Aggies prevail 62-53 over Vandals

Led by outstanding point guard MAC HOPSON (17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assests, 2 blocks, 2 steals), the Vandals gave Top 25 ranked Utah State all they could handle tonight in front of a boistrous Idaho home crowd in the Cowan Spectrum. But in the end the Aggies showed why they have a near-perfect 24-1 record and earned at least a share of the WAC regular season title Thursday night in Moscow.

COMMENTARY: In a lot of ways the game tonight in the Cowan Spectrum was like playing while looking in a mirror, or going against your teammates in a practice. Both the Idaho Vandals and the Utah State Aggies were mirror images of each other Thursday evening. The difference was the blue team shot well from the free-throw line and played error free basketball, while the guys in white made some costly mistakes at the most inopportune times.

According to Idaho coach Don Verlin the game came down to some mistakes blocking out and giving the Aggies too many trips to the free throw line (USU converted of 21 of 27 free throw attempts compared to 14 of 20 by the Vandals) and the nationally-ranked Aggies prevailed 62-53.

"You know, I thought our guys played as hard as they've played all year," Verlin said. "It's too bad it comes down to a couple of missed block outs, but that's basically what happened. I thought we had the game right how we needed to have it. I thought we played as hard as we could possibly play, and you saw the reason why Utah State is 17th in the country. They don't screw it up. They don't miss block outs and they make the free throws. When it was time to make a big shot tonight, they made it… The thing that probably frustrated me the most was the blockouts on the free throw line. Those were just inexcusable, and a lack of concentration…I think we can learn a lot from this game, because they're a very good team. They're well deserving of the ranking."

The similarity between the two teams was apparent to Vandal Mac Hopson from the time the teams took the floor for pregame warmups. Asked if he could tell that Verlin and USU coach Stew Morrill knew each other, the junior point guard said, "Oh yeah, yeah. You could tell that. You could just tell by the way we warm up and they warm up, you know? I mean, it's identical."

There was no bitterness from Hopson. "They (USU) do a good job. Coach Morrill, he's a great coach. Coach V (Don Verlin) is a great coach, too. I see where he got it from. You could tell that they're good friends. The run the same system and everything, but coach Morrill's got a little bit more experience. You can tell from that, but coach V is doing a great job with the Idaho Vandals. We're coming up. We're coming up. We're right there."

Hopson led the Vandals with 17 points and post Marvin Jefferson finished with 11. The game was close all the way but for one of the few times this year the Vandals did not go on one of their patented scoring runs. "We'd be down five," Hopson said. "We'd come back, hit a three, tie the game with two free throws or something similar to that, tie the game and they'd just go up by another five. I think that happened probably a couple of times at least. We were trying to get over that hump. We really couldn't get over that hump. They wouldn't let us get us over that hump. They'd knock down a three or something and that was pretty much it…They're a good team. We give all the credit to them. They're not ranked for no reason. That's for sure. I mean, they did what they had to do at the end of the game. We were in it, but they're the ranked team. It seemed like they've got more experience than us, and they're just a better team than us. Give a lot of credit to them."

The Vandals, now in the midst of a three-game losing streak, dropped to 4-6 in the WAC, 10-13 on the season and 8-3 at home. Utah State, coming in ranked #17 in one poll and #21 in another, improved to 12-0 in the WAC and wrapped up at least a tie for the conference title. They are now 24-1 on the season, with their only loss coming against BYU 68-63 in Salt Lake City on December 6th.


VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS:

Mac Hopson 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals. Luciano de Souza 11 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. Kashif Watson 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist. Marvin Jefferson 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block. Terrence Simmons 7 points, 2 assists, 1 steal. Brandon Wiley 3 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist. Trevor Morris 2 assists, 1 rebound. Drew Eisinger 1 steal.

