Idaho Wins ESPNU BracketBuster Game

Saturday night Idaho's two starting point guards KASHIF WATSON and Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 17 points each, guiding Idaho to a 78-75 victory over Cal State Northridge in an ESPNU BracketBuster matchup in the Cowan Spectrum. With the win Idaho improves to 13-13 on the season (6-6 WAC) and maintains their No. 5 position in Western Athletic Conference standings.

COMMENTARY: A 9-0 Idaho run ending with a steal by Brandon Wiley and a Mac Hopson layup broke open a tight ball game, giving the Vandals a 53-42 lead with 12:38 remaining in Saturday's night ESPNU BracketBuster game against Big West Conference member Cal State Northridge in the Cowan Spectrum. The Matadors scrapped back but Idaho pulled away again to lead 69-58 on a Trevor Morris 3-pointer with 4:15 remaining.

With the late lead the Vandals began to relax a little. Big mistake. The Matadors continued to play tight aggressive defense, started to hit from the outside, and then surprised the Vandals by unleashing a full-court press that led to four Idaho turnovers. Throw in a technical foul on the Vandals coupled with 7-of-14 shooting from the free throw line and the Matadors had cut the margin to 76-75 with 15.9 seconds remaining. Remarkably, Northridge hit 7-of-8 free throws and two timely 3-pointers during the stretch.

With 2,202 Vandal fans getting very nervous, Luciano DeSouza was fouled with 15.6 remaining and sank both free throws to put the Vandal lead back up to three points. Idaho survived two missed field goal tries by the Matadors, and two of their own missed free throws, to escape with the 78-75 victory.

The Vandals shot an eye-popping 76.5% from the floor (13 of 17) in the second half to wind up with a sizzling 68.4% average from the floor (including 6 of 12 from behind the three point stripe). But after the game Vandal Coach Don Verlin took full responsibility for his team's difficulties handling the Matador pressure late in the game, particularly the full-court press.

"I was actually scolding myself, to be honest with you," Verlin said. "I haven't done enough work in practice on those kinds of situations. We haven't been pressed a lot in the WAC. I haven't worked enough full-court press breaker and stuff with these guys. Us losing that 11-point lead, it's my fault. It's not the kids' fault. I didn't have ‘em prepared for that situation."

The Vandals took two time-outs down the stretch to try to maintain the lead. Asked what he talked about, Verlin said, "What we tried to do is execute the stuff we had. We need to get it into our best free throw shooters, and we did that. I think down the stretch there Lucy (Luciano DeSouza) made a couple, but a couple of our better guys go 1-for-2. Mainly just trying to execute what we call our regular press breaker and our flyer press breaker at the end. We just didn't do a good enough job with those things. I haven't taught those things as well, obviously, by the way we executed down the stretch."

The technical was assessed against Kashif Watson who finished a fast break with a slam dunk and was called for hanging on the rim. Both Watson and Verlin claimed there was a player under Watson after the dunk, but the call stood and Watson left the game with five fouls.

"It was a grind it out game," Vandal post Marvin Jefferson (13 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots) said after the game. "We kinda lost it at the end. We relaxed a little bit. It was one of those wins where you take the ‘W' no matter how it ended up."

Having escaped with the win, their third straight, Verlin was asked his thoughts on playing a non-conference game so close to the end of the season. He responded positively. "I think it's good for us, he said. "I really do. I think that finding a way to win a close game when things weren't exactly perfect…I thought we made some unbelievable big plays down the stretch. I thought we got some big rebounds. I thought Trevor Morris's three late was huge. I thought we did some really good things defensively. I think it really helps us any time you play a close ball game and you find a way to win. Now we can go back to the film room and get better at another area that I had overlooked, I think it helps us a lot."

Watson (17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals) agreed. "It was a fun game playing another team from another conference and getting to go up and down with somebody else besides the teams we play all the time," he said.

The win levels the Vandal season record at 13-13 and Northridge dips to 12-12. It was Idaho's first-ever win in the ESPNU BracketBuster series after losses to Montana State, UC Riverside, and UC Irvine. Idaho will travel to Northridge next season for a return non-conference game.

The Vandals take to the road next week for a rematch with San Jose State next Thursday and their first matchup of the season against Fresno State Saturday in Fresno.


VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS: Mac Hopson 17 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals. Kashif Watson 17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals. Marvin Jefferson 13 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocked shots, 1 assist, 1 steal. Luciano de Souza 13 points, 3 rebounds. Brandon Wiley 7 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal. Trevor Morris 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists. Terrence Simmons 5 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists. Drew Eisinger 1 rebound. Luis Augusto also saw action.


