Tag Archives: Utah Utes

Vandal Nation Live in Reno: (7) Idaho at (2) Nevada

11 Mar

RENO, Nev. — It’s a tough challenge, being the No. 7 seed facing off against a No. 2 seed. It’s even tougher when you’re playing the No. 2 seed on their own home floor.

That’s the task facing the Idaho Vandals tonight in the Lawlor Events Center, as they square off against the Nevada Wolf Pack in a Western Athletic Conference Tournament quarterfinal. The winner goes on to the WAC Tournament semifinals tomorrow.

Don Verlin’s squad has struggled to find consistency this year, as chemistry and mental lapses cost the Vandals valuable victories. Idaho’s season, which started so promisingly with an upset of Utah in Salt Lake City, now comes down to this game. Win, and the dream is alive. Lose, and it’s back to Moscow for the long wait until November.

Can the Vandals pull off the improbable bracket upset? Join us, live from courtside, and find out.

Complete pregame coverage begins at 5:30 p.m., with tipoff at 6.

Click here for Vandal Nation Live commentary, analysis and chat!

Boise State 77, Idaho 67

25 Jan

Somewhere in the locker room, there’s an Idaho basketball team that dropped 94 points on Utah and beat No. 25 Portland by 20 points. But those are now distant memories.

Idaho blew a 9-point lead over arch-rival Boise State, giving up an Anthony Thomas buzzer-beater to send the game into overtime — and from there the Broncos took over. Boise State avenged its sweep at the hands of the Vandals last season by defeating Idaho, 77-67.

The Vandals fall to 1-6 in the Western Athletic Conference, while the Broncos get their first win of the conference season and improve to 1-7.

We’ll have a complete postgame report later, but for now, here’s postgame interviews with coach Don Verlin and center Marvin Jefferson.

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.

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Shootout in Northridge leaves Idaho’s defense in tatters

3 Dec

Set loose in Southern California, Idaho’s shooters once again ran wild, putting nearly enough points up on the scoreboard to light the third digit.

But homestanding Cal State-Northridge was able to counter the Vandals shot-for-shot, and down the stretch found Kenny Daniels to have no equal in an Idaho uniform. With his 39 points powering the defending Big West champions, Idaho fell to the Matadors tonight, 95-93, in the Matadome.

Led by Kashif Watson’s 15-for-15 performance from the free-throw line, Idaho (4-2) pulled out a 14-point lead early in the second half, and seemed to be on its way to a clean sweep of three NCAA Tournament teams on the road.

But backed by Daniels’ astounding scoring, the Matadors (4-3) closed the gap and pulled away. The Vandals simply couldn’t find a matchup answer to the versatile big man, who shot 12-of-17 from the field and sank 13 of 15 from the charity stripe, while pulling down 10 rebounds.

“We just didn’t get it done, and that’s the bottom line,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “We didn’t get the stops we needed to in the second half of this ball game. We score 93 points and lose – that’s a tough one to swallow.”

With 15:43 left in the second half, the Vandals held a 63-49 lead, but from there on out it would be all Northridge. In the next 12 minutes, the Matadors would go on a 36-14 run to take the lead for good, fueled by the Vandals going 8-for-20 from the floor and coughing up the ball four times.

Verlin’s team never quit, and Idaho was able to close the gap in the last minute, making it a one-possession game several times. But the Matadors always found a way to pull it out, usually by just handing the ball to Daniels and letting him go to work.

With just 1.5 seconds on the clock, Luciano de Souza was fouled on a last-second 3-point attempt and nearly earned a chance for a game-tying four-point play. His shot bounced out and denied that opportunity. de Souza did get three trips to the line and sank two, but his intentional miss on the last attempt was rebounded by Northridge, ending the game.

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Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Nov. 19, 2009

19 Nov

Hey look, it’s another edition of everyone’s favorite link roundup!

