MOSCOW -- The Vandals achieved a certain ideal Saturday night. They played zone defense from start to finish; they ran the same offensive pattern again and again; they committed only five turnovers and eight fouls.
It's a purity they've been pursuing for three straight home games, and it produced their first win over an NCAA opponent this season, 48-47 against Montana.
It involves neutralizing their height disadvantage with a disciplined zone. It involves a lot of wishful thinking. It involves nursing a lead and conserving energy. It involves scurrying to the offensive glass and trying to get the ball into the hands of Rodney Hilaire.
Hilaire, the springy 6-foot-5 senior forward, logged 16 points and eight rebounds, shot 8-for-12 from the field and produced Idaho's last two field goals on short jumpers with 2:11 and 1:51 remaining. Bethuel Fletcher added an insurance free throw to make it 48-44 with 16.8 seconds left.
"It's definitely a start," Hilaire said. "We've been struggling and we've been really working hard. We needed this one tonight."
The first half hasn't been a problem for the Vandals (2-5). They have held their last three home opponents to 24, 26 and now 18 points before halftime. But until now they've lacked the concentration to maintain defensive intensity after the break.
Even this time, they nearly lost a 40-29 lead when reserve guard Shane Christensen ignited the Grizzlies (4-4) with a driving layin, a backcourt steal for a breakaway and finally a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 45-44 with 2:11 left.
Yet the Vandals are learning how to eat the clock and buy extra time with offensive rebounds -- 17 in this case, including five by Matt Gerschefske, whose 5-for-5 foul shooting helped nurse the second-half lead.
Behold the floor percentages: Montana .375, Idaho .311. This ineptitude is part of the Vandals' ideal, in light of their lack of depth and size.
"These kid went out and executed exactly the way we had to," Idaho coach Leonard Perry said. "We don't care what our shooting percentage was. What we care about is second shots, the opponent's field-goal percentage, and rebounding."
The objective of their zone defense was to corral Montana horses like 6-foot-6, 225-pound Dan Trammel, who was held to six floor attempts and eight points.
Perry said the Vandals are approaching each of their opponent's possessions as if it were the last. "The game's on the line every time you come down the floor," he said.
"We're down to zero count on bodies," he said, referring primarily to the shoulder injury that has sidelined Rashaad Powell. "And because of our height disadvantage, we're going to have to be really quick, and I think we can show our quickness in a zone."
Montana coach Don Holst lauded the Vandals' aggression: "They clawed, they kicked, they did anything they could to outrebound us, and we had more size and more depth. Obviously, that's what it takes. That's what it's about."
But he couldn't help noting the paltry foul totals -- Idaho 8, Montana 13.
"It amazes me we shot only four free throws," Holst said. "I guess it was a really clean game. To me, it seemed like it was fairly ragged."
The vagaries of officiating are just one of numerous variables that make the Vandals' ideal game difficult to achieve. But they've achieved it once and now will believe they can achieve it again.
Riddle 1-3 0-0 3, Cummings 1-5 0-0 2, Slider 1-2 0-0 2, Greenwalt 0-2 0-0 0, Trammel 4-6 0-0 8, Christensen 2-4 0-0 5, Carr 0-1 0-0 0, Bell 4-14 1-2 12, Luedtke 1-3 0-0 3, Rosser 0-2 0-0 0, Pederson 3-5 0-0 9, Venters 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 18-48 2-4 47.
Fletcher 2-11 1-2 6, Logan 3-8 0-0 8, Jenkins 2-7 0-0 4, Hilaire 8-12 0-0 16, Gerschefske 1-9 5-5 7, Holmes 0-4 0-1 0, Turner 0-2 0-0 0, Howell 3-8 1-1 7, Totals 19-61 7-9 48.
Halftime--Idaho 24, Montana 18. 3-Point goals--Montana 9-26 (Pederson 3-4, Bell 3-11, Riddle 1-2, Christensen 1-2, Luedtke 1-3, Slider 0-1, Carr 0-1, Cummings 0-2), Idaho 3-19 (Logan 2-4, Fletcher 1-8, Jenkins 0-2, Turner 0-2, Gerschefske 0-3). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Montana 35 (Trammel 7), Idaho (Jenkins, Hilaire, Howell 8). Assists--Montana 12 (Chrisensen 6), Idaho 7 (Fletcher 2, Hillaire 2). Total fouls--Montana 13, Idaho 8. A--1,119.