TEAM STATISTICS:

• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 26 of 38 for 68.5%; CSUN 24 of 56 for 42.9%
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 6 of 12 for 50%, CSUN 9 of 26 for 34.6%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 20 of 33 for 60.6%; CSUN 18 of 20 for 90%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 5 offensive, 22 defensive for 27 total; CSUN 11 offensive, 18 defensive for 29 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 18, CSUN 9
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 20, CSUN 17
• FOULS: CSUN 25, Idaho 18
• TECHNICAL FOULS: Idaho 1 (Kashif Watson)
• FOULED OUT: Kashif Watson (Idaho), Mark Hill (CSUN)
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 4, CSUN 0
• STEALS: Idaho 8, CSUN 12
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 40, CSUN 30
• POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 26, CSUN 22
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho 4, CSUN 14
• FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 8, CSUN 0
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 19, CSUN 17
• SCORE TIED: 11 times
• LEAD CHANGES: 7
• ATTENDANCE: 2,202
The Vandals will travel to face San Jose State next Thursday and Fresno State next Saturday. They will return to the Cowan Spectrum March 5 to face Louisiana Tech at 7:05 p.m. and will host Fresno State Saturday March 7 at 7:05 p.m. (senior night).


Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes

Q: What were your thoughts coach when the press obviously was bothering you guys on the inbound and they hit some threes. Possibly a little worried?
DV: "Oh, yeah. I was actually scolding myself, to be honest with you. I haven't done enough work in practice on those kinds of situations. We haven't been pressed a lot in the WAC. I haven't worked enough full-court press breaker and stuff with these guys. Us losing that 12-point lead, it's my fault. It's not the kids' fault. I didn't have ‘em prepared for that situation."

Q: What did you talk about during those time outs you had at the end to try to get ‘em ready to go there?
DV: "What we tried to do is execute the stuff we had. We need to get it into our best free throw shooters, and we did that. I think down the stretch there Lucy (Luciano DeSouza) made a couple, but a couple of our better guys go 1-for-2. Mainly just trying to execute what we call our regular press breaker and our flyer press breaker at the end. We just didn't do a good enough job with those things. I haven't taught those things as well, obviously, by the way we executed down the stretch."

Q: Kinda expect some teams to throw that at you now?
DV: "Yeah. Well, I think so. It's interesting. The WAC doesn't press nearly as much or play like that. The thing I knew coming in about Northridge is we played them a lot in the Big West, and they're different. They pressure the ball and they keep coming at you, and they're hard to get ready for. They always have been. You can just look at their media release and see how many steals and turnovers they cause every game. We shoot 68% tonight and 50% from three and have 18 assists, but we have 20 turnovers and they get 18 more shots. That was the reason the score was so close."

GAYLEN WOOD: As a coach, how does a game like this affect you and your team, having it right at the tail end of the conference season? Is it good for you?
DV: "I think it's good for us. I really do. I think that finding a way to win a close game when things weren't exactly perfect…I thought we made some unbelievable big plays down the stretch. I thought we got some big rebounds. I thought Trevor Morris's three late was huge. I thought we did some really good things defensively. I think it really helps us any time you play a close ball game and you find a way to win. Now we can go back to the film room and get better at another area that I had overlooked. I think it helps us a lot."

Q: Were you surprised at how many threes they put up there in the second half?
DV: "No. You know, they shoot a lot of threes. They shoot a lot of threes. Our zone was good and they started firing ‘em up. The one kid I was surprised that made some threes was #2, Vincent Cordell. You've got to give him some credit. He was 1 for 9 coming into this game and on the scouting report it said bluff and recover on him; so we were bluffing and recovering on him and he was knocking ‘em in. You've got to give them some credit for stepping up and making some big shots off that high ball screen - that I thought our guys played right - and he made the shot. It was a good basketball game. I tell you, there's a reason why they're leading the Big West Conference."

Q: What did you talk about with your kids at the half?
DV: Mainly we talked about taking care of the basketball. First things first. Defensively I thought they hurt us in transition the first half. I thought we didn't do a good enough job getting back. I didn't think Mac (Hopson) stopped the ball well enough; so we talked about getting them slowed down in transition. Then we talked about taking care of the ball. I think we had nine turnovers at halftime. I thought we needed to take care of the ball more, but I also thought we could get out in transition and we could apply pressure to them similar to the things we did in the second half to get our lead. Mainly that was really about it, and also to remind our guys…I had told them all week about what it was going to be like to play these guys, and I think as a coach you try like crazy and you try to simulate in practice, but it's almost impossible to simulate Northridge, how hard they come at you and how hard their ball pressure is on every possession. You've got to give credit to coach (Bobbie) Braswell. They're difficult to play, but it's a fun game for the fans. There's a lot of big, big runs and swings. Heck, I thought we had it put away and then all of a sudden it was a one-point game."

