How far have Don Verlin and his coaching staff taken the Idaho Vandals this basketball season? Outrebounded and pretty much man-handled in a 74-63 January road loss to Louisiana Tech, the Vandals did a complete reversal in the Cowan Spectrum Thursday night. The Vandals won 66-58 and, in the process, went through a veritable laundry list of issues and checked them off with the victory:
Rebounding: The Vandals, last in the WAC in team rebounding, got at least four rebounds from six different players and wound up with a 37-27 edge (including 14-to-10 on the offensive glass). Check.To answer the rhetorical question about how far the Vandals have come this year, with the win they are 15-14 on the season and 8-7 in the WAC. More importantly they are tied with BSU and New Mexico State for fourth place. They hold the tiebreakers if the three teams finish in a three-way tie. To simplify: If Idaho beats Fresno Saturday the Vandals will finish no worse than fourth. If Idaho wins and BSU loses, Idaho will finish third in the WAC. In either case Idaho would be one of the top four seeds in the conference and carry the designation of home team in the quarterfinals. A worst-case scenario has them finishing fifth.
Shaky free throw shooting: Idaho outshot La Tech 63% to 47% from the line. More importantly, late in the second half when the visitors were fouling to get ball back the Vandals stepped up and sank 10-of-12 free throws to secure the win. Check.
Strength in the key : Idaho held edges in points in the paint (30-22) and second chance points (18-13) to go along with the rebounding edge.
Toughness: We'll let Verlin talk about that one: "I thought it was a physical game," he said in the post-game media conference. "I can't tell you how proud I am of our guys to step up to the physical play, because this is what the tournament is gonna be like, and you have to give our guys some credit tonight. They fought. When it was time to fight, we hit back. We haven't done that a lot this year to my liking. We know we won a lot of games. I think that's been our biggest weakness, and we showed that we can do that tonight. We did it last Saturday, too; so I'm happy with how they played. Very happy." Give it a check.
Verlin was asked about winning over a team that had already beaten the Vandals in the previous encounter and had won four straight coming in. "I tell you what. I'm telling you, and I've said this a couple of times lately. I thought it was as big a win as we've had at home all year. Here's what's hard. We're playing for a lot right now. If we can wear our white uniforms at the WAC tournament, that's a big accomplishment for this program. Our guys knew, and we knew, that this was the only way that we could get a three, four or five seed, and we accomplished that tonight. I thought we battled like crazy all night long. I thought they (La. Tech) were playing for their lives to stay out of the play-in game. It was just a physical, hard-fought game from start to finish, and I was proud of our guys for battling."
Were there any disappointments? Perhaps the fact only 1,803 fans saw the game in person could have been disappointing, but Verlin didn't look at it that way. "You know, I never worry about the things I can't control," he said. "I always tell our guys that. I guess I'd say I'm disappointed for the people who didn't come because they're missing a good show. Our guys play hard, and they compete, and they're disciplined, and they're good guys. Whatever people want to do is fine, but I'm disappointed for them because they missed a hell of a game tonight."
The Vandals close out the regular season against Fresno State in the Cowan Spectrum at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Seniors Luis Augusto, Trevor Morris and Terrence Simmons will be honored before the starting lineups are announced.
VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS:
Trevor Morris 14 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, 1 steal. Marvin Jefferson 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocked shots. Mac Hopson 13 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 blocked shot. Kashif Watson 9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals. Brandon Wiley 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal. Luciano DeSouza 6 points, 5 rebounds. Terrence Simmons 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal. Luis Augusto 1 rebound, 1 steal. Drew Eisinger saw action.
• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 20 of 44 for 45.5%, LT 21 of 51 for 41.2%The Vandals will close out the regular season at the Cowan Spectrum Saturday against Fresno State. It will be senior night and tipoff is at 7:05 p.m. A brief ceremony will be held prior to the game to honor seniors Luis Augusto, Trevor Morris and Terrence Simmons.
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 4 of 15 for 25.7, LT 9 of 19 for 47.7%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 22 of 35 for 62.9%; LT 7 of 15 for 46.7%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 14 offensive, 23 defensive for 37 total; LT 10 offensive, 17 defensive for 27 total.
