Vandals beat Spartans, set sights on Boise

Junior forward LUCIANO DESOUZA sparked Idaho's first half effort against San Jose State, and the Vandals pulled away in the second for the 74-66 victory. DeSouza finished with 15 points, scoring 13 in the first half alone. After intermission, it was the Mac Hopson show (20 points, five rebounds). Idaho (11-13, 5-6 WAC) sits in fifth in the WAC, and hits the road to play Boise State Wednesday.

COMMENTARY: Visiting San Jose State seemed to be gaining control with a 7-point lead late in the first half at the Cowan Spectrum last night. The host Vandals were struggling a bit, dealing with the Spartans' zone defense and their attempts to slow down the tempo and keep the Vandals out of their favored transition game.

Then, with 3:45 remaining in the half, the Vandals struck. Mac Hopson grabbed a rebound following a missed Spartan 3-pointer and took off down the floor. He hit Trevor Morris on the right wing with a pinpoint pass and the senior drained a 3-pointer to slice the lead to 4. About 2 minutes later, after a missed SJSU layup, Morris grabbed the rebound and fired the outlet pass to Hopson who fed Luciano DeSouza with another perfect pass for a layup to cut the deficit to two. Only 24 seconds later DeSouza was fouled and sank both charity tosses to tie the game.

The game stayed knotted at 28 until, with 44 seconds left, DeSouza grabbed an offensive rebound, scored on the putback, drew the foul, and made the free throw to give the Vandals a 3-point halftime lead. DeSouza also was 2-for-2 from beyond the arc and finished the half with 13 points.

After halftime, the Vandals came out and played as frenetic a 4 minutes of basketball as they have played all season in an attempt to dictate the tempo of the game and ignite their favored transition attack. The spurt saw both teams flying up and down the floor attempting wild three-pointers, lob passes for slam dunk attempts, and shots everywhere. The strategy worked and ignited some Vandal lightning. Hopson, who struggled from the floor (1 for 7 on field goal attempts in the first half), found his range and took control of the game and wound up sinking 6 of 7 from the field (including 3 of 4 3-point shots) in the second half as the Vandals steadily pulled away, leading by as many as 17 before settling for a 74-66 victory.

After the game Vandal coach Don Verlin praised DeSouza for stepping up in the first half. "I thought it was the key to the first half, him making some threes and making some wide-open shots against that zone when we were down seven. He stepped up and made some huge threes and kinda got us back in that game in that first half. We need Luci to score the ball - Luciano DeSouza. We need him to score the ball, and those 15 points tonight were huge."

Verlin used one word to describe Hopson's second half performance: "Unbelievable." Verlin added, "It showed what the leader and your best player does. What was he, 1-for-7 at the half and then 6-for-7 in the second half? Made some huge threes. We got him some good looks. Some guys set some good screens. He stepped up."

Both teams were fairly even statistically. The largest discrepancy came in the rebounding department where the Spartans held a 35-28 edge, which was not unexpected as they lead the WAC in rebounding margin. The Vandals compensated by outscoring them 19-9 off turnovers and holding a surprising 12-11 edge in second chance points.

The win boosts the Vandals to 5-6 in the WAC and 11 of 13 overall. The Spartans are 10-13 and 4-8 in WAC play. The Vandals are now solidly in fifth place in the middle of the WAC standings. They will travel Wednesday to take on rival BSU in Boise in a mid-week matchup. Next Saturday they take a break from WAC action to host Cal State Northridge of the Big West Conference in the ESPN Bracket Buster series. Tipoff will be 7:05 p.m.

Mac Hopson 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals. Kashif Watson 16 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal. Luciano de Souza 15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals. Marvin Jefferson 8 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, 1 steal. Trevor Morris 8 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound. Brandon Wiley 4 points, 5 rebounds. Luis Augusto 1 rebound.

• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 27 of 57for 47.4%; SJSU 24 of 51 for 47.1%
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 8 of 19 for 42.1%, SJSU 6 of 20 for 30%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 12 of 17 for 70.6%; SJSU 11 of 15 for 80%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 13 offensive, 15 defensive for 28 total; SJSU 14 offensive, 21 defensive for 35 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 17, SJSU 15
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 9, SJSU 17
• STEALS: Idaho 6, SJSU 3
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 23, SJSU 20
• SCORE TIED : Six times
• LARGEST LEAD: Idaho by 16, 3:50 of 2nd; SJSU by 7, 4:46 of 1st
The Vandals will hit the road this week to face Boise State at 6:05 p.m. (PST) Wednesday night in Boise, then will host Cal State Northridge next Saturday in the Cowan Spectrum in a Bracket Buster matchup.

Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes

Q: DeSouza really seemed to give you guys a spark especially late in the first half.
DV: "I thought it was the key to the first half, him making some threes and making some wide-open shots against that zone when I think we were down four or six, seven. He stepped up and made some huge threes and kinda got us back in that game in that first half. We need Lucy to score the ball. Luciano de Souza. We need him to score the ball, and those 15 points tonight were huge."

Q: He seems to be kind of a 3-point specialist, but during that stretch he was being more aggressive, doing stuff in transition…is he becoming more of a complete player?
DV: "Yeah. No question. We've been on him a lot about that. He needs to score in different ways, and one of them is at the free-throw line. He's a very good shooter, and we need to get him more free-throw attempts, but I thought he did a great job in all areas. I thought he played good defense tonight. He worked like crazy to rebound the ball. It doesn't show in the rebounding stats, but I thought he worked really hard defensively all the way around and it was great to have him make some shots in the first half because he kinda saved us there in the first half."

Q: What was going on that kinda slowed you down in the first half?
DV: "They were just playing that little soft press in front of their zone. They were trying to cut the game in half and limit the possessions. That's what they did, and until we kinda got rolling a little bit making some threes and hitting our open shots it was gonna be kind of a grind it out game. It ends up we score 74 and that was our highest point total in about six games I think. We were definitely happy to get our strokes back tonight."

Q: What did you guys talk about at halftime to kinda get that turnaround going?
DV: It was more just the normal stuff. Talked a lot defensively about guarding their post. I thought they really hurt us inside early. You know, you look at the stats at the end of the game and I thought we did a great job in the second half on (C.J.) Webster and (Chris) Oaks and some of those guys with our double teams and our stats are pretty good, but I think we got ‘em to turn it over coming out of double teams and a few of those things, but that was mainly it. It was mainly about defending them. Offensively we wanted to get into the transition game a little bit more and we got a few easy opportunities in the second half that helped us, but nothing really different than what we started with the game plan tonight."

GAYLEN WOOD: Can you talk a little bit about the start of the second half? Up until the first timeout it looked it was street ball. DV: "Yeah." GAYLEN WOOD: People were flying up and down the floor, slam dunk attempts, and threes.
DV: "Yeah. We wanted it to go fast because as Sandra said we thought it was way too slow; so we were gonna emphasize…we trapped them a few times early. We thought we needed to get it going up and down. The reason for that is even though they played at home on Thursday it's like Saturday night on the road for them and they were down a couple key bodies; so I thought the faster, the more pressure we could keep on ‘em they might wear out down the stretch. I'm not sure if they did that or not, but that was one of our emphases at halftime – we've got to keep the pressure on. We've got to get moving. We score about 65% in transition; so the more we can get out in transition the better off we are."

Q: It seemed like you handled the pressure pretty well. You only turned the ball over 9 times compared to their 17.
DV: "I thought we did a great job getting them to turn it over. I thought we did a good job taking care of it. I thought we had a few careless turnovers late, but you look at our stats, 17 (assists) to 9 (turnovers), that's a pretty good stat line. That's probably the thing I was most happy with: 17 assists, 9 turnovers. I thought the last few games we haven't shared the ball enough and I thought tonight we did a great job of that, of hitting the open guy and making the extra pass and some of those things. We had some wide-open looks tonight that we didn't knock down, but I thought that was the key. This basketball team, and I've said this all year long, we've got to share the ball. We've got to pass that ball. I thought we did a good job of that tonight."

Q: Hopson in the second half…
DV: "Unbelievable. It showed what the leader and your best player does. What was he, 1-for-7 at the half and then 6-for-7 in the second half? Made some huge threes. We got him some good looks. Some guys set some good screens. He stepped up."

