Vandals beat UCSB in first round of CIT

IDAHO'S 86-83 VICTORY OVER UC SANTA BARBARA in the first round of the Tournament Wednesday night at the Cowan Spectrum was a nail-biter at the end despite a 17-point first half Idaho lead. But the Vandals hit the shots they needed to hit down the stretch for win. Now Idaho heads to Logan to take on Utah State in a second round CIT matchup of WAC teams Saturday (6PM PST).

Idaho's 86-83 first round CIT win over UC Santa Barbara in front of 1,203 in the Cowan Spectrum was a pretty accurate representation of the 2011-12 season for the Vandals. Idaho played a spectacular first half, racing out to a 17-point lead. Then, the visiting Gauchos, playing in a tournament other than the Big Dance for the first time in three years and featuring two of the best wings in the country, stormed back in the second half to dominate the boards and outscore the Vandals 53-43. But the Gauchos were never able to completely seal the deal, and Idaho advanced to the second round of the 32-team Tournament.

Idaho will travel to Logan, Utah for round two action Saturday night at 6 p.m. PDT to face the Aggies of Utah State.

"I want to thank our administration and the Vandal Nation, the Vandal Boosters who stepped up to allow us to have this game," Idaho head coach Don Verlin said to open the post-game media conference. "Rob Spear and his staff worked like crazy and it was a big investment for the university tonight to pay the $31,500 and allow us to host a game. I think it shows a real commitment to our basketball program, and I was very, very happy that we were able to deliver a win.

"I really wanted to make sure our team played well and competed hard and did the things they needed to do to win that game, and I thought they did. I felt we probably had our best offensive game in quite some time when you turn it over five times, have 18 assists and shoot 50% and 40% from three against a very good Santa Barbara team…we wanted to deliver for the commitment they made, and I think that's how our basketball program gets better. We've got to keep climbing up those stairs. We've continued to do that."

In the first half, the Vandals came ready to play. According to veteran UCSB coach Bob Williams, the Gauchos did not.

"I thought we played really well in the first half," Verlin said. "I thought we moved the ball really well. I thought we found open cutters. We shot it well, and we really rebounded the ball well, and that's what enabled us to get our lead. They made some great adjustments at halftime and really came at us in the second half."

Williams said the 17-point deficit was "too much ground to make up. You just can't get engaged for the last 11 or 12 minutes of the game and expect to come back on a good team at their house. I give them a lot of credit that they came out with good energy and moved the ball well and shot the ball well and played as a group."

Idaho was all of that in the first 20 minutes shooting 50% from the floor, dishing out 8 assists, holding a 20-15 rebounding edge and turning the ball over only twice. In the second half UCSB wings James Nunnally and Orlando Johnson kicked things up a notch and the Gauchos outscored the Vandals 53-43 and held a big rebounding 22-9 rebounds edge.

The lead dropped to one point three times in the final two minutes but each time the Vandals responded, first with a Kyle Barone layup, a critical jumper in the paint by Stephen Madison, and finally two free throws by Madison with 21.8 seconds on the clock the preserve the margin. Two more free-throws by Landon Tatum put the lead back up to five and then Deremy Geiger made one more charity toss with 1 second remaining after a desperation three by UCSB cut the lead to two.

The key statistic in the win was turnovers: Idaho had only five on the game, its lowest single game total since they committed four in coach Don Verlin's first season in 2005. The Vandals also made 18 of 27 throws compared to 7 of 11 for the Gauchos.

"It was just a matter of time (before UCSB broke loose offensively)," Verlin said. "Physically they overpowered us in the second half. Say what you want. They outrebounded us by 13. I thought Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally showed the players that they are, and that was my concern. They're two big wings against our littler guys, and we kept trying to get (Mike) McChristian in there or Steve (Madison) in there and we just never could find the matchup. Early in the game I thought our matchup zone was really effective. They only had two shooters on the floor. We were able to play the matchup. Bob Williams is a good coach. The adjustment they made in the second half was they came out and put three shooters on the floor and that spread our defense out because all three of those guys were shooting close to 40% from three. It really put pressure on our defense so we had to go more to man-to-man, and that's when those wings were able to kinda take over a little bit."

Verlin was also happy to have his seniors win what will be their final game in the Cowan Spectrum. "I couldn't be happier for our seniors, Landon Tatum especially," Verlin said. "Three years in this program, redshirting a year then backing up last year and then starting this year and really being the team leader. He's held this team together all year long. What a great performance tonight (10 assists, 9 points). He was very aggressive on the break, found the open guy, did a great job penetrating the lane and kicking. Any time you go 10 assists and no turnovers that's a good basketball game.

"I thought Deremy Geiger, for the last time he'll play in the Cowan Spectrum -- what a great game, 22 points (plus three rebounds)," Verlin added. "He was really feeling it from three. Djim Bandoumel had a solid game for us; so I couldn't be happier for those guys and for our entire program. We've got 19 wins and have an opportunity to get 20. That would be a heck of an accomplishment if we're able to do that. I told our guys wherever they send us and whatever happens, let's make sure of this game. We did everything we could to win this game. In the tournament, any kind of tournament you play, you just survive and advance, and we survived tonight. Now we get to advance."

Williams, who is in his 14th season at UCSB and the all-time leader in coaching victories at the school, finished his session with the media by complimenting Idaho for the improvements made in the Kibbie Dome/Cowan Spectrum. "It was one of our better shooting performances in the Kibbie Dome," he said. "I like the changes they've made to it, taking the curtains all the way up, taking 'em over (to the sides), the lighting. Everything's better in it. This was a better shooting performance than we normally get when you come up and play at this place."

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