Vandals prepare to rebound at Nevada

Junior guard MARCUS LAWRENCE and the Idaho Vandals (8-7, 1-3 WAC) hit the road this week for a matchup in Reno against WAC power Nevada. The Vandals opened conference action with a win at Hawaii, but have dropped their last three, including home losses to La Tech and NMSU. Saturday night the Vandals take aim at repeating last year's triumph in Reno and earning their second WAC win of the season.


Idaho didn't take advantage of the first two games in a stretch of five home contests in six games, so now the Vandals will try to earn their second conference win on the road. The Vandals (8-7, 1-3 WAC) travel to Nevada on Saturday -- their last road conference game of the month. Idaho won their WAC opener last year in Reno, but this time the Vandals will be trying to stop a three-game losing streak that has coach Don Verlin's team sitting in eighth place in the nine-team WAC.

The Vandals have been a decent road team this season, scoring wins at Utah, North Dakota State and Hawaii. If Idaho can get through Saturday's game unscathed, it will have a full week to prepare for a home game on Jan. 23 against Utah State. Home games against Boise State (Jan. 25) and Fresno State (Jan. 28) follow.

Idaho then steps out of WAC play with a nonconference game at Seattle University.

NEW MEXICO STATE 75, IDAHO 72: The Vandals lost their third game in a row -- and second consecutive home contest -- as Jahmar Young scored a season-high 32 points to give New Mexico State the victory. The back-and-forth game featured eight ties and 12 lead changes. Senior Mac Hopson led the Vandals with 17 points, while Kashif Watson chipped in 16. Luis Toledo added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

--Idaho has to face Louisiana Tech senior guard Kyle Gibson one more time in the regular season, but the Vandals certainly don't want to see him in the league tournament. Gibson averaged 23.0 points against Idaho in three games last season, and he more than picked up where he left off during the Bulldogs' 77-71 road win on Jan. 9. Gibson poured in 28 points, hitting 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. With the game on the line in the final six minutes, Gibson scored 15 points.

"If he's not the best player in the league, he's one of them," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "When it came time to play, he lined up and got it done."

Gibson has that kind of games against a lot of teams, but it also pointed out a season-long trend for Idaho, which has had trouble corralling prolific shooting guards, whether it be Washington State's Klay Thompson (25 points) or San Jose State's Adrian Oliver (22 points) or Gibson or someone else. Idaho shot 50.9 percent from the field against Louisiana Tech on Jan. 9 ... and still lost by six points. The Bulldogs countered by hitting 57.1 percent of their shots (28-49). That was out of character for the Vandals, who entered this week allowing opponents to make only 42.5 percent of their shots.

Idaho and Louisiana Tech have played 10 times. Eight of the meetings have been decided by single digits.

ON THE SPOT: Idaho lost a pair of conference games at home thanks in part to its inability to cash in from the foul line. The Vandals went just 31-for-52 from the line in losses to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. Idaho is making a paltry 64.8 percent of its free throws this season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't have an answer for that. We've shot 23,000 of them since we started this year, so I don't know." -- Coach Don Verlin, in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, on his team's poor free-throw shooting.


SEASON RECAP: Idaho's inconsistency has made it hard for the Vandals to truly gain any traction -- as they have had nothing longer than a three-game winning streak and only suffered back-to-back losses for the first time when it lost to San Jose State and Louisiana Tech near the start of conference play. It was hard to figure out what you were going to get from one game to the next, but the Vandals have dangerous scorers and have established one of the deepest rotations in the league.


Usual Starters -- PG Mac Hopson, G Steffan Johnson, G Kashif Watson, PF Luiz Toledo, C Marvin Jefferson.

Key Subs -- G Jeff Ledbetter, F Luciano de Souza, C Kyle Barone, G Shawn Henderson, G Marcus Lawrence, PF Brandon Wiley.

Idaho 59, Hawaii 52
San Jose State 78, Idaho 75
Louisiana Tech 77, Idaho 71
New Mexico State 75, Idaho 72

at Nevada, Saturday, Jan. 16
vs. Utah State, Saturday, Jan. 23
vs. Boise State, Monday, Jan. 25
vs. Fresno State, Thursday, Jan. 28

IN FOCUS: The Vandals' rebounding has been so-so; for example, they allowed San Jose State to grab 13 offensive boards. Mac Hopson is a good rebounding guard, but Idaho doesn't really have an elite rebounder. That part of the game should be critical against Nevada, which entered the week as the best rebounding team in the WAC (plus-6.4 per game), led by sophomore Luke Babbitt.


--C Kyle Barone played 30 minutes in the loss to New Mexico State. The redshirt freshman more than doubled his season average of playing time in part because of foul trouble to starting C Marvin Jefferson. Barone matched his career high of seven rebounds and established a personal best with two blocked shots.
--F Luis Toledo notched the first double-double of his career Monday, scoring 12 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
--F Brandon Wiley has been battling a back injury that has limited him to just three games. He remains a candidate to sit out the rest of the season and return next season.

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