Vandals lose both ends of home doubleheader

A very vocal, supportive crowd of over 2,000 was on hand Saturday at the Cowan Spectrum – a large turnout bolstered by a large contingent of elementary school students who were part of the Vandal Readers as Leaders program – and they saw both the Vandal Women and Men drop two very disappointing WAC basketball games that, in retrospect, had a number of similarities.

Post-game video, falling to La Tech: (by Larry Johnson)

Post game video, facing NMSU: (by Larry Johnson)

The Vandal women gave two-time defending conference champion Fresno State a battle playing what coach Jon Newlee called their best 30 minutes of basketball of the season, but fell eight points short and wound up on the short end of a 72-64 decision. In the second game the Vandal men looked poised to hand Louisiana Tech its first conference loss, but the two problems the Vandals have been struggling with all season - turnovers and free throw shooting – allowed the Bulldogs to go on a 19-2 scoring run over an 8-1/2 minute segment of the second half and the visitors pulled out a 77-71 win.

The Vandal women are 0-1 in WAC play and will travel to Hawai'i for a Wednesday night game, then will host BSU next Saturday. The men will be home Monday for a 7:05 WAC game against New Mexico State.

"We played a great 30 minutes of basketball; they played 40," coach Jon Newlee said. "The game's 40. Credit to them, obviously. They're a championship basketball team… I think that was our best 30 minutes of the year against probably the second best team we've played. Obviously Baylor would be the best team we've played this year, but I think we played 30 really, really solid minutes against a great two-time WAC champion basketball team. We were composed, we ran our stuff, and we knocked down our shots. We shot the ball well tonight, the best we've shot it this year. I thought we rebounded it. I thought we just did everything well, and from a defensive standpoint we did it too. We did what wanted to do, and then it all just went bad quickly."

The Vandals had four players in double figures, paced by a sensational 26-point, 5 rebound, 2 assist night from Rachele Kloke who was supported by teammates Charlotte Otero (12), Yinka Olorunnife (11), and Shaena Kuehu (10), and they were outrebounded by the Bulldogs by only a 33-30 margin. The Vandals ran into problems when Olorunnife got into foul trouble and was only able to play 8 minutes in the second half before fouling out. To compound the problem the Vandals lost the services of freshman post Jessica Graham to an injury in practice. Newlee said Graham will be out for the year but refused to dwell on the loss of another player (Derisa Taleni is also out for the year with an injury.

"We have no depth. We're right back to where we were last year, but we had a good WAC year last year. Same thing. The new people have to step up as well. We miss Jessica, there's no doubt about it, but she's gone for the year so let's get used to it. Just like we got used to not having Derisa and the people that are out (on the floor) -- they have to get it done."

In the men's game the Vandals had La. Tech on the ropes leading 56-48 with 11:12 left in the second half, but suddenly ran into problems with turnovers and missed free throw changes.

"They made plays when they needed to tonight," coach Don Verlin said. "Kyle Gibson (28 points while playing a full 40 minutes) made a lot of good plays, and in the second half when it was time for us to make a play we turned it over and missed some free throws. That's how you lose ball games. We didn't execute like we needed to down the stretch. It's disappointing, but you have to give them credit. They made some big shots especially Gibson with 19 second-half points. He showed the kind of player that he is. If he's not the best player in the league he's one of them. When it came time to play he lined up and got it done."

The game statistically was close. Both teams shot better than 50% from the floor and Idaho held a 30-28 rebounding edge, but the Bulldogs held a 26-17 edge in points off rebounds and an 8-2 advantage in fast break points. Idaho also shot only 43% from the free throw line including 2-of-9 in the second half.

"I thought for whatever reason, their defense or our lack of execution, we didn't execute very well offensively," Verlin said. "If you look at the stat sheet you'd say we shot 51%, but turned it over 18 times, and then I think when we got ourselves to the free throw line we didn't capitalize from the charity stripe tonight. It's pretty simple when you go 9 for 21…if you're gonna compete in this league you're gonna have to capitalize on your opportunities and we didn't do that tonight."

As disappointed as he was with the loss, Verlin also found some positives in the game. "I thought we competed hard. I thought we played really hard," he said "I thought our game plan was really good. I thought we had the pace of the game the way we wanted it…I thought we had the game right where we needed to when we were up five or six there in the second half. I think we turned it over nine out of 11 times or something."

Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Steffan Johnson also hit double figures with 13 points. Marvin Jefferson had eight rebounds.

Verlin says it is important for the Vandals to put the game behind them to prepare for New Mexico State Monday. "We play a game in two days. We've got to come back and we've got to go to work. That's all you can do. We're gonna find out a lot about the character of this basketball team. WAC season is three games old, and there's a lot of basketball to be played."

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