Vandals snap losing streak, beat SUU

With senior guard Tanoris Shepard leading the charge Saturday afternoon, Idaho (1-4) snapped a 4-game losing streak and beat the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (1-6) by a final score of 75-60 at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow. Inside is a look back at this past week's games.

MOSCOW – Putting together their best 40 minutes of basketball since the middle portion of the 2004-05 season, the Idaho Vandals handed Southern Utah University a 75-60 defeat in the Cowan Spectrum Saturday afternoon avenging last year's 82-53 win by the Thunderbirds last year in Cedar City.

The Vandals opened the game against the taller Thunderbirds with a lineup featuring essentially 3 guards (5-11 senior Tanoris Shepard, 5-10 junior Keoni Watson, and 6-3 Brett Ledbetter) with 6-5 true freshman David Dubois and 6-8 junior Igor Vrzina at the posts. SUU led for the first 12 minutes of action but the Vandals concentrated on movement and passing offensively until Shepard canned a 3-pointer to tie the game at 20-20 with 8:18 left in the half. Then 22 seconds later Watson cashed in a steal with a coast-to-coast layup to put the Vandals on top 22-20, and the Thunderbirds never again held a lead in the game.

A major factor in the victory was the ability of the Vandals to work in the paint at both ends of the floor against their taller opponents. In the first half the Vandals held a 19-11 rebounding edge (including 8 offensive boards) paced by Vrzina who had 3 rebounds at each end of the floor. At the end of the game the Vandals held a 32-20 rebounding edge including 14 offensive rebounds. Vrzina led the way with 8 rebounds followed by Dubois with 6 and sophomore Mike Kale with 5. Vrzina, Kale, and junior Desmond Nwoke all worked well under the basket for the Vandals contesting shot attempts defensively and working for short-range jump shots and hook shots from set offensive plays as well as keeping the ball in play offensively after missed shots.

Idaho shot well on the perimeter hitting 52% from the floor (53% from 3-point range). SUU also shot well throughout the game and, in fact, shot 60% from the floor in the second half. But with Idaho controlling the boards and playing tight defense, the Vandals were able to pull away to lead by as many as 19 points.

"We defended very well and made it difficult for them to get shots," coach Leonard Perry said. "We beat a good basketball team today, in my opinion." The coach said extra emphasis on the rebounding game in a practice after Wednesday's loss to Eastern Washington paid dividends. "A lot of teams probably would have, after the Eastern game, taken the next day off because we've had a long stretch of games and had been on the road, but we practiced that Thursday, and that was the one thing we worked on, blocking out and rebounding the basketball, 4 on 4 shell," Perry said. "We're going to do it again on Monday. We're going to try our best not to regress on what we did on the glass because I think it's a huge part of the basketball game."

Perry also reiterated his confidence in the Vandals' ability to score from the outside. "I think we have some guys who can shoot the basketball from the perimeter. I really believe that," he said. "We've gone to some extremely difficult places and tried to get that in the game and we weren't successful. All of that wasn't due to having a team of bad shooters. It was because of who we were playing and where we were playing them. The Eastern game we missed some, but I think those are shots we can make at home…so I think we have the personnel to shoot it from 3. If I didn't we'd get away from it."

The Vandals had excellent scoring balance in the win led by Shepard with 14, Ledbetter with 13, and Dubois with 12 followed by Watson with 9 points (and 6 assists), Kale and Vrzina with 8 each, Matt Forge with 6 (2 of 2 from 3-point range), and Nwoke with 5.

EWU 68, Vandals 55

In Wednesday's action, the Vandals followed what has become a pattern in their first two games of the season by falling behind in the early going. Unlike their games against Washington and Washington State, however, the Vandals were able to fight their way back into contention coming back from a 13-point deficit less than 8 minutes into the game to pull to within 3 at the half and take the lead 2-1/2 minutes into the second half. The Eagles, however, regained momentum and rode a 34-20 rebounding edge and 49% and 90% shooting performances from the floor and free-throw line to the win.

Idaho again had a balanced scoring effort with Watson the leading scorer with 12 points and Shepard, Vrzina, and Ledbetter with 10 each. Dubois added 7, Forge 3, Nwoke 2, and Kale 1.

Two Home Games This Week

The Vandals will continue their extended homestand this week with games against Idaho State Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. and Portland State Saturday at 8:05 p.m. (the later start because of winter graduation ceremonies taking place Saturday morning in the Kibbie Dome.

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