TEAM STATISTICS:

FIELD GOALS: Idaho 16 of 44 for 36.4%;USU 20 of 17 of 42 for 40.5%
THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 7 of 17 for 41.2%; USU 7 of 16 for 43.8%
FREE THROWS: Idaho 14 of 20 for 70%; USU 21 of 27 for 77.8%
REBOUNDS: Idaho 9 offensive, 12 defensive for 21 total; USU 16 offensive, 24 defensive for 40 total
ASSISTS: Idaho 9, USU 11
TURNOVERS: Idaho 9, USU 13
BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 1, USU 4
STEALS: Idaho 5, USU 8
POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 12, USU 14
POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 11, USU 9
SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho 6, USU 20
FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 2, USU 2
BENCH POINTS: Idaho 11, USU 13
SCORE TIED : Six times
LEAD CHANGES: four
ATTENDANCE: 2,295
The Vandals will return to the Cowan Spectrum Saturday to face San Jose State at 7:05 p.m. and will host travel to take on BSU next Wednesday evening.


Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes
Q: One of the biggest differences in the game would have to be the second chance points.
DV: "No question."

Q: Was the game right there to you?
DV: "Yeah. You know, I thought our guys played as hard as they've played all year. It's too bad it comes down to a couple of missed block outs, but that's basically what happened. I thought we had the game right how we needed to have it. I thought we played as hard as we could possibly play, and you saw the reason why Utah State is 17th in the country. They don't screw it up. They don't miss block outs and they make the free throws. When it was time to make a big shot tonight, they made it. I thought we did a great job of doubling in the post and they did a great job of rotating coming out of the double teams and made the extra pass on a number of occasions. I think Stavon William's three in the corner was huge and (Gary) Wilkinson's three on the left wing was just daggers for us. It was just basically us rotating out of double teams. They're good (chuckling). Vandal fans should be happy that a team like that comes in here and thank God they're in our league, because they're good. They're really good and very well coached."

Q: Anything surprise you tonight?
DV: "No, not really. I thought we played it about as good as we could possibly play except for a couple of missed block outs at the end. I really did. I mean, I just thought they made big shots when they needed to make ‘em. We probably fouled ‘em too much. That's the reason why they're good. They lead conference in free-throw shooting. If you foul ‘em they make you pay. If you miss a block out they make you pay. If you slip up on a rotation they make you pay, and those are the things that end up costing us. No, nothing really surprised me. I thought we had the game perfect at halftime. We turned ‘em over nine; our goal was to turn ‘em over 20. In the second half you've gotta give credits to their guards. They did a great job handling our pressure. They did a great job when we went to our trapping half court defense. They did a great job of moving the ball and finding the shooters. You've got to give some credit to them. They're a very good passing team."

Q: One thing that stood out early in the game, before the first media time out you were like one for six and shooting 16%. Were you thinking when on earth are we going to score a basket?
DV: "Yeah. They did a good job and I thought we missed a couple of easy opportunities. They are just so solid. They don't make defensive errors. They always stay between their man and the basket. I know that sounds simple, but it's not that easy and they do a great job of that. I knew we'd get a run going once we got the game how we wanted to, but the start was a little…yeah, it was a little concerning, but I thought our guys battled all night. If we'll play that hard the rest of the year, some wins will come. I guarantee it. Another one of those guarantees (laughing)…"

Q: Coach, is a game like this a good barometer for you to show your team what they have to do and what they need to do, especially down the final five minutes?
DV: "Yeah. Yeah…but we've got to find a way to win some of those…I mean, we're down to the final five minutes in a lot of games this year – Nevada and Utah State here obviously and New Mexico State down there. Yeah. I think the thing that I talked to them a lot in the locker room after the game (about) was you need to learn something…these guys don't make mistakes. We need to show the mistakes we made, but we need to learn and not make those mistakes next game. That was really about it. The thing that probably frustrated me the most was the blockouts on the free throw line. Those were just inexcusable, and a lack of concentration. Yeah, I think so. I think we can learn a lot from this game, because they're a very good team. They're well deserving of the ranking. They're well deserving. I think they probably clinched the title tonight did they not ? (Utah State clinched a tie for the WAC title). They're a good team."