A reminder: Tonight’s your last chance to see Idaho volleyball at home, as the Vandal spikers will take on Boise State in an intra-state grudge match at 7 p.m. in Memorial Gym. Idaho is locked into the No. 3 seed in the WAC Volleyball Tournament. If you can’t make it, we’ll have scoring updates on Twitter joined in progress.

Also, on Saturday we’ll be on the road from Fargo, N.D. with Vandal Nation Live coverage of men’s hoops: Idaho at North Dakota State. Pregame at 1:30 p.m., tipoff at 2. Click here to set an e-mail reminder.

Basketball

  • The Vandal women picked up four top recruits, including 6-3 post Kelsey Bybee, who’s helped the Coeur d’Alene Vikings to consecutive Idaho State 5A Championships. She turned down Big 10, Big 12, WCC and other WAC offers in favor of the trip down US 95 to Moscow.

Football

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Nov. 18, 2009

18 Nov

It’s another edition of our daily links roundup, again pretty slow because of a football bye week and because of academic stuff. However, tomorrow Vandal volleyball plays its final home game of the season, the grudge match against Boise State.

Basketball

Football

Good Afternoon Vandal Nation: Nov. 17, 2009

17 Nov

We’re slightly belated today by a couple interviews and projects in the hopper this morning, so let’s get right to your links.

Basketball

  • I’ve got an Argonaut game story on the Vandals’ opening victory at Utah, but the lede got butchered in the editing process. The opening should read: Utah Utes coach Jim Boylen told the media Friday night’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.

Football

Other sports

Good Morning Vandal Nation: Nov. 16, 2009

16 Nov

A weekend that began with such promise for Vandal sports ended with a couple big disappointments. The Vandals upset Utah on Friday night to open the hoops season, but things went upside down from there.

On Saturday, Idaho was blasted by No. 6 Boise State in the rivalry game, 63-25, and the volleyball team was handed its first home conference loss by No. 3 Hawaii. Last night, the Vandals were upset themselves on the hardwood, by an upstart Texas Southern team that forced 18 Idaho turnovers.

We hope the week to come is a happier one for Vandal sports — it’s been a weekend to forget.

It’s a bye week for football, but tonight, Idaho’s women open their hoops season against Gonzaga in Memorial Gym at 7 p.m. Let’s pack the gym and support the Vandal women!

On Thursday, volleyball closes out the WAC regular season with a home match against Boise State at 7 p.m.

Then, on Saturday, the Vandal men travel to Fargo, N.D. to take on the North Dakota State Bison at 2 p.m. We’ll be courtside with live coverage as Mac Hopson, Steffan Johnson and the rest try to get their season back on track.

Now for the links:

Football

Basketball

    Slippery fingers lead to upset

    15 Nov

    A road trip that opened with a promising upset of Utah came to a disappointing end for the Vandals tonight in Houston.

    The Texas Southern Tigers took advantage of an uncharacteristic 18 Idaho turnovers to knock off the visiting Vandals, 72-65.

    It was a sloppy fight that saw the Vandals (1-1) shoot just 42 percent from the field and get only 18 points off the bench — this two days after Idaho shot 50 percent and get 43 bench points against the defending Mountain West Conference champions in Salt Lake City. The most shocking statistic of the night: the Vandals committed 18 turnovers to just two assists.

    Coach Don Verlin didn’t hesitate to take responsibility for the defeat, attributing it to poor early-season preparation for the pressure of back-to-back road games.

    “As good as we played Friday (against Utah), we played just as bad tonight,” Verlin said. “This team has to be mature and be mentally prepared. We weren’t, and that’s our fault as coaches. We’ve got to do a better job getting ready to play.”

    Mac Hopson, who had one of the Western Athletic Conference’s best assist-to-turnover ratios last season, coughed up the ball four times and didn’t dish up a single assist. He did lead the Vandals in scoring, with 14 points on 4-9 shooting. Fellow senior guard Kashif Watson dropped in 13 more before fouling out for the second straight game.

