"Disappointed in losses, not in effort"

After dropping a 78-71 decision to 5-1 Idaho State Wednesday night, Vandal Head Coach Leonard Perry was asked how far away he felt his young squad was from putting together a complete game offensively and defensively. "From a mental toughness standpoint, we're not there," Perry said. "We're just not quite there. We're going to continue to put our kids in tough situations in practice and see if we can get there."

Saturday night it appeared the Vandals were on the verge of a breakthrough performance, overcoming an icy cold shooting performance in the first half (29% from the floor leading to a 29-23 halftime deficit) to come oh-so-close to the Portland State Vikings, only to drop a 61-59 decision before the most vocal home crowd of the season.

Perry liked what he saw. "You are sorely mistaken if you think that I am disappointed in this team's effort," he told the media Saturday. "I thought the kids battled. We shoot 29% in the first half, and we come in down at the half…We're losing the rebound war at the half by one. Then we come out in the second half and take this thing down to the wire and give ourselves an opportunity to win despite struggling offensively a bit. I think we're making huge progress," he continued. "I've never been more sure of having the right kids in the program. We are young…I'm really, really encouraged."

Wednesday, Perry, an advocate of tenacious defense, saw the Vandals falter defensively in the final 23 minutes. "We didn't execute defensively in terms of getting the stops we needed to get in the second half. As a matter of fact, with maybe 2-1/2 or 3 minutes left in the first half is when it began," he said. "We broke down defensively and it cost us. We broke down with fouls, we were beaten on penetration, we didn't contest shots, and we gave up second shots."

"It wasn't a lack of effort. This was just execution. We gave up second shots. We were late to shooters, and they made some shots. On the other end of the floor we stopped running our offense, and I'm not sure why. We fragmented from the sets that we're good at running…When we fragmented from that and…settled for (shooting) 3's, that's when we're not very good. I think when we called the sets and when we ran them, they were there. When we fragmented from it, we never got a chance to look at it; so I think all of that plays into this scoring drought."

Saturday night the Vandals held a 36-32 scoring advantage in the second half and tied the taller Vikings at 37 rebounds apiece led by 6-5 true freshman David DuBois with 12, but Portland State's edge at the free throw line (17 of 27 compared to 12 of 16 for the Vandals) proved to be the difference.

"That's the way the ball swings sometimes," senior guard Tanoris Shepard said after the tough loss to Portland. "Unfortunately it just didn't happen to swing our way tonight, but like coach said I thought we competed extremely hard."

The Vandals have an opportunity to avenge the loss December 30 when they travel to Portland for a return game against the Vikings. Shepard was asked if he felt his team knew how to win the rematch. "Absolutely," he said. "I think we had it this time. I just don't think we completely executed for 40 minutes…I think we've got the game plan in place to get it done. By that time of the season we'll be a lot better than we are now; so I think we'll go over there and do what we need to do."

"We made some miniscule mistakes in the last two games that were the difference between winning and losing," Perry added. "When you have a team this young, that's going to happen, but we're closing the gap. We get another chance at [Portland State], and we're looking forward to it. We're disappointed in the loss; I'm not disappointed in the effort. I'm not disappointed in those kids in that locker room. I'm not happy being 1-6, but I believe in these kids. I think what they're doing on the floor, in the community, and in the classroom – that's what we want here at the University of Idaho. Obviously we have to make a few more layups. There's no question about that," he concluded, "but I was proud of our effort."

The Vandals will be idle this week for final exams. Their next game will be Saturday December 17 at home against Eastern Oregon.




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