• ASSISTS: Idaho 9, LT 6
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 18, LT 17
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 7, LT 3
• STEALS: Idaho 8, LT 10
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 30, LT 22
• POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 19, LT 11
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho 18, LT 13
• FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 2, LT 2
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 20, LT 10
• SCORE TIED : Five times
• LEAD CHANGES: Seven
• ATTENDANCE: 1,803
Head Coach Don Verlin, post-game quotes
Q: In that first half I thought Luciano (DeSouza) did a lot of really nice things, not just shooting the ball but defensively. Could you talk about that a little?
Coach V: "Yeah. Unbelievable. I thought he took some key charges throughout the entire game. I thought he was really active. He had three offensive rebounds tonight. He played with a lot of spirit. Obviously we need him to shoot the ball, but tonight he doesn't shoot the ball. But I thought he did other things to help us win tonight. I thought that was one of our keys to winning."
Q: What did you tell them at halftime? They came and played a little better ball.
Coach V: "You know, not much of anything different. This was a good win for us. A really good win. I can't tell you how big a win it is for our program and how hard we played. The thing that I was most excited about at half and at the end of the game is we out rebounded ‘em. As I told this team we're starting to show some toughness, and if we'll show some toughness and we'll rebound the basketball we can make some noise in the WAC tournament. We're starting to improve on our biggest weakness, and that's what I'm so happy about. You know, at halftime we talked about taking care of the ball more. We talked about it being a physical game, possession by possession, and us coming out and fighting and just concentrating on one possession at a time. Like I told them, it's gonna be a 2- or 3-point game going down the stretch here and we've got to find a way to win. We did that tonight."
Q: Going into this you talked about their big three being powerful and certainly (Kyle) Gibson scored a lot, but you kept the other two fairly well in check.
Coach V: "We did a great job. I mean, Gibson – what about some of those shots? Man. I thought he might be the best player in this league the way he played tonight. Now, we got him to turn it over 8 times which I thought really helped us, but I thought our big guys…I challenged ‘em a lot this week. Magnum Rolle, how he had been playing coming into this game and I thought our guys did a great job. We got him in foul trouble early. Even though he ends up with 10 points and 8 rebounds I thought we did a good job. I thought Terrence Simmons and Trevor Morris did a great job on Jamel Guyton. I thought we pressured him hard. I thought we got him out of his game. He didn't get any wide-open 3-point shots except for one where we had a defensive screw up. Other than that we played hard tonight. Really hard."
Q: How is Terrence? Is it his head, elbow, ribs?
Coach V: "I guess he hit his head, but I think he'll be fine. All indications are he was a little dizzy; but I think he'll be fine for senior night. He needs to be at senior night."
GAYLEN WOOD: Did you get the impression that early in the ball game the officials clamped down and called it tight? I mean both ways; it was a really well called game in my opinion, but it looked like they thought that it was getting a little physical or something out there and they really started getting charges and blocks…
Coach V: "You know, that's a really good officiating crew…Verne Harris and Randy McCall have both done final fours in the last five years.. I thought it was a physical game. Randy came up to me and said, ‘You know what? There's a foul on every possession. This is a hard one to officiate.' I thought your assessment was right on. I thought they did a pretty good job. Louisiana Tech makes you…we got some illegal screen calls, but I thought that was good because I thought they were holding the heck out of Mac (Hopson) and our shooters all night long, and if we aren't able to get Mac free in the second half we're gonna have a hard time scoring. I thought it was a well-officiated game. I thought it was a physical game. I can't tell you how proud I am of our guys to step up to the physical play, because this is what the tournament is gonna be like, and you have to give our guys some credit tonight. They fought. When it was time to fight, we hit back. We haven't done that a lot this year to my liking. We know we won a lot of games. I think that's been our biggest weakness, and we showed that we can do that tonight. We did it last Saturday, too; so I'm happy with how they played. Very happy."
Q: Was there ever a point before the last three seconds that you felt comfortable?
Coach V: "No. No, because every time it seemed like we a got ahead, Kyle Gibson would hit a bomb. It felt like some of those were from the 28-foot mark. We didn't know what defense to be in. No. I never felt good until we finalized it. I don't know if you saw the New Mexico State game at New Mexico State, but they were down by about 12 or 13 and they came back and got the last shot and went off the backboard and rings in and out for them to win. They're a team that just keeps fighting. I knew they'd fight right down to the end. I didn't feel comfortable until the final horn sounded to be honest with you."