    Midway through the first half, Idaho appeared to be rolling to victory. The Vandal went up, 20-12, on the strength of a 10-4 run led by Steffan Johnson and Shawn Henderson. Johnson finished with 9 points on an awful 3-12 shooting, while Henderson went 3-6 for 6 points.

    But Texas Southern would close the gap to just two points at the half, as Idaho’s shooting hands suddenly went ice-cold and the Tigers heated up.

    Whitworth Treasure, who put up a game-high 21 points on red-hot 8-12 shooting, led Texas Southern. DeAndre Hall contributed another 10 points and a team-high 8 rebounds.

    The Vandals once again outrebounded their opponent by a 27-23 margin, led by Marvin Jefferson’s 8 boards. But too many of those were offensive rebounds, made available by Idaho’s poor shooting performance.

    The loss was particularly painful because it came to a team Idaho blew out last year at home, 67-46, and which won just seven games all of last season.

    “There’s not that much difference between good and bad basketball teams,” Verlin said. “That’s what makes NCAA basketball what it is. I’m very disappointed in the way we played.”

    Idaho next travels to Fargo, N.D. on Saturday, where they’ll take on 2009 Summit League champion North Dakota State at 2 p.m. The Bison nearly knocked off Kansas in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament, and make for a tough conclusion to the Vandals’ early-season road tripleheader.

    Super Bowl Champion… Idaho Vandals?

    15 Nov

    DonVerlinSuperBowl

    Idaho coach Don Verlin sporting a Super Bowl XL hat in postgame interviews after the Vandals defeated the Utes in a game Utah coach Jim Boylen said would be “Idaho’s Super Bowl.” Don had this to say:

    Is this our Super Bowl? No. I appreciate Coach Boylen giving us the opportunity to come down here and play, but it really irritated our guys, that something like that was said. We have a lot of pride in our program and being in the WAC. I have some players with a lot of pride. I thank him for saying it, it was all the motivation we needed. I didn’t have to say a lot in pregame.

    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.

    Vandal Nation Live: Idaho at Utah

    13 Nov

    SALT LAKE CITY— Tonight, Idaho basketball tips off its season against the 2009 Mountain West Conference champion Utah Utes. This is a matchup that will test both teams early on — the Vandals have the speed and experience, the Utes size and youth. A win would set Idaho on a winning path through its three-game season-opening road trip.

    Vandal Nation Live will bring you all the action from courtside in the Huntsman Center, with pregame starting at 5:30 p.m. Pacific and gametime scheduled for 6. Join us for play-by-play commentary, analysis and chat.

    Click here to join!

    Good Morning Vandal Nation: Nov. 13, 2009

    13 Nov

    SPOKANE, Wash. — The day dawns on an important weekend for Idaho sports. Tonight, the Vandals tip off their hoops season against Utah, and of course tomorrow the intra-state battle for football supremacy with Boise State kicks off.

    We’re on the road right now, and we’ll bring you Vandal Nation Live coverage of both events.

    Pregame coverage for Vandal basketball begins at 5:30 p.m., with the game starting at 6. Click here for live play-by-play commentary, analysis and chat.

    Last night, Vandal volleyball swept San Jose State, 3-0, to remain undefeated at home in WAC play. With the victory, Idaho improved to 14-13 on the season, 10-4 in WAC play, and looks to have the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament locked up. The Argonaut previews tomorrow’s game against Hawaii, which is undefeated in WAC play.

    Today, we’ll also have our Better Know a Foe feature, this week with Kevan Lee of One Bronco Nation Under God. There’s a bit of a side bet going too, and we’ll talk about that.

    Now for your links, and there’s plenty of them:

    Football

    • Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman has shanked a bunch of kicks from the left hash, and the Idaho Statesman’s Chadd Cripe asks him why.

