In this week’s news conference, Idaho women’s basketball coach Jon Newlee talks about the team’s eight game losing streak, the success of Alyssa Charlston, and the talented youth core of his team.
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.
At the end of every shootaround, the Vandals huddle up and get a little hustle on. Everyone grabs a ball and jacks up half-court buzzer-beaters until someone cans one.
Apparently, practice does make perfect.
As the first half of Idaho’s game against San Jose State tonight came to an end, Vandal guard Kashif Watson caught a defensive rebound on the Spartans’ right wing. He hesitated, turned and, with 00.1 showing on the clock, launched a prayer from about 70 feet out.
The buzzer sounded. Watson stopped, stood and watched the ball arc across the court, bank off the backboard and drop through the net. Then he turned and walked away — as the Cowan Spectrum exploded.
“I kind of heaved it, so I was surprised it went in,” Watson said. “It was just luck, but I figured let’s ride with it.”
The Vandals did, carrying an 18-point edge into halftime and surviving a late Spartan run to knock off San Jose State, 86-76. The win marks Idaho’s first home conference victory since January, and assures the Vandals of a berth in next week’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Idaho improved to 14-15, 5-10 in the WAC, while San Jose State dropped to 14-15, 6-9 WAC.
Watson’s shot was highlighted on SportsCenter as one of the day’s Top Ten Plays, but it shouldn’t overshadow a strong team effort from an Idaho squad that has struggled to come up with a cohesive game lately. Watson and Mac Hopson shared scoring honors with 17 points apiece, while Marvin Jefferson was a dominant force in the paint — particularly in the first half. As a team, Idaho shot 56 percent from the field and 55 percent from beyond the arc, one of the season’s best shooting performances.
There’s just two games remaining for the Idaho Vandals’ regular season — one week from today, their quest for a Western Athletic Conference title begins in Reno. Tonight and Saturday, it’s a two-game homestand to close out the fight for seeding.
Their first hurdle: the Spartans of San Jose State, led by red-hot shooting from young guard Adrian Oliver.
Can Don Verlin’s squad shake off the losing funk and go out at home on a high note? We’ll find out. Pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m., tip at 7.
Women’s hoops are on tap tonight, as Idaho takes on Western Athletic Conference rival San Jose State in Memorial Gym. It’s an old-school throwdown as the 7-18 Vandals face off with the 6-20 Spartans. We go live with pregame coverage at 6:45 p.m., tip at 7.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.)
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.
- 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.
- Utah State went into Reno and upended the Wolf Pack in overtime last night, a thriller that was shown live nationally on ESPN2. The Aggies lost their first two WAC games on the road, but are now on a two-game win streak.
- The Vandals have just one conference win on the season — over the woeful Rainbow Warriors, who just lost to Utah State by 44 points. Now Hawaii is looking to bounce back.
- The Idaho Press-Tribune’s Jake Alger takes a closer look at the Vandals’ woes — and concludes they start with a lack of ‘stoppers.’
- Boise State is off to its worst season in WAC history — 0-4. The Idaho Statesman’s Nick Jezierny looks at their battle in San Jose tonight to try and avoid a devastating 0-5 start.
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.
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.”
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Tonight, Idaho visits the Silicon Valley to take on the Spartans of San Jose State, as the Vandals look to open their conference season with back-to-back road victories.
After getting a crucial road win at Hawaii on Saturday night, Don Verlin’s Vandals have a chance to head back home on a three-game winning streak — and with the WAC conference race looking tight as can be, every road win is precious.
Time constraints kept us from doing a full game preview, but the excellent Spartan Hoops has a game breakdown from the SJSU perspective.
We’ll have all the action for you from courtside in the Event Center. Pregame starts at 6:30 p.m., tipoff at 7.
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.