle, but said his squad will be ready for it when the time comes. For now, the focus is on another victory at home.
“We got our first WAC win today, and we are still undefeated in the Dome,” Akey said. “We’ve got another winning streak started.”
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.
- The latest-breaking development? Utah State confirms it, too, was approached by the MWC and offered membership — before either Fresno State or Nevada. But with honor and commitment, the Aggies refused to betray the WAC. Everyone left in the conference should consider USU their heroes. They rejected self-interested sabotage, and I hope they, and we, come out ahead for it.
- Sam Wasson’s BleedCrimson.net has a great rundown of this morning’s press conference with Karl Benson.
- SWX has a story on Idaho Athletic Director Rob Spear’s press conference this afternoon. In short, Idaho is “committed” to staying with the WAC, come hell and high water. KXLY’s Ben Kaplan provides his take, too.
- ESPN’s Pat Forde examines the brutal history of the MWC and WAC’s “conference cannibalism.” Ray Ratto has similar thoughts at CBSSports.com.
- 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.
- Whither BYU? Good question, as Cougar AD Tom Holmoe provides only cryptic answers to the Deseret News. “Things are playing out” indeed.
- Could Sacramento State and UC Davis save the WAC? That’s what the Sacramento Bee’s John Schumacher is wondering. The more Aggies the merrier, I suppose.
- Nevada got an offer it couldn’t refuse, or so says Scott Sonner. Yet Utah State did refuse it. Hmm.
- Silver and Blue Sports has a report on Nevada’s move up to the MWC. The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray examines how the move might affect Wolf Pack programs.
- The Fresno Bee’s Dan Lyght and Bryant-Jon Anteola have a whole slew of stories on the Bulldogs’ jump to the MWC.
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.
- For a complete rundown on the day’s conference tournament action across the mid-major leagues, check out The Mid-Majority’s Tourney Central.
- Follow us on Twitter — @VandalNation — for live courtside scoring updates throughout the WAC Tournament.
- The Spokesman-Review’s Josh Wright has a game preview of this evening’s Idaho/Nevada showdown.
- Nick Jezierny of the Idaho Statesman looks at Boise State’s final chance to make something of a disappointing season. Nick also checks in with a quicky on Idaho’s win over NMSU and storylines to watch this week.
- The Nevada Sagebrush is all over the WAC Tournament.
- Idaho’s “sneaky” squad could pose a threat to the Wolf Pack’s NCAA Tournament hopes — at least, so says the Reno Gazette-Journal’s Chris Murray.
- Kraig Williams, a very good friend of the Vandal Nation, is liveblogging everything for Rush the Court. (h/t to Parsing the WAC.)
- Also check out the Las Cruces Bulletin’s courtside coverage.
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.
- Jared Eborn reports on Utah State coach Stew Morrill getting a slap on the wrist from WAC commish Karl Benson. Apparently, he said something naughty to NMSU guard Jahmar Young, who had just been T’ed up. (h/t to Parsing the WAC)
- Continuing the trend, Eborn talks to Stew about the Aggies’ NCAA chances. Unsurprisingly, he thinks USU should be in. (So do we, by the way.)
- The Lewiston Tribune’s Dale Grummert has more on the Kashif Watson kerfuffle, noting that the suspended guard has now protected his Twitter page.
- The Wall Street Journal has a brutal take on the Mid-American Conference’s competitive woes.
- The Mid-Majority talks to court-rushing gurus Marco Anskis and Eric “Extra P” Angeline in TMM’s Second Annual Floor-Storming Symposium. (Someone needs to get a Ph.D in post-game celebrations.)
SAN FRANCISCO — We spoke with Idaho men’s hoops coach Don Verlin this afternoon about the challenge facing his squad in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, beginning Thursday afternoon when they’ll take on the heavily-favored home team, Nevada.
The Vandals are coming into the tournament on something of a roll. Is that an advantage?
Yes, it’s good to have won your last couple of games before you go to the tournament. We have played very well offensively down the stretch and our guys are very excited to play in the WAC Tournament.
Do you think some of the issues which have plagued the team are being resolved?
Yeah, maybe a little bit. We did a good job last week of passing the ball and finding the open man. When you have 21 assists to 5 turnovers and 21 assists on 28 field goals, that’s a good sign. We need to keep doing that on Thursday.
What is the status of Kashif Watson? Will he be rejoining the team in Reno?
Kashif is still suspended indefinitely and he will not make the trip.
Playing Nevada on their home floor, what do the Vandals need to do to pull the upset?
(The Wolf Pack) have only lost one home game in league and they have a lot of talent so, it’s a really tough matchup for us, if you look at it optimistically, you have to beat everyone to get to the tournament. We have to slow them down. They’ve scored a bunch of points in the home wins, I believe 100 against New Mexico State. When you have a team like that, who can really score the ball, we need to slow the pace down to a workable number for us. We’re going to have to have our best defensive effort and keep Armon Johnson and Luke Babbitt in check.
MOSCOW — We are getting ready to depart for Reno and the Western Athletic Conference Tournament! This space will have much more preview stuff up throughout the day, but here’s a rundown of where the Vandals stand:
Jon Newlee’s squad has made a miracle turnaround after losing leading scorer Derisa Taleni to an injury before the first game was played. The Vandals won just two games in non-conference action, but finished .500 in WAC play to nab the No. 4 seed in Reno. They’ll take on No. 5 New Mexico State at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. We’ll go live from courtside at 2 o’clock.
Don Verlin’s second year has been a roller-coaster ride, and unfortunately much of the conference season was a downward plunge. The Vandals’ 6-10 WAC record was good for only the No. 7 seed in the tournament, and on Thursday they’ll face the No. 2 seed, a very talented Nevada squad on the Wolf Pack’s home floor. That game is the prime-time battle, tipping at 6 p.m., and we’ll go live at 5:30.
Finally, a huge thank you to all who have donated to help make this trip possible — or at least, possible without ruining my credit score! We’ll have more on that later, too.
Dan Monson came back to his alma mater this week, and a sweet homecoming it was for the son of legendary Idaho coach Don Monson. Unfortunately for the Idaho Vandals, Dan was coaching their opponent.
In an ESPNU BracketBusters non-conference showdown, Long Beach State pretty well dominated Idaho from start to finish, coming away with a 77-66 victory in the Cowan Spectrum. Turnovers, missed field goals and porous defense characterized the Vandals’ play, and only a 13-point, 14-rebound night from Marvin Jefferson kept things interesting for the home team.
“(Long Beach) beat us in every aspect of the game,” Idaho coach Don Verlin admitted.
As well as the Vandals (13-13, 4-8 WAC) played Thursday against Seattle, they played just as badly tonight — continuing a theme for this season, in that the only thing consistent about Idaho’s performances has been their inconsistency. Mac Hopson led the team in scoring with 15 points, but didn’t make a bucket until the game’s final 67 seconds and finished an awful 2-for-9 from the field, 0-for-3 from downtown. Hopson and several other starters sat on the bench for long stretches of the game in favor of some of the Vandals’ younger guns. Verlin made no bones about his displeasure with the performance of his seniors.
“I’m very disappointed in my seniors’ effort — except Marvin Jefferson, he played his tail off,” Verlin said. “The seniors have to lead this team, and I don’t think they had their team ready to play. We’re two years into this deal and our senior leadership has to show itself. It didn’t tonight.”
The 49ers (13-14) took advantage of nearly every Idaho mistake, converting 16 Vandal turnovers into 21 points, including an 8-0 edge in fastbreak scoring. It would be that old ball-handling bugaboo that ultimately doomed the home team’s hopes.
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.