      Basketball

      Don’t stop believin’

      13 Nov

      journeyCOLFAX, Wash.— As I course through the rolling hills of the Palouse, stripped bare and awaiting the year’s first snowfall, my mind is drawn uncontrollably to the hopes and dreams of the season that lies ahead. For tonight, our team, the Idaho Vandals, tips off its season in Salt Lake City. With high hopes, they’ll take to the hardwood of a hostile court 500 miles from home against a formidable foe. Of course, we’ll be there.

      Every team begins its season a beautiful 0-0 and perfection is just 40 games away. Every team falls short. That perfect season is a mirage, a spectre, maybe one missed buzzer-beater away. No team has gone undefeated since Indiana in 1976, and none looks likely to do so anytime soon. For most teams below the Red Line, those early-season dreams quickly become a nightmare, and Vandal fans have endured too many of those in recent years.

      This year’s Vandals may be on the cusp of something special. With all five leading scorers returning from Don Verlin’s magic first season, anchored by second-generation star Mac Hopson, the foundation is laid. With new talents like Steffan Johnson, Luiz Toledo and Shawn Henderson pulling on a Vandal uniform, the depth and scoring power is there. Not many teams in the WAC are this good, and maybe only one or two are better on paper. We’ve talked about it before and we’ll make no bones about it now — this could be the year that Idaho breaks its two-decade NCAA Tournament drought. We believe.

      But as Kyle Whelliston memorably documented, there is no such thing as a perfect season. So it is for us. Idaho opens with three games on the road, two of them against teams that last year went to the NCAA Tournament. The rest of the WAC is stacked. Anything could happen. Are the odds on our side? I don’t gamble. It’s all up to Merlin Verlin, his players and the hoops gods now.

      Yet no matter what may be thrown at us, whether tonight we win by two or lose by 25, the Vandals are our team. Our emotional investment has been banked, and it doesn’t matter if their record in March is 25-4 or 4-25.

      No matter how this season plays out, we won’t stop believin’.

      Hard road ahead as Vandals tip off season at Utah, Texas Southern

      12 Nov

      Here’s the unedited version of my Argonaut game preview for tomorrow’s season-opening hoops game between Idaho and Utah. Remember, we’ll have Vandal Nation Live coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. Pacific.

      Mac Hopson drives strong to the hoop in the Vandals' exhibition win over St. Martin's on Nov. 6. Nick Groff/Argonaut

      For the Idaho Vandals, the time for practice, preparation and no-stats exhibition blowouts is over. Starting tomorrow in Salt Lake City, every game counts as the Vandals open their season with realistic hopes of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in two decades.

      Idaho faces a true test on the hardwood of the Huntsman Center, as they take on the Mountain West Conference’s Utah Utes at 7 p.m. Mountain, 6 p.m. Pacific. That begins a back-to-back road trip for the Vandals, as they’ll go from Utah to Houston to play the Texas Southern Tigers on Sunday.

      Playing against the Utes to open the season will be no easy task. Led by standout center and conference Player of the Year Luke Nevill, Utah won the conference tournament and made the NCAA Tournament last year.

      Nevill may be lost to graduation, but the Utes still feature a starting lineup packed with big, talented players. How big? Try 7-3 starting center David Foster and 6-11 starting forward Kim Tillie.

      “Even their point guard is 6-5,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said, with a hint of incredulousness in his voice. “That size mismatch is going to give us some problems around the basket and that’s a huge concern in this game.”

      The flipside of that coin: big often means slow. An uptempo offense has been in the cards for the Vandals all summer long, now that Verlin has the depth on the bench to keep fresh legs in the game. If the Vandals’ highly-athletic lineup plays together and makes their shots, they may be able to run the Runnin’ Utes right off their own home floor. At least, that’s what Verlin and his team are hoping.

      “We’re more athletic than them, so we’re going to have to use that to our advantage,” point guard Mac Hopson said. “They’ve got the size, we’ve got the speed, whoever takes that to the next level will probably win — and we’re looking to win.”

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