2008-09 Men's Season Summary, PART II

Yesterday we reviewed the beginning of Idaho's stunning turnaround during the 2008-09 season. Today we look at Idaho's run through the Western Athletic Conference enroute to a No. 3 finish and invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Idaho defeated Drake in the first round of the CIT, and established a lengthy and impressive list of team and individual accomplishments for the season.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Below is the second installment of our two-part series summarizing Idaho's stunning turnaround during the just-completed 2008-09 basketball season. A link to PART I of this article is provided below:

LINK: 2008-09 Men's Season Summary, Part I

Vandal games were often close throughout the Western Athletic Conference season. After the opening weekend split with Nevada (a stunning 78-73 Idaho victory) and Utah State (a hard-fought 70-61 loss), the Vandals pounded Hawaii 67-47 in Moscow (just 648 fans saw the game, as it was during the semester break). A split with New Mexico State and a loss at Louisiana Tech put the Vandals at 3-3 in conference action heading into the most important game of the season: Boise State's visit to the Cowan Spectrum on January 29th.

This time there was no vacation break. The students were in town, and they were out in force. The locals joined in the action as 4,731 fans (the third largest crowd to see a game in the Cowan Spectrum since it's dedication in 2001) screamed their lungs out. The Vandals pulled out a 63-59 win snapping a 14-game Bronco winning streak. You Tube still has a number of home-made videos of the final seconds of the game followed by the students storming the court in celebration. Luciano de Souza, a junior college transfer and native of Brazil who became the emotional leader of the Vandals, leaped onto the scorer's table in celebration.

Perhaps suffering a letdown, the Vandals endured a brutal stretch as they lost to Nevada at home, at Hawai'i by 22, and Utah State at home the following week, dropping Idaho back down in the standings. A goal was out there for the Vandals – to avoid the play-in game at the WAC tournament between the 8th and 9th place teams. Beyond that, a higher goal was to finish in the upper half of the league standings and enter the tournament as one of the top four seeds. Idaho was 5-6 and in the midst of a struggle for places 2 through 7 behind league-leading Utah State.

The stretch drive began with a 74-66 win over San Jose State, and the Vandals took a 6-6 record to Boise. The largest crowd of the season at Taco Bell Arena included a great turnout of Vandal fans. The ASUI chartered a bus for students to attend the game, something unheard of in recent years.

It didn't look good early on for Idaho as the Broncos exploded to a 15-2 lead. One of the BSU players had made a pledge after the loss in Moscow that he would never again lose to the Vandals. It looked like he might have been right, but the Don Verlin Vandals had developed a keen ability to never quit in a game, and they were not about to quit against huge odds and against a bitter rival.

The Vandals battled back as the game progressed and earned a 56-54 Vandal victory, giving Idaho a 7-6 WAC record and a tiebreaker against the defending WAC champion Broncos with the season sweep of BSU. (NOTE: After the game several Vandal players commented on how they were able to hear the "I-D-A-H-O! Idaho! Idaho! Go-Go-Go!" cheer from the Vandal faithful in the arena, and how much that support meant to the team.)

Three days later in the ESPNU Bracket Busters game the Vandals vanquished another nemesis, Cal State Northridge, handing the NCAA tournament-bound Matadors a 78-75 defeat. Idaho stumbled at San Jose State the following week but righted the ship beating Fresno State on the road, then sweeping Louisiana Tech and Fresno State at home to finish 9-7 in the WAC regular season. After the Fresno game, Coach V told the media how much it meant to his players to have a shot at being one of the top seeds in the conference tournament, enabling them to play in their home uniforms. Utah State and Nevada had salted away the top two spots, but the cards fell perfectly for the Vandals who wound up the third seed in the tournament.

The Vandals drew Louisiana Tech in the opening round and the Bulldogs won the quarterfinal game 70-62. The Vandals packed up, left Reno, and headed their separate ways for spring break.

However, this year spring break would end early for this Vandal team. Based on their huge turnaround in RPI rating and their sizzling record at the end of the season to finish third in the WAC, the Vandals were awarded a bid in the inaugural CollegeInsider.com Tournament. Vandal boosters and the U of I administration combined to pay the tournament entry fee, and the Vandals would host their first post-season tournament game since 1989-90 when the Kermit Davis-coached Vandals lost to Louisville in Salt Lake City.