Q: Talk about beating a team that comes in here – they're a little lower in the WAC but they're on a four-game win streak. They took down Nevada and Boise State.
Coach V: "I tell you what. I'm telling you, and I've said this a couple of times lately. I thought it was as big a win as we've had at home all year tonight. Here's what's hard. We're playing for a lot right now. If we can wear our white uniforms at the WAC tournament, that's a big accomplishment for this program. Our guys knew, and we knew, that this was the only way that we could get a three, four or five seed, and we accomplished that tonight. I thought we battled like crazy all night long. I thought they (La. Tech) were playing for their lives to stay out of the play-in game. It was just a physical, hard-fought game from start to finish, and I was proud of our guys for battling."
Q: Were you a little disappointed in the size of the crowd? You guys have done so well…
Coach V: "You know, I never worry about the things I can't control. I always tell our guys that. I guess if I had to answer that I'd say I'm disappointed for the people who didn't come because they're missing a good show. Our guys play hard, and they compete, and they're disciplined, and they're good guys. Whatever people want to do is fine, but I'm disappointed for them because they missed a hell of a game tonight. They probably stayed home and watched it on TV, though, didn't they?"
GAYLEN WOOD: "We didn't get a chance to see the first game. Could you contrast? I noticed they ran a ton of pick and rolls and they never hit it. Did they do that a lot in the first game?
Coach V: "A little bit. They beat Nevada setting a ton of ball screens, and they've kind of gone to that more lately, and Murray State. It was more of what we call their four-man flex in the first game. There was no comparison between this game and last game. We competed a lot harder. I thought they dominated us in every phase of the game down there. Here I thought we really competed, and I thought it was a good game. I think they're a good team. I'm a little shocked with their record. Man, they're hard to score against. They're hard to defend. They've got two really nice wings and a transfer from LSU. I'm pleased with the win. I really am."
GAYLEN WOOD: I was impressed with the lineup they put out there when they pulled Loe off. They were huge.
Coach V: "Huge, big, physical. Strong lineup. The other Gibson kid, he's a solid player. The transfer from Idaho (David Jackson) comes in and knocks down a bunch of shots in the first half. He's their leading scorer at halftime. Kerry (head coach Rupp) has done a great job with this team. They're going to be a hard out in the tournament. I know they're hoping like crazy that New Mexico State beats Hawai'I so they'll be out of the play-in game."
Q: You hit 10 of your last 12 down the stretch.
Coach V: "Thank God!"
Q: The percentage wasn't that great overall but it really raised up when it counted.
Coach V: " Yeah. Thanks God we made ‘em. We stepped up and made ‘em when we had to. We talked a lot about that this year. I don't know. We shot 200 - we probably shot 300 - this week. I know they made 200 each of them and then not counting the ones we shot in practice. I thought we made some big ones down the stretch when it counted."
GAYLEN WOOD: You outscored ‘em by 15 from the line and (Louisiana Tech) only had 15 free throws.
Coach V: "I thought we did a great job of attacking the basket all night long. I thought Kashif Watson did a good job there. I thought Marvin (Jefferson) did a good job inside. I thought Mac (Hopson) did a good job inside getting to the rim and drawing some fouls. Luciano did a good job getting in there and obviously Trevor made some late. I'm extremely happy with how hard we played tonight."
Q: Talk just a little bit about Fresno State coming up Saturday.
Coach V: "What was the final?"
Q: Fresno State 79-65 loss at Boise.
Coach V: "It was close at half. Fresno's athletic. They're very talented. When you see them come in on Saturday, they've got some nice players. They're just young. Sylvester Sage is really good. He's a post guy that can play from the perimeter which is going to give us a lot of problems, and then Paul George is a 3 man who's about 6-7 who's probably, arguably, maybe not quite as good as Luke Babbitt but very close; so he's in that category. With Dwight O'Neil back he really helps that ball team. That's a talented group. It'll be a good basketball game. They're athletic, they can pressure you. Coach Cleveland's a good coach. He will have them ready to play, I know that. Let's hope it snows and they have bad travel coming in here (chuckles)."
Q: Marvin hit 2 in a row.
Coach V: "He did -- 2 big ones in a row. I was happy he made those, let me tell you."
