Utah State downs Idaho

Going into Saturday's game against Utah State, the Vandals admittedly battled glaring weaknesses, including struggling to take care of the ball and difficulty shooting free throws. After 20 minutes in front 2500 Idaho fans, the Vandals trailed by five points, hit 4-of-5 free throws and turned the ball over twice, just like the visiting Aggies. But USU dominated the second half for the 60-48 win.

At halftime the Vandal football team was honored for its Humanitarian Bowl win, and head coach Robb Akey even gave a reprise to his no famous sideline interview on ESPN. "We're only down five points. Stick around for the second half. You're gonna like it," he said as the crowd roared in approval.

This time, it didn't happen.

In the second 20-minute stanza the Vandals continued to take care of the ball and shot free throws well, cutting the lead to three. But suddenly Utah State went on an 8-0 run over 3:20 seconds and the wheels fell off offensively for the Vandals. Utah State was on its way to cruise to a 60-48 victory. The Aggies held the Vandals to 18 points and 18% shooting from the floor in the second half and were never seriously threatened by the Vandals after that scoring run.

"They're better than we are right now," Vandal coach Don Verlin admitted. "They out-physicaled us at the basket. If you played football, on the offensive line of scrimmage tonight they beat us in the trenches. They kicked our tail on the boards and in the paint. It was really about that simple…It was a two or three point game and we got a good stop, but didn't get a couple of key blockouts and they capitalized on those plays.

"This is not the lower level part of the league," he continued. "This is the team that's picked to win the league, a team that's coached by a guy who's got 500 wins and has four starters back that are all over the age of 24 and a bunch of two- and three-year starters. These guys are efficient and good and we obviously found that out tonight."

By the end of the game none of the Vandal starters were on the floor. Asked if he had "raised a white flag" down by 10 points with about three minutes to go, Verlin explained, "Three minutes to go Hopson and (Steffan) Johnson were both fighting cramps real bad; so I subbed a few of the guards. My other post had played a bunch of minutes. I don't think I threw up the white flag by any means. It was a 10- or 12-point game but it was a possession game. Mac has battled cramps for some reason. He doesn't cramp in practice. He only cramps in the games and we've seen that go on for a year and a half…then Johnson cramped tonight too; so that was really the difference. Luciano de Souza was fighting a stomach virus real bad and he was limited duty tonight. He was sick for practice this week…and was throwing up before the game; so I didn't have him at full strength."

Verlin also rotated three point guards during the game: Hopson, Johnson and Marcus Lawrence. "Steffan played a little at the point tonight. Marcus (Lawrence) did. Mac did. We moved ‘em around," Verlin said. "That's what Stef was coming in here (a point guard); so I was really working to try to get us a better defensive lineup out there, some different defensive matchups. In the stats it didn't work tonight, but that's kinda the direction we're going."

Kashif Watson led the Vandals with 16 points and Marvin Jefferson had 9 to go with 8 rebounds. Johnson had 8 points and Hopson had 7 points in 29 minutes of action. Utah State held edges in rebounding (35-23), points in the paint (30-24) and second chance points (8-5). Idaho did hold a 6-2 lead in fast break points, and both teams had 8 points off turnovers, but USU held an 18-2 lead in bench points. The Vandals shot 33% from the floor for the game and was only 2-of-14 3-pointers, 14%. They did sink 10-of-12 free throws (83%).

"We worked out tails off on (turnovers and free throw shooting)," Verlin said. "We made some personnel changes, played some guys in different spots. We thought we could be more efficient. I thought we were at times, and then boom; we don't rebound the ball as well as we have been. We've just got to keep grinding. That's the only thing I know to do."

The Vandals host BSU Monday night in the Cowan Spectrum. Tipoff will be at 8 p.m. PST to accommodate a national television broadcast on ESPNU.

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