Vandals bury Texas Southern 67-46, eye WSU

Idaho will not bask in today's win, instead opting to prep for Sunday's home date with WSU at the Cowan Spectrum. Coach Verlin: "We're gonna come back at 9 o'clock tonight and we're gonna walk through...we're gonna prep tomorrow just like it would be the second night in the WAC tournament. Hopefully we can have a good outcome." Inside, quotes from Coach Verlin, Kashif Watson, and Mac Hopson.

COMMENTARY: Once again balanced scoring (three players in double figures), withering defense (holding Texas Southern to 39% from the floor, forcing 24 turnovers while notching 13 steals), and a blistering transition game was the formula for success as the Vandals defeated Texas Southern 67-46 before 613 fans in the Cowan Spectrum this afternoon. The Vandals improved to 6-5 on the season, their best start since the 1997-98 team started the season 7-4. They are now 5-0 at home for the first time since the 97-98 Vandals won their first seven home games.
• Texas Southern is now 0-11 on the season. The Tigers have played all 11 games on the road and some of their opponents read like a "Who's Who" of NCAA Division I post-season basketball: Texas El-Paso, Cincinnatti, Marquette, Arkansas, Washington, Texas and Gonzaga were among the Tigers' non-conference opponents. They will be at the Air Force Academy Monday before finally hosting a game against Portland State Dec. 27.

• At intermission Idaho had only two fast break points but held a 30-21 lead. TSU scored first to open play in the second half and cut the margin to 30-23 and immediately threw up a full-court trapping zone press. The Vandals broke it but missed the layup. The Tigers continued to press off turnovers or scores and the Vandals continued to shatter the press scoring six points on two layups off the press break, and for good measure added a thundering slam by Brandon Wiley off a perfect alley-oop pass from Kashif Watson who started the whole thing with a steal at the other end of the floor. The press went away for the most part and the Tigers played a more deliberate half court game the rest of the afternoon.

• The Vandals had three players in double figures while seven of nine players seeing action scored. Watson led all scorers with 18 points, 5 assists, four rebounds and two steals in 31 minutes of action. Mac Hopson checked out with 13 points, eight assists, six rebounds, and two steals in 34 minutes. Marvin Jefferson had 12 points, three rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal playing 28 minutes. Brandon Wiley had eight points, five rebounds, three steals, an assist and a blocked shot (28 minutes). Luciano de Souza had six points off the bench hitting two of four three-point shots to go with a game-high four steals and a rebound. Trevor Morris had five points off the bench, three rebounds, a block and a steal. Terrence Simmons had five points, three rebounds, and an assist in 22 minutes.

• Team-wise Idaho shot 55% from the floor (24 of 44) and 50% from three-point range (8 of 16) compared to 39% and 41% for Texas Southern. On the other hand the Vandals suffered a cold day at the free-throw line sinking 11 of 20 for 55%. The Tigers shot 83% of their free throws but had only six attempts as the Vandals were called for only ten fouls. The visitors had 20 fouls. It was not one of the Vandals better turnover games (17), but the Tigers turned the ball over 24 times. The Vandals outrebounded TSU 28-27.

• Miscellaneous stats: Idaho outscored TSU 26-18 in the paint, 23-11 in points off turnovers and 8-0 in fast break points. The Tigers held the advantage in second chance points (11-10) and bench points (17-11). TSU's largest lead was six points early in the first half, while the Vandals were up by 21 with 2:02 remaining in the game as well as at the final buzzer.

• Neither Brandon Brown nor Luis Augusto suited up for the Vandals due to injuries.

• During his post-game media interviews coach Don Verlin talked briefly about scheduling back-to-back ball games: "I told the team all along this is like the WAC tournament," Verlin said. "This is a prep time for the WAC tournament. We played today. We're gonna come back at 9 o'clock tonight and we're gonna walk through. We're gonna do some things, and we're gonna get up and we're gonna prep tomorrow just like it would be the second night in the WAC tournament. Hopefully we can have a good outcome."
The Vandals will host Washington State Sunday at 5:05 p.m. in the Cowan Spectrum in their final non-conference home game. Idaho visits Idaho State Dec. 29 and will open WAC conference action Jan. 3 at Nevada.

Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes

Q: We noticed you went into a zone.
DV: "We played a zone tonight after every free throw. We played a little soft press into a zone. We thought with them shooting 28% from three that was just kind of a smart way to go and slow the game down. It really helped us in the second half. I thought they got real deliberate. I thought one of the ways they could beat us was to get the game going fast; so believe it or not we tried to slow it down a little bit which we don't normally want to do, but we did try to slow it down a little bit and kinda make it more of an execution game, and I thought we did that tonight."

Q: I thought your kids handled pressure pretty well. (Texas Southern) did a lot of double teaming, and they were very active with their feet and hands.
DV: "Yeah. I thought we turned it over too much in the first half with nine. I thought we were a little sloppy. I didn't think we attacked the press very well, but in the second half I thought we did a lot better job with those and we got the ball out of the double teams. We were able to attack the press; so I thought we did a good job there. The assist-to-turnover ratio (16 assists, 17 turnovers) isn't what I want, but the outcome obviously was good. If you get them to turn it over 24 times and you hold ‘em to 39% you're gonna win a lot of your ball games; so that was good."

Q: Kashif (Watson) and Mac (Hopson) getting out in transition -- that's kinda what you want to see isn't it?
DV: "Absolutely. Absolutely. When we can get those guys running they're both athletic. They're both very good in the open floor. Shif's really good in the open floor and so is Mac. That's kinda the strength of our team – to get out and run up and down the open floor."

Q: Would you have predicted back in March you'd be able to run that well?
DV: "Well, you know, I didn't have all these guys in March; so maybe when I got the whole team established, yeah, I thought we could run. I think we're pretty athletic - even as the league goes - with Marvin Jefferson inside and Kashif Watson and Mac Hopson and Brandon Wiley. I think we're pretty athletic; so I think we've got to get the games going a little faster. We've definitely got to get tomorrow's game (against Washington State) going faster. We don't need it to be a 30- or 40-point ball game. We need it to be a 70- or 80-point ball game. I think Tony (Bennett, WSU coach) knows that, and I think our players know that; so hopefully we can get it going a little faster than normal."

Q: Could you just kinda sum up the game?
DV: "It was kind of an interesting game because it was kinda slow moving, but I thought we did a good job defensively. I thought that was the key to the game. Getting them to turn it over 24 times and them only shooting 39% I thought was the key to the basketball game. I thought we did a great job in transition defense. They didn't get many opportunities at all in transition; so that was really the key to the game. We shot the ball pretty well. We executed our offense, and we got some open looks and we knocked them down. Any time you shoot 54% from two and 50% from three you're gonna win a lot of your ball games, and I thought we did a good job shooting the ball. Like I told Sandra earlier I was disappointed with our free-throw shooting (55%). That's gotta be better. That can't be a weakness of ours. It needs to be strength of ours; so we'll shoot a few free throws tonight before we go to bed.

"I told the team all along this is like the WAC tournament. This is a prep time for the WAC tournament. We played today. We're gonna come back at 9 o'clock tonight and we're gonna walk through. We're gonna do some things, and we're gonna get up and we're gonna prep tomorrow just like it would be the second night in the WAC tournament. Hopefully we can have a good outcome."

Starting Guard Kashif Watson, post-game quotes

Q: What did you think overall about the game, Kashif?
KW: "I think we came out with a lot of intensity the first couple minutes, ten minutes, and really slowed them down and made them play our game. We knew they just came off a big loss to Gonzaga; so coach told us to get up and down with them. Their legs will tire out; so that's what we did. We went in there and played hard, made them play our game, made them execute and we got easy baskets."

Q: Getting out in transition had to feel good.
KW: "That's what we're best at. We're best at getting up and down the court. That's what we do. We get the ball off the go and we get it to our point guard and we start going. It's hard to stop us in transition. Our point guard, Mac (Hopson) he gets the ball, he's down there, he's getting into the lane, opening shots up for everybody from the wing and we get it to our big men. They finish every time; so it was getting out in transition…kinda made ‘em play on their heels."

Q: Did you have a sense that you guys could be this athletic and do these kinds of things? You knew Mac was gonna be here when you transferred from a jaycee. Was this kinda the thing you envisioned here?
KW: "Coach Verlin did a good job recruiting everybody and getting everybody here. When I was on my visit he told me it was going to be an athletic team. We're gonna get up and down, but we're also gonna run some sets. Right now our strength is getting up and down. That's what we do best. Coach tries to emphasize that in practice a lot. When we get stops we've got to go. We've got to push it. We get easy baskets every time."

