MOSCOW -- The jungles of Nigeria, the marshes of Louisiana, the speed traps of Route 66, could not have posed greater obstacles to Idaho and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday night than they managed to pose to each other.
On a night like this, every basket is golden.
In a season like this, every Idaho win is woven of silk.
So forgive Leonard Perry for getting emotional after his team's 40-37 victory in a strange Big West Conference clash of disciplined defenses.
Marquis Holmes deflected a 9-foot jumper by the Gauchos' Mark Hull with four seconds left and David Howell canned two insurance free throws a moment later as the Vandals took a big step toward qualifying for the Big West tournament.
Perry, the Vandals' 33-year-old rookie coach, was in the midst of complimenting Holmes for his season-long fortitude in a difficult backup role when he seemed to lose his train of thought. The room went silent.
A publicist entered from the hallway, saw the blank faces and asked, "Did I miss something? Are you done?"
Only then did it become clear that Perry was trying to finish his sentence but couldn't. His voice had failed him.
"To see this guy make the improvement he's made," he said finally, "is, you know ..."
He paused again and seemed to swallow the lump in his throat.
"... is the best part about this job -- watching these kids continue to improve through, you know, the adversity that goes on during a basketball season.
"It's a long road, and we're outmanned every night. These kids come to practice and they keep looking at me like they can do it: 'Coach, we can do it.' And they work hard every day. And I just appreciate it, and I'm happy for these kids. No other reason."
It was as if the difficulty of this particular game had symbolized for Perry the difficulty of the entire season. So the win seemed a type of oblique milestone.
The Vandals (7-13, 4-7) shot 12 percent in the first half. They owned 12 points at halftime. Later, much later, their 40-point total was discovered to be their lowest winning score since the 1958-59 season.
In Santa Barbara (12-8, 6-5), the Vandals found an opponent as stubborn on defense as they are. So this was a gummy 40-minute near-standoff, with Idaho finishing with 22-percent shooting and the Gauchos 29 percent.
The Vandals trailed 33-27 before Howell converted 8 of 8 free throws in the final 5:16 and Justin Logan drilled two important jumpers -- a 3-pointer from the corner at the 2:50 mark and an aggressive pull-up 13-footer at 1:15 to make it 38-35.
Nick Jones nailed two free throws for Santa Barbara with 58 seconds left, and Idaho committed a shot-clock violation to set up the Gauchos' critical last possession.
Holmes was facing the basket when Hull got the ball in the key, but the Idaho post turned around, raised his arm and caught a piece of the post's fadeaway jumper.
"It nipped the back of my hand, and Dave (Howell) grabbed it," Holmes said. "I got lucky on that one, because I was turned around. I was trying to get in rebound position."
Logan scored 14 points and Howell 13 as the Vandals captured their third win in five games -- but their first home victory since Jan. 10. It was duly savored by a crowd of 1,683 at the Kibbie Dome.
"Since we started winning, our crowd is getting a little bigger," Holmes said. "People are getting more into the game. At the beginning (of the season), it seemed like we didn't have any crowd. The new guys who weren't here last year, they thought it was just horrible."
Hull, the Gauchos' top scorer this season, shot 2-for-12 and mustered eight points. Nor did any of his teammates crack double figures.
"Idaho causes tremendous problems with their quickness on the front line," Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said. "Their (lack of) size is a detriment, but they use it as an advantage. They're quick getting around the post. They front you on the post at all times."
But learning this technique has been a long ordeal, to say nothing of the Vandals' offensive problems.
Knowing this, Holmes and Logan didn't seem the least bit surprised by their coach's display of emotion.
"He was right," Holmes said. "We practice so hard and we put so much time and effort into everything we do. And it just seems like we're undersized and pretty much undermanned. We have to try to do everything perfectly."
And this game was, if only because of the outcome, a type of perfection.
UC SANTA BARBARA (12-8, 6-5)
Jones 2-7 4-5 8, Atako 2-6 2-2 7, Hull 2-12 4-6 8, Fullove 1-5 3-4 6, Ndiaye 2-4 0-2 4, Skultety 2-2 0-0 4, Ward 0-1 0-0 0, Vukovich 0-1 0-0 0, Whitehead 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 11-38 13-19 37.
IDAHO (7-13, 4-7)
Turner 0-4 1-2 1, Logan 5-11 0-0 14, Jenkins 1-7 0-2 2, Hilaire 1-5 2-3 4, Gerschefske 0-3 0-0 0. Holmes 0-1 2-2 2, Fletcher 1-4 1-2 4, Howell 1-6 11-12 13. Totals 9-41 17-23 40.
Halftime-- UCSB 17, Idaho 12. 3-Point goals--UCSB 2-13 (Atako 1-3, Fullove 1-3, Ward 0-1, Jones 0-2, Hull 0-4), Idaho 5-19 (Logan 4-9, Fletcher 1-4, Turner 0-2, Jenkins 0-2, Gerschefske 0-2). Fouled out--none. Rebounds-- UCSB 29 (Hull 6), Idaho 35 (Logan, Howell 6). Assists--UCSB 7 (Atako, Fullove), Idaho 6 (Turner 2). Total fouls-- UCSB 22, Idaho 16. Technicals--Jones, Jenkins. A--1,683