LARRY JOHNSON: Did you say anything to Hopson at halftime…?
DV: "Not a word. I don't say a lot to Mac. He played hard in the first half. He always plays hard. There's no one trying to make shots more than Mac Hopson. Some nights…I thought he had good looks in the first half. I thought maybe he forced one of ‘em, but I thought he had wide-open looks. I didn't say anything to him. (chuckling) I wish I could tell you I did. Probably should have. Can I say I did? I didn't"

SJSU Head Coach George Nessman, post-game quotes

GN game summary: "I think that the primary story to the game from our view is that Idaho just played a little better than we did. They took advantage of a few of our turnovers there at the end of the first half when I thought we had a little bit of control of the game and tempo and kinda fed ‘em some points. Then Hopson turned it up in the second half and made some big shots and they got a working margin on us and were able to hold it."

Q: You guys seemed to be the more aggressive team early in the game and got some easy looks in the paint, then de Souza started going for them and they kinda made a surge right at the end of the first half.
GN: "Yeah. You know, I'm always hesitant to say exactly what happened until I watch the film on the turnovers. I know we turned it over three or four times and you can't do that. I think coming into the four-minute media time out we had four or five turnovers which is pretty good, and I think we had three or four just the last couple of minutes and I think that directly led to some of their baskets and it seemed to me to give them a lift going into the half. It's hard. You can't do that on the road. One of the key points to winning on the road is valuing the ball, and I don't think we did a good enough job of that."

Q: One of the things that stood out to me that I really liked about your team was it seemed that they really fought for rebounds down low and did a great job on the glass. Is that a strength of yours?
GN: "We're first in the WAC in rebounding margin; so I think generally it is, yeah. We have some powerful guys and we put a big effort into rebounding. I don't know if we took advantage of enough of our offensive rebounds tonight. I don't think we got enough of those back in the basket. You've gotta get ‘em back in, and we didn't get ‘em all back in. We talk to the guys about that a lot, that point A is getting the rebound and point B is putting it back in or getting it back out of there and I think we made some bad shot decisions after we got offensive rebounds around the goal."

Q: Overall when you look at the first half and the second half, what was kinda key there in the second half when things got away a little bit for you?
GN: "I thought it was Hopson's play. I mean, what did he have, three points at the half? Finished with 20? He had a pretty big second half, and, you know, he made some shots. Gosh. When a guy knocks down long jump shots and is doing it with confidence, that often leads to a team putting a little bit of a run together and I think that's exactly what happened."

MAC HOPSON and KASHIF WATSON, post-game quotes

Q: Mac, you guys seemed to have a little more energy late in the first half then into the second half.
MH: "We were probably hitting shots and that got us going a little bit. Lucy (Luciano DeSouza) hitting shots, that always makes us better, and Marvin (Jefferson) playing hard and B (Brandon) Wiley playing hard. So the energy was up there tonight because everybody was playing hard."

Q: What the difference in your eyes from the first half to the second half? What broke things open for you?
MH: "Being more aggressive overall, everybody. Coach told us ‘These are their strengths. This is the way we can score. We've just got to be solid on defense.' That's what they said. As long as we're solid on defense we're going to score our ball a little bit, as much as we need to to win. Our main thing is just playing defense."

Q: Mac, your three previous home games were against the three best teams in the league, kinda tense games.
MH: "Yeah."

Q: Did this kinda feel different today?
MH: "Uh, nah. It didn't really feel different. It's just like playing another team in our conference because we hadn't played ‘em yet. It was kind weird playing against another team we haven't played against yet because it's so late in the conference games. It was kinda weird but not really. We just wanted to go out there and play hard no matter who was there or who we were playing against."

Q: It looked like you were better able to play your game tonight.
MH: Yeah. They tried to go zone; so that kinda took the ball out of my hands I felt like; so Luciano was making shots on his own. If they go zone we've got good shooters. T-Mo (Trevor Morris) was hitting his shots, Terrence (Simmons) made one, Shif (Kashif Watson) going hard to the basket. I think it's hard to guard us in a zone, but that's what they went to and everybody contributed on our team while they went to zone."

Q: Shif, you took the ball to the hole pretty hard in the second half. Tell us a little bit about that. Was that an adjustment made at halftime?
MH: "No. Before the game coach was telling me I needed to attack more, be more aggressive. The last couple of games I was attacking but also settling for jumpers; so he told me to be myself and do what I do best and go to the basket, because they were kinda weak inside."

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