As mentioned earlier, the opening round CIT game was scheduled to be played on Monday during spring break with most of the students away from the campus. Idaho's first round opponent was Drake University of the Missouri Valley Conference, and a sales campaign by the administration and the community produced a sellout of historic Memorial Gym for the matchup (with the ASUI-Kibbie Athletic Center undergoing the initial stages of a $10 million renovation, the Cowan Spectrum was not available for this game).

Those lucky enough to have tickets saw a tremendous game. Idaho burst out to a 12-point lead that saw it evaporate in the closing minutes to set up an unbelievable finish. The Vandals led 67-66 but Drake had the ball. After a time out a designed play led to a drive down the lane and a layup that would give the Bulldogs the lead…except the ball bounced off the rim and fell into the hands of Trevor Morris who was fouled, and also happens to be the top Vandal free throw shooter. He made both free throw attempts to extend the lead to three. Coming down the floor Idaho was called for an intentional foul with just a second left, giving Drake two free throws and the ball out of bounds. One of those free throws was successful, cutting Idaho's lead to two points and setting the stage for a heartpounding finish. On the inbounds play Drake cast off a three-point attempt, but it was no good and Idaho enjoyed it's first post-season victory since the 1982 season.

A few people remarked about the possibility of Vandal players of the past – specifically the immortal Gus Johnson – having a hand in the remarkable turn of events in the last few seconds of the Drake game. No matter what the cause, the Vandals secured the win. With the victory Idaho earned a trip to Stockton, California to face Pacific, while Idaho coach Don Verlin would match up against his twin brother Ron.

The Vandals lost the second round game to Pacific, and finished their first year under Verlin at 17-16 overall and 9-7 in WAC competition. Augusto, Morris and Simmons were part of the best season in recent Vandal history, and will be the only players leaving the program.

The bar has been set high in the drive to "Restore The Glory" that was Vandal Basketball. Based on the early returns from the first year under Don Verlin – that bar is within reach, and there will undoubtedly be more than a handful of fans on hand to watch.


SEASON NOTES:

For all of you fans who feast on stats, below is a summary of Idaho's 2008-09 season notes, provided by the University of Idaho Sports Information office.

• As of March 16, Idaho has an RPI of 135 which is up 164 points from last season. The RPI improvement is one of the top 20 in the country.

• With 17 wins, Idaho has earned its most wins in a season since the 1993-94 team finished 18-10.

• Idaho has 13 wins at home in a season for the first time since the 1992-93 season.

• Idaho first-year head coach Don Verlin has never been associated with a team at the NCAA level which finished below .500 in a season.

• Idaho will finish above .500 both overall and in conference for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

• Idaho earned three conference wins on the road for the first time since the 2003-04 season and four overall road victories for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

• National rankings: As of March 15, Idaho has two players ranked in the top 100 in the nation. Mac Hopson is No. 19 for assists (5.9 apg), No. 64 for assist/turnover ratio (2.00), and No. 98 for steals (1.8 spg) while Marvin Jefferson is No. 59 for blocked shots (1.8 bpg). As a team, Idaho ranks in the top 100 in five categories. The team is No. 50 for turnovers per game (12.5), No. 65 for field-goal percentage (.460), No. 80 for turnover margin (1.5), No. 84 for assist/turnover ratio (1.06), and No. 84 for 3-point field goal percentage (.361).

• Idaho holds victories over NCAA Tournament participants North Dakota State and Cal State Northridge.

• Idaho has hit 42-of-53 (.792) free throws over the past three games.

• Mac Hopson earned first team all-WAC and all-Newcomer team honors. He is the first Idaho first team all conference selection since Gordon Scott during the 1999-2000 season in the Big West. He also is the secondconsecutive Idaho player to be named to the all-Newcomer team.

• Mac Hopson was honored as a member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division I All-District teams and now is eligible for All-America selection.

• With participation in Monday's contest, Mac Hopson, Kashif Watson, Luciano DeSouza, Brandon Wiley, Trevor Morris and Terrence Simmons will set the Idaho single-season record for most games played at 33.

• Idaho won six of its last seven regular-season contests. The last time Idaho was so succcessful during a similar span was the 2003-04 season.

• Idaho finished third in the Western Athletic Conference. It is the highest finish since the Vandals joined the WAC and is the highest conference finish since the 1998-99 team finished third in the Big West Conference.