Q: Is this the first time that you've had Mac and Kashif (Watson) pick up four fouls with a significant amount of time left to play?
DV: "Yeah, I think so. And that's tough because those are both our point guards. I was trying to rotate ‘em there a little bit and get us to the end of the game. Yeah, that could have caused us a lot of problems there if one of those two guys would have fouled out. You asked a question earlier. I didn't like that call on Kashif with the dunk. I thought that there was a guy underneath him. I thought it was a big-time play."

Q: Does that mean he won't have to run a little extra because of that?
DV: "No…I thought it was a great play. I thought it was a 2-on-1 break when he got it, and I actually thought the guy went underneath him. What people don't understand is...I mean he's up there high, and any time someone runs underneath you, and you see him, your first immediate reaction is to hold, and that's what he did. I didn't think he did it excessively. I just thought he did it to gain his balance back. It's too bad, because I thought it really changed the complexion of the game."

Q: Did it break your flow, disrupt your players, that call down the stretch?
DV: "Well. I don't know if that did it or not. I don't know about all the calls. I thought the dunk – that technical - definitely stopped our momentum. You go and you give them two shots and the ball out of bounds, that's a huge swing. It only cost us really two points. Officiating is officiating. They're gonna make some mistakes, but I didn't think it was a poorly officiated game for how physical and how hard it was played, but I didn't like the technical foul call to be honest with you. I've known all those guys - they're a pretty solid officiating crew. They really are."

Q: It just seemed like a different style (of officiating - it was a Big West crew). DV: "I think it's more about the way Northridge plays than anything else. They play hard. They keep coming."

Q: How are your kids' legs doing? It's getting pretty late in the season and you've played a couple of road game.
DV: "That's a good question. I think we're okay. We've really worked hard, and we took Thursday off after Boise. We didn't practice. We're taking tomorrow off, and we've been trying to rest ‘em as much as we can. I don't think they're any more tired than any other team in the country. We've tried to rest ‘em. Right now it comes down to a little bit of toughness. All teams are going through this, and we've just got to be tough enough to get through it. Now our practices are short. Right now they're about an hour and half long; so we've been trying to save every ounce of energy we can, but it's that time of year. Guys are gonna get tired as well as coaches (chuckles)."


Marvin Jefferson and Kashif Watson, post-game quotes

Q: Tell us a little about the game from your perspective.
MJ: "It was a grind out game. We kinda lost it at the end. We relaxed a little bit. One of those wins where you take the ‘W' no matter how it ended up."

Q: Their full court press seemed to frustrate you guys a little bit. Were you surprised by it?
MJ: I'm not sure if we expected it. I know that we expected, like, on-ball pressure. But we really didn't prepare too much for the full-court press, and that's probably what got us at the end."

Q: Were you guys sweating it out a little bit when all of a sudden they were getting some steals and pulling closer and closer?
MJ: "Oh, yeah. They were desperate. They were playing hard. We were just relaxing, like I said. At the end we pulled it out."

Q: What was the key to that? Why were you guys able to finally come together?
MJ: Really, it was just like we've been doing -- just coming together as a team, talking to each other through the bad times. Telling each other to just keep going, not worry about the play that just happened and try to make the next one better. It was basically us coming together."

Q: How surprised were you when Kashif (Watson) was called for that technical foul?
MJ: "Honestly, I didn't even know why the technical was called. It didn't look like he hung on it (the rim) to me. I thought it was a good dunk. I was just excited for him. I guess he was a little too excited himself swinging up there. I know you get calls like that from time to time."

Q: It seems like you had a pretty good game inside, that their big man couldn't seem to do a whole lot with you.
MJ: "I guess. It was one of those nights when I had a lot of energy and I was feeling myself; so whenever I got the ball I just felt like the rim was right there, and I was gonna attack it every time and nobody was there."

Q: Kashif, give us your perspective on that last few minutes there with their full-court press. What was going on with you guys? KW: "I think they kinda surprised us a little bit at the end with the full-court press, but we knew what type of team they were. They were coming out to pressure us the whole game. Coach told us they were going to be into us the whole game, they were never going to give up. It was kinda surprising but we stuck with it and came out with the victory."

Q: Were you surprised at the technical foul that was called? Did you know why they were calling it at first?
KW: "I knew I was hanging on the rim, but I didn't think I was hanging on the rim for that long. I thought somebody was running under me and I was swinging; so I couldn't just let go."

Q: Was it a frustrating game for you guys to play? It was frustrating to watch. There were a lot of whistles. It seemed like flow was hard to get into.
MJ: "Yeah. We were getting in runs then they hit a couple of big shots and we'd be right back where we were. We just had to push through. One of those games…just grind it out."

Q: Kashif, early on it looked like they were playing some really tight man-to-man. Were you surprised at how tight they were on that at the beginning of the game?
KW: "I wasn't surprised. We've been practicing all week about being strong with the ball and protecting the ball. It was just that we need to see it for ourselves and get into it. But it was a fun game playing another team from another conference and getting to go up and down with somebody else besides the teams we play all the time."



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