Vandals down Nevada 72-67 in Cowan

SOPHOMORE CENTER KYLE BARONE LED IDAHO WITH 7 REBOUNDS and the Vandals improved their season record to 10-6 (4-1 WAC) with Wednesday night's 72-67 win over Nevada in the Cowan Spectrum. The Vandals hit the road for two games, then return home next Saturday for a clash with Boise State January 22nd (a rare Idaho-BSU doubleheader with the women tipping off at 4 p.m. PST and the men at 7:05).

After two bitterly disappointing last-second losses in their last two home games (against Montana and New Mexico State), the Vandal men played tough from tipoff to final buzzer, and especially in the clutch, to pull out a close victory and beat the Nevada Wolf Pack 72-67 at the Cowan Spectrum Wednesday night. Nevada led 59-58 with 3:10 remaining, but Idaho regained the lead at 62-59 on a layup by Kyle Barone and two free throws by Luiz Toledo with 2:07 remaining in the game.

The Vandals did not trail again.

The win gives the Vandals a 10-6 season record and a 4-1 mark in WAC play. It was Idaho's second four-game winning streak of the season and the first four-game conference winning streak since the Vandals joined the WAC. They are also off to their best start in conference play since the 1993-94 squad opened Big Sky action with a 5-1 conference mark.

Coach Don Verlin told the media his team made winning plays against the Wolf Pack. "Something we've talked a lot about is making winning plays, and tonight we made some winning plays down the stretch," Verlin said. "That's what you've got to do to pull out a close one."

Toledo had two of the biggest plays of the night in crunch time. With 1:20 left and Idaho clinging to a 62-61 lead, Deremy Geiger missed two straight free throws, but Toledo slipped onto the baseline to rebound the second shot and give the Vandals a fresh shot clock. They worked the ball around to run the clock down, and with 54 seconds left in the game Geiger cast off on a three-pointer that missed everything. Fortunately for Idaho, Toledo was in perfect position to grab the offensive rebound. Kyle Barone was also crashing the boards at the same time. Toledo tipped the ball back to Barone who sank the layup, drew a foul and made the free throw making it 65-61 Vandals. Nevada fought back and came within two with 24 seconds left, but the Vandals sank 5-of-6 free-throws in the final 31 seconds to seal the win.

Verlin was proud of the way his players competed, although he felt they might have been feeling the effects of the trip to Hawaii and San Jose last Thursday and Saturday.

"I couldn't be prouder of our guys, to have a four-game win streak in the WAC. I think our first ever at the University of Idaho," the coach said, "and to bounce back and play so well after the Hawaii trip...I felt my guys were tired tonight, and maybe it was just me. I didn't think we moved. We weren't as sharp defensively as we have been, and it might be from the long travel; so we're gonna take tomorrow off and hit the road again on Friday. But I've got to get some pop back in their step, and I didn't think we quite had it like we have had it defensively the last two or three games."

It was a "typical" win statistically for the 2010-11 Vandals. They put four players into double figures scoring, were close to their opponents on the boards (33-32 edge to Nevada), were unselfish with the ball (19 assists), and generally took good care of the ball (9 turnovers to 12 for Nevada, including three steals in about 30 seconds by Jeff Ledbetter).

Geiger led the Vandals with 18 points, Ledbetter had 17, Barone 13 and Toledo 11 (including back-to-back slam dunks to open the game for Idaho). Barone had seven rebounds while both Toledo and Stephen Madison grabbed six each to lead Idaho on the boards. Regarding assists it was Shawn Henderson and Landon Tatum collecting five each, plus Geiger with four.

The Vandals travel to California this weekend and will face Cal State Bakersfield in a non-conference game Saturday at 7 p.m. then head north to tangle with Fresno State Monday at 7:05 p.m. Their next home action will be Jan. 22 against BSU as part of a rare Idaho-BSU doubleheader (the women play at 5 p.m. and the men at about 7:05.

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