Idaho hoops off to solid start

THE FINAL IDAHO MEN'S BASKETBALL GAME OF 2010, one of the last two NCAA Division I games of the decade, saw the Vandals (7-5, 1-1 WAC) bury the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 77-47. This young Idaho team, led by junior guard DEREMY GEIGER and a host of new talent, have made Vandal basketball fun to watch early on. This hard-nosed team beat the Oregon Ducks in Eugene last month and are building momentum.

Many in the Cowan Spectrum crowd thought the final score should have actually been 79-47 Idaho victory over La Tech, but "after further review" the officials disallowed a last-second dunk by Idaho's Sheridan Shayne who, along with fellow walk on Paul Jorg, saw extended playing time when coach Don Verlin sent them onto the floor with 4:22 remaining, a move which drew a standing ovation from the Vandal bench.

Verlin was extremely happy with Vandal win, coming as it did on the heels of a tough loss to New Mexico State two nights earlier. "I thought we played as good as I think we could possibly play there, especially the first 30 minutes of that game," Verlin said. "We came out with a lot of intensity, had guys playing hard, getting on the floor, fighting together. I mean, that's about as good as we could play. I thought the guys came out and focused in one possession at a time and just played as hard as they could. I couldn't be happier for 'em."

If that sounded familiar, Verlin had made similar comments 10 days earlier when the Vandals beat Oregon at Eugene 69-65. He was asked to compare the two games. "It's hard to tell," he said. "That game was on the road. La Tech lost a key member of their team at Boise and it was their second night on the road. We played so well early; so I don't know, but one thing I do know is we're getting better," he emphasized. "I've told you guys all along I like this team. This team works hard. They listen. They're really good at game prep. They're really good at paying attention to the details of the game. I think as we grow up you'll continue to see this team improve because it's important to 'em. No one's been more frustrated than them and me…we've had a couple of close games I thought we should have won, but you've got to give 'em credit. Man, they just keep practicing hard and keep going at it, and it showed tonight."

The defense also drew positive reviews from the coach: "As good as it's been all year," he said. "You hold 'em to 28% and 23% from three…Deremy Geiger (who leads the Vandals currently with 10.5 points per game and a stellar 85% free-throw shooting percentage) really stepped up to the challenge in guarding DeAndre Brown. I thought Brandon Wiley and Luiz Toledo did a great job on Ashaolu (Olu). Those two guys, we held 'em both underneath their averages. Ashaolu's averaging nine rebounds a game. I thought we did a very good job on their big two. They're two of the leading scorers in the conference. Those guys did a good job, and then I thought we executed our offense very well tonight and shared the ball pretty well; 17 assists, 11 turnovers. That's good to see. I thought junior guard Landom Tatum played very well again off the bench. I thought he came in and gave us a lot of energy, made a lot of nice passes. I really liked the way he played also."

The victory gives the Vandals a 7-5 mark heading into a new calendar year. There are 16 games left in the regular season and the Vandals make their first conference road trip this week, traveling to face Hawaii and San Jose State.

In the post-game media session Verlin was asked to assess where he feels his team stands considering going into the season the Vandals were one of the most inexperienced teams in Division I.

"We're gonna be a little inconsistent just from our inexperience," he commented. "The only way I know to get more experience is to play the games and to keep talking to them about it. We've got our first WAC road trip coming up. They've got tomorrow off, but when we come back on Sunday we need to be ready to go because …this group has never experienced a WAC road trip, and it's the hardest one of the year…or maybe second hardest. I'm not sure – La Tech and New Mexico State is a tough one, too. We've got to keep pushing forward. We've got to keep them playing well. We've got to make sure that as coaches we educate 'em and get 'em fired up to play on the road."

Q: What do you think about your team's progress? Did you expect to be this far along?

"That's a good question. I always think we should be farther along," he said with a chuckle. "I don't know if that's the right answer, but that's what I was thinking. I don't ever think we should lose a game, and the amount of time and effort that our coaching staff puts in…my standards are totally different. I don't think we should ever lose a game.

"Do I think we're improving and getting a lot better? Yes I do. Am I happy with where I'm at? I'm gonna put it this way: I'm not completely satisfied. I think we could be a little better than we are right now, but that's just me. We've done a really good job of rebounding off some losses, off of some heartbreaking losses. Montana, a heartbreaking loss; go to Oregon and win. Heartbreaking loss the other night and rebound and play good tonight. I'm happy with those things, but I would like to see us be more consistent, and I'm not sure how quickly that's gonna come; so I've got to do what I told our guys early in the year. I've got to have a little patience with them as we continue to grow up."

Q: Do you see a personality in this team?

DV: "That's a good question too. I told 'em today…I've been on 'em about this for a while: They need to take on the personality of their head coach. I want us to be a little more competitive than we are. We were really competitive tonight, but I felt in a few games this year we haven't been as competitive and fought as hard as we needed to fight, and that's what I want 'em to do. That's what I've really been trying to impress on 'em is that every game and every possession is important. We need to take advantage of it, because our margin for error is not very big this year. We've got to make sure that we are all locked in and we are all ready to go every night out. We all know that cannot happen 100% of the time, but that's what we've got to strive for.

"I think I told (a reporter) this," Verlin said. "The one thing I've been preaching to them is we are in pursuit of perfection this year. That's what I've been preaching to the guys. We're going to chase perfection as hard as we can, to try to play the perfect game."

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