Marvin Jefferson & Mac Hopson, player post-game

Q: Marvin, left me start off asking you just a couple of questions. It looked like you guys were almost doing a really good job rebounding, like you were there and the ball was bouncing around off your hand, and everything seemed to be just out of reach. Is that an accurate account of what was going on underneath?
MJ: "Are you talking about me personally or the whole team?"

Q: Well, you were in there a lot; so I guess you personally but then kinda in general as well.
MJ: "It was a high energy game; so everybody was rushing, everybody was trying to scramble to get the ball, and it was as hard as it was to get to everybody's hands, and whoever happens to get it gets it."

Q: Did you ever kinda feel like it was just right there and nowhere to go?
MJ: "Yeah, especially in the first half. I missed a few of them just right off the tip of my hands. It was frustrating, but you've got to play through it."

Q: How physical was it underneath the basket tonight? More than usual?
MJ: "Um, in a WAC game it's always physical. I wouldn't say it was any more than any other game. I'd say if anything we were probably more physical under there than we usually are because we were at home and it was a big game."

Q: What did you guys talk about at the half?
MJ: "At the half, coach was basically saying that we were right where we wanted to be, and we just needed to grind it out and pull out the win."

Q: Mac, it was a pretty slow start for you guys tonight. It looked like you had your chances and were missing. Were people just tense in general or any ideas what was going on there?
MH: "I'm not sure. We just got off to a slow start, but I don't think it really hurt us because we were playing good pressure defense. I think that saved us a little. Yeah. We got off to a slow start. We couldn't hit shots, really. I mean, we hit some shots when it counted, some big baskets, but for the most part the ones that we usually knock down and the ones that we usually make weren't falling tonight. If they did fall, we probably would have won by a couple of points because we were playing some good defense. They're a good team. We give all the credit to them. They're not ranked for no reason. That's for sure. I mean, they did what they had to do at the end of the game. We were in it, but they're the ranked team. It seemed like they've got more experience than us, and they're just a better team than us. Give a lot of credit to them."

MJ: "That's right."

Q: Did you guys plan to go to your man-to-man defense a lot more tonight or did that just kinda happen as the game went on?
MH: "We pretty much go with what coach tells us to do, but for the most part, yeah, man-to-man was the plan. If we were gonna win, we were gonna win with our man D and not zone because they've got good shooters. They play against the same zone we play against every day in practice and everything. We didn't anticipate playing much zone."

Q: Mac, could you kinda tell from how the game went that the two coaches knew each other pretty well?
MH: "Oh yeah, yeah. You could tell that. You could just tell by the way we warm up and they warm up, you know? I mean, it's identical. There are some good…they do a good job. Coach Morrill, he's a great coach. Coach V (Don Verlin) is a great coach, too. I see where he got it from. You could tell that they're good friends. The run the same system and everything, but coach Morrill's got a little bit more experience. You can tell from that, but coach V is doing a great job with the Idaho Vandals. We're coming up. We're coming up. We're right there."

Q: Mac, you guys seem to be always hanging around, hanging around, but you never could quite get that bucket that you guys needed. Frustrating?

MH: "It wasn't really frustrating. It was kinda, but we didn't realize that it was frustration. We'd be down five. We'll come back, hit a three, tie the game with two free throws or something similar to that, tie the game and they'd just go up by another five. I think that happened probably a couple of times at least. We were trying to get over that hump. We really couldn't get over that hump. They wouldn't let us get us over that hump. They'd knock down a three or something and that was pretty much it."

MJ: "Hitting their shots."

MH: "Wide open threes, they knocked ‘em down when it counted."

Q: Marvin I think this is the second game in a row that you stayed out of foul trouble which I know is nice. I know you've been working on it. Why is that? Are you doing something different?

MJ: " Um, basically doing to be more solid on defense, not go for every block, and just stay down and move my feet more instead of jumping. Pretty much I'm just trying to do what the coaches are telling me to do and just stay in the game."



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