Mac Hopson and Trevor Morris, post-game quotes
Q: Mac, a pretty rough first half for you. The team was kind of a little sluggish too, but the second half you guys played just a lot better, right?
MH: "Yeah, it was just about getting going a little bit. We started off slow. Me personally, I wasn't worried about it though. A couple of shots didn't fall in. I knew as soon as I hit one a couple more were going to fall; so I really wasn't worried about it. My teammates had my back, told me to keep shooting everything, but I really wasn't worried about it personally. I just wanted to go out there and do whatever I could to help my team win."
Q: The last time you played Louisiana Tech it sounded like a very frustrating game. You couldn't get going. What was the difference between that game and tonight?
MH: "I think we couldn't get going as a team. We were just kind of out of it at Louisiana Tech. As a team we were just out of it. That's pretty much what it was. We weren't playing defense and we still only lost by nine. We were still in it, but we just didn't play as well as we wanted to or we should have."
Q: Cramping up a little bit during that second half?
MH: "Ah, man. Yeah. I don't know what else to do. I've been trying so many things. This is the second time I've cramped up like that. The first one was at New Mexico State; so I've got to figure something out so I can stay in the ball game."
Q: Is it your calf?
MH: "Yeah. It was both of my calf muscles and then a little in my thighs and stuff. I don't know what was going on."
Q: Trevor, it seems like you've always been a great shooter all season long, but it seems like you're really starting to peak these last few games. Do you feel more in the rhythm or what's going on with you?
TM: "This is about the third time I've got that same question. I haven't really done anything different. I was trying to take ‘em out of the offense and trying to knock ‘em down. I mean, I rely a lot on Mac to find me when I'm open and I repay him. Just got to knock ‘em down. It's a little bit better because you hit a couple and then you have a little more confidence and you shoot the next one with more confidence. It just gets easier."
Q: It seemed like you guys would always start taking control in the second half and yet they'd bounce back and keep it close. Was there ever a time you guys, other than like the last three seconds, when you felt like to had the game in your hands?
TM: "They hit some big shots, obviously. I mean, it seemed like every time we would build a comfortable lead and start to put ‘em away either Gibson or Guyton would come down and hit a three. There were times when they hit back-to-back 3's, and it was kinda frustrating, but you've got to play through it. We still had a couple-point cushion. You've just got to play basketball. That's all it comes down to."
GAYLEN WOOD: Trevor – you had a couple of key assists that really gave (the Vandals) a big lift. Can you talk about those?
TM: "I'm shooting the ball a little bit better which is good offensively. I mean, defenders kinda crowd up on me a lot. Coach in the last timeout said to keep attacking the hoop; so I just saw an opportunity and I took it in there and dished it to Marvin. It makes it easier after you've hit a couple because defenders get so close and it makes it easier to get to the hoop. That's what I did."
Q: Tell us a little bit about that last 3 you hit. How did that feel?
TM: "Uh, it felt like Mac's in the first half when he threw it up at the shot clock (laughs). I didn't think it was going in, but I just tried. It felt great after it went in. That was a big one, but you've just got to let it go. Shot clock's winding down; you don't have any other choice but to let it go."
GAYLEN WOOD: "Were you set on that last 3 -- did you have your shooting position? Were you squared up and ready to hit it?
TM: "I thought he (Hopson) was gonna either put it up or he had to give it to somebody. I was right there close to him; so I had to be ready to go for him."
Q: Mac, you had that one 3. Did you know that time was running out on the shot clock or did you just look up (and see you had to shoot it)?
MH: "Yeah, pretty much. It was just a lucky shot pretty much to be honest, but it helped me get going a little bit personally. It was a good shot, though."
GAYLEN WOOD: What did you guys think about the big difference in the rebounding tonight? I know you're not usually mixed up in the middle of it, but you guys just out rebounded them by 11. Compare it to last time.
MH: "It's our big dudes, Marvin (Jefferson) and Brandon Wiley and Luciano (DeSouza). Those guys are going after the ball more. We depend on them a lot to get rebounds. I think we've been last place in rebounding; so coach said we need to get our rebounding up. We need to out-rebound them. If we out-rebound ‘em most likely we're going to get a good chance to win. That's what we went into the ball game thinking, and it happened."