Q: Did you know much about the University of Idaho before you got recruited?
KW: "Yeah. One of my friends was up here. He was from Vegas – Harvey Perry. He came up here. He told me about it. He told me it was a good place, it was a good college town; so I went off of what he said and I came up here and took a visit. I had fun. It was good. We've got a good coaching staff and a good core of players. The next two years we're gonna make a lot of noise."

Q: Is the general idea to just kinda forget about the recent past here?
KW: "Oh yeah. That's what it is. We can't worry about the past. That happened. All we can worry about is what we're doing right now. Right now we want to get wins and go as far as we can."

GAYLEN WOOD: Can you talk about the improvement you've seen in this program and this team just from the first couple of ball games in the season to where you're at now and how much farther you think you can go?
KW: "I saw improvement as soon as I stepped foot in Idaho. We knew what was going to go on. All we have to do is just follow behind coach Verlin and listen to what he tells us because he's a good teacher. He tells us exactly what we need to know. All we've got to do is go out there and execute. Games are coming. It's gonna be the same thing. Coach Verlin lays it out there for us. We have a good game plan. We just go out there, and if we execute what he tells us to do it'll be more wins down the road."

GAYLEN WOOD: How about what coach (Ray) Lopes brings to the program? How do you like working with him?
KW: "Oh, his defensive intensity is crazy. That's what gets us going on the transition right there. Coach Lopes' defense. He teaches every day in practice to stay solid, stay in front, and just play hard. If we play hard and make mistakes he won't be mad, but it'll come out to some good."

Starting Point Guard Mac Hopson, post-game quotes

Q: You guys really, especially in the second half, just kinda took it to ‘em. Are you starting to get into your offense?
MH: "We're getting better overall. It just took some time. Overall we're getting better though."

Q: You connected with Kashif there quite a few times. Are you guys kinda developing a little bond there?
MH: "Oh, yeah. We've got a bond. Me and Shif, we play hard. We want everybody to play hard, but me and Shif, we're out there. We're the starters. The other players kinda look up to us for leadership and stuff; so we just try to go hard every time we're on the court."

GAYLEN WOOD: Were you kinda surprised they stayed in that full-court press as long as they did when you guys were blowing it up there for a while?
NH: "Nah, not really. I was kinda thinking like, ‘What else are they gonna do?' The press wasn't really that good to be honest. It was cool…coach has got it set up. We've got a good press break. That's why it's so effective, our press break. Overall I think they (Texas Southern) should be better than what their record shows. I think they're a good team. They just need some leadership."

Q: Mac, you're somewhat familiar with the recent history here at this school.
MH: "Yes sir."

Q: I wonder if you could compare the athleticism on this team…
MH: "Compared to last year?"

Q: The last few years, whatever you're familiar with.
MH: "I think coach Verlin did a good job getting people here. This year I think it was supposed to be like, just like a setup year, like the next couple of years we're supposed to be good or whatever, but I think this year we've got a chance to do some things. Last year and the year before we got some guys being selfish here, worrying about themselves and not worrying about winning, not about the team and stuff. We've got athleticism and everything else. We need to clean up some things - rebounding and defense and things like - that but overall we're getting better."

Q: It's been a while since we've seen transition like that.
MH: "Oh, yeah. That's our favorite thing to do. Transition. I mean, we try to get out, threes, layups, anything. Dunks from Marvin (Jefferson). Anything like that."

Q: What are your thoughts going into playing your old team tomorrow?
MH: "Tomorrow's a big day. What I've been thinking like is, we played Eastern Washington and we played Gonzaga, and this is the last time we're gonna play a team from around (this area); so we've got a chance to redeem ourselves kinda because we lost to Eastern and we lost to Gonzaga. Now I think we're a better team and stuff; so I think we're gonna come in here and try to get one. They're a good team, though. Well coached. Everything."

Q: What about personally?
MH: "Personally I want to win, but I'm not gonna put any pressure on myself. I'm just gonna go out there and try to do whatever my teammates need me to do to win. That's basically it. As long as we win and I've got 0-0-0 across the board I don't really care. That just shows it was an even better decision on my part for us to win. It's gonna be fun tomorrow."

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