• With nine conference wins, Idaho earned its most conference wins in a season since joining the WAC. It also surpassed the total amount of conference wins from the last three seasons combined (seven).

• Mac Hopson earned WAC Player of the Week honors for the week of Feb. 16-22 after averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 assists, 3.5 assists, and 2.5 steals in two Idaho victories.

• Brandon Wiley earned WAC Player of the Week honors for the week of Jan. 19-25 after scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and adding seven rebounds, four blocks, and two steals vs. New Mexico State. He also hit two baskets in the final 47 seconds to help Idaho pull away for a 10-point victory.

• Idaho's 59-56 victory over Fresno State was its first Senior Night victory since the 2001-02 season.

• Idaho's 71-68 victory at Fresno State was its first at the Save Mart Center.

• Idaho's 78-75 victory over Cal State Northridge gave Idaho its first BracketBuster victory in four tries.

• Idaho's 56-54 victory at Boise State was its first at Boise since Jan. 30, 1999.

• Idaho's 63-59 victory over Boise State broke a 14-game losing streak to the Broncos and was the first Idaho victory over BSU since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005.

• The 4,731 fans in attendance at the game vs. Boise State (Jan. 29) were the third most in Cowan Spectrum history.

• Idaho's 67-57 victory over New Mexico State broke a 10-game losing streak to the Aggies and was the first Idaho victory over NMSU since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005.

• Idaho's 67-47 victory over Hawaii was its largest WAC victory since joining the conference in 2005.

• Idaho's 78-73 win at Nevada was just its third WAC road win since joining the conference in 2005. The victory broke a string of seven-consecutive losses to the Wolf Pack and gave Idaho a 1-0 conference start for the first time since defeating Utah State to open the 2004-05 season in the Big West.

• Idaho's loss at New Mexico State was its only loss of the season when scoring 70 or more points.

• Idaho has 10 losses by 10 or less points and four losses by less than four points.

• Idaho has held opponents under 50 points three times this season for the first time since the 2004-05 season. The last Idaho team to hold three Division I opponents under 50 points were the 1987-88 Vandals.

• Idaho earned three wins in November for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

• Idaho has allowed opponents just eight double-doubles this season.

• Idaho's win at Sacramento State was its first non-conference road victory since Nov. 16, 2006 at South Dakota State; a span of 16 games.

• Idaho's 54-point victory over UC Irvine was its largest margin of victory over a Division I opponent in school history. The previous record was a 53-point margin vs. Pacific in 1983. It ranked as the second largest margin ever at Idaho behind a 111-34 win over Northwest College in 1987.

• Idaho eclipsed the 100-point plateau for the 34th time in school history with 101 points vs. UC Irvine. Idaho is 32-2 all-time in games in which the team reaches 100 or more points.

• Kashif Watson tied an Idaho school record with 20 free throw attempts vs. Evergreen State.

• Idaho signed Shawn Henderson from North Idaho College and Joe Kammerer from North Eugene (Oregon) High School to letters of intent to play basketball for the Vandals next fall.

• Idaho has 45 dunks this season. Marvin Jefferson has 31, Brandon Wiley has nine, Kashif Watson has three, and Luciano de Souza has two.

• Idaho has made at least one 3-point field goal in 344 consecutive games. The last time Idaho failed to record a 3-pointer was Feb. 27, 1997 vs. Long Beach State. The streak includes 1,996 made 3-pointers and includes 128 games of seven or more made 3-point shots.

Michigan State scored 100 points Nov. 16 to end Idaho's streak of 491 games without allowing an opponent to score 100 or more points. The streak was the longest in the WAC and a top 10 streak in the nation. The last Idaho opponent to accomplish the feat was Simon Fraser State, Nov. 14, 1991. The Vandals won the game 116-101. The last opponent to score 100 or more points and win was Idaho State, March 1, 1985, in a game that ended 102-99.

• Idaho outrebounded #6 Michigan State 33-31 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.

• Don Verlin became the 17th Idaho coach to win his Vandal debut.

• Don Verlin joined the University of Idaho family as head coach of the men's basketball team March 24, 2008.

• Verlin's staff consists of assistant coaches with 34 years of combined coaching experience. They are Mike Score, Ray Lopes, Mike Freeman, and director of operations Chris Helbling.




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