Vandals sweep exhibition doubleheader

Vandal basketball is back! Vandal fans turned out big time Friday night to rock Memorial Gym for an exhibition doubleheader which saw the Vandal women defeat Eastern Oregon 61-43, while the men took care of business with an 87-61 win over St. Martin's of Washington. Up next for the Vandal men is a road trip to take on Utah, while the Vandal women prepare to take on Gonzaga.

The wins were pretty much a given, with both Vandal squads facing smaller schools they were expected to beat. The real eye opener was that the announced crowd in historic Memorial Gym was 1,472 (there may have been more with fans standing two and three deep at the balcony railing behind the east basket).

For some the 1,472 figure may not seem like a lot, but consider the following:

Last year the Vandal women played in front of 1,685 spectators…if you combine the official attendance at their first five home games. The Vandal men drew 1,618 for their home game against Washington State but did not top 1,000 fans for a home game until 2,129 came to Cowan Spectrum for the game against New Mexico State January 24, their 7th home game of the season and 19th of the year overall. Friday night's crowd was in place early and was into the flow of both games cheering the Vandals to the sweep.

The women opened the evening by defeating Eastern Oregon, leading wire to wire. The score was tied 2-2 sixty-seven seconds into the contest, but a 12-0 run by the Vandals put the game out of reach early. The Mountaineers started four guards and a 5-9 forward, but played gamely as Vandal coach Jon Newlee rotated 10 players into the game to get a feel for how different combinations of players would perform.

"We started the game well, but then we went to the bench and the energy level and communication went down," Newlee said. "We talked at half time about getting a spark off the bench and we have to have that if we're going to contend this year." The two teams combined for eight turnovers in the first three minutes of the second half and the Vandals led by only nine a little over five minutes in the second half before a 9-0 Idaho run iced the game.

Overall Newlee was pleased with the improvement his squad had made since their first exhibition game last Sunday, but he definitely saw phases of the game that need work before the Vandals open non-conference action Nov. 16 at home against Gonzaga, a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last season.

"We played better in stretches tonight, Newlee said. "We rebounded a lot better in the second half and we were more aggressive defensively than the first game. Those things were good for us." On the other hand, the coach said, "We gave up too many open looks, being patient seemed to be a problem for us and I didn't like our defensive communication.

"We have a lot to work on."

Rachele Kloke led all scorers with 11 points followed by Shaene Kuehu with nine, Charlotte Otero with eight, Yinka Olorunnife with seven, Emily Doran and Jessica Graham with six, Bianca Cheever and Kanish Bello with five, and Ally Sisel-Kumpfer with four.

In the 8 p.m. men's matchup, the Vandals missed two layups in the first 22 seconds, but made their next six shots in a row. Idaho simply had too much quality depth for St. Martin's. The score could have been much more one-sided, but Don Verlin and his staff took the opportunity to substitute freely and allow a variety of lineups to show their stuff. A major goal was to see if the Vandals could provide a variety of scoring threats that opponents would have to respect.

"Last year I thought we were a little predictable as far as who had to score the ball for us night-in and night-out for us to win," Verlin said. "This year, I think we have a lot more options that way. I was telling them before the game that if we can get four or five guys in double figures, that really makes us hard to guard."

He got his wish. Four Vandals scored in double figures (led by Steffan Johnson's 14) while nine players had at least one assist.

The offense looked good, including periods of time when the Vandals seemingly ran at will against the Saints without bothering to set up Verlin's trademark half court offense. Defense and free throw shooting, however, were not at the level the Vandal coach wants them to be.

"We have to get better defensively," Verlin said. "I didn't think we were solid all night in post defense. We've got to get better in that area...We've got to get better at (free throws), obviously," Verlin said. "That will come as we keep practicing."

Johnson had 14 points to pace the Vandal scorers followed by Mac Hopson, Marvin Jefferson and Shawn Henderson with 12 each. Kyle Barone had 9 points and led the rebounding with nine. Corey Stern had eight points, Kashif Watson seven, Luciano de Souza five, Jeff Ledbetter four, and Luiz Toledo and Brandon Wiley two each. Hopson's five assists were tops for the Vandals, with Ledbetter adding four.

The Vandals will take a giant step up in the level of competition next Friday as they travel to Salt Lake City for a 6 p.m. (PST) game against Utah. Their next home action will be November 24 against Sacaramento State.

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