Vandals Roll Over No.25 Portland

Coming off a surprising loss to Cal State Northridge Thursday, Idaho (5-2) recovered and got back on track, dominating No.25 Portland (5-3) in Memorial Gym Sunday night. The Pilots, the first Top 25 non-conference team Idaho has ever hosted, never led in the game. The Vandals built an 18 point first half margin and led by as many as 25 before claiming a convincing 68-48 victory. Up next: WSU.

PHOTO GALLERY: Idaho Routs Pilots

On their first possession of the game, the 25th ranked Portland Pilots tried to work the ball against the Idaho defense, only to find the Vandals countering every move they made. The ball was tipped out of bounds with 4 seconds left on the shot clock. Portland inbounded, lost the ball, and the Vandals sped down the floor for a layup by Mac Hopson (assist to Steffan Johnson).

Just 43 seconds later the Vandals made it 4-0 on a slam by Marvin Jefferson (another Johnson assist). Move ahead 76 seconds and Johnson racked up another assist on a bucket by Kashif Watson to make it 6-0. Meanwhile the Vandal defense continued to ratchet up the pressure on the Pilots who were forced to play in front of a very vocal Idaho student body at the east end of a sold-out Memorial Gym in Moscow.

You get the picture.

The Pilots never led in the game. Aside from 0-0 on the opening tip, it was never tied. There were no lead changes. Idaho had rolled up an 18 point lead in the first half and led by as many as 25 before claiming a dominating 68-48 win Sunday evening.

The Pilots came in shooting 49% from the floor and 42% from three-point land. The Vandals held them to 32% on the game and 27% on three-point tries. Both teams had 17 turnovers but the Vandals made the Pilots pay for their mistakes with a 23-8 edge in points off turnovers. Idaho had a 28-22 edge in points in the paint. It was 10-2 Idaho on fast break points.

The frustration for the pilots was pretty much summed up late in the second half, long after the Vandals had put the win on ice. Pilot senior guard Nik Raivio, who logged his 1,000th career point earlier in the week, got the ball on a breakaway. Rather than trying to dunk, Raivio drove the lane for a textbook layup…and missed. As Raivio's momentum carried him out of bounds under the basket, a trailing teammate mishandled the ball as it came off the rim and bounced it off Raivio after he stepped out of bounds, turning possession back to the Vandals.

A very pleased coach Don Verlin credited the defensive intensity with the dominating victory. "That's probably as good a defense as we've played all year for that length of time. That's a credit to our guys. They busted their asses tonight," Verlin said. Asked if he feared a letdown similar to the one Thursday in Northridge that saw Idaho lose a 14-point lead and the game, Verlin said "Well, when you play as good as we did in the first half obviously there's probably going be a difference (in the second half). They're a very good basketball team. We kinda started the second half a little slow but then we came out and got back in our rhythm. It was just had a great defensive performance tonight.

"It's a credit to our players," he continued. "They worked really hard these last two days in the film room and on the court about how we can get better defensively, and we did that tonight. I thought our perimeter pressure was as good as it's been all year, and I thought our post defense was really good. I thought we only made a couple of mistakes in the post and other than that we were pretty solid all night long."

The sellout crowd was in a festive mood throughout the game. Adding to the excitement was an appearance by Vandal football coach Robb Akey, who made the announcement at halftime about the Vandals being matched with Bowling Green in the Humanitarian Bowl. The crowd, which was on its feet most of the night anyway, responded with a standing ovation for Akey and the Vandal football team, which was in the second deck seats at the east end of the floor in support of the Vandal basketball team.

Verlin took notice of the positive atmosphere.

"It was great. I was glad to have all the people come out. I was glad to hear we got a Humanitarian Bowl bid. It's a good time to be an Idaho Vandal. It was good to see all the people. It really adds energy to our basketball team."

As happy as the Vandals were as they exited the building with smiles on their faces to an ovation from the fans, Verlin was asked if the win will add positive momentum heading into Wednesday' game in Pullman against Washington State.

"Anytime you can win a game against a good basketball team like Portland, and then get ready to play your crosstown rival, it's huge, and they're obviously very good. It's a game I know our players have been looking forward to all year long. Idaho and WSU played together all summer; so I know they'll be looking forward to getting over there and playing some basketball."

He also was asked what he was anticipating when the Vandals travel to Portland Dec. 22 for a rematch against the Pilots. "It's gonna be an old fashioned fist fight," he said. "I know their coach. I know what they've got going. I know how they prepare and what they do. We won round one and hopefully we can win round two."

Watson, despite being saddled with three fouls early in the second half, led all scorers with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 23 minutes of action. Luis Toledo had 12 points and 5 rebounds, Hopson finished with 10 points and 3 assists; Johnson had 8 points, 5 assists and 2 steals, Luciano DeSouza had 8 points, Kyle Barone had 5 points and 3 rebounds, Jeff Ledbetter finished with 4 points, 3 assists and 2 steals, and Jefferson had 2 points but grabbed 9 rebounds, blocked a shot and handed out 2 assists.

Luke Sikma had 11 and Raivio 10 for Portland.

Tipoff in Pullman Wednesday will be 8 p.m. The game will be telecast on Fox Sports Northwest.

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