Vandals Drop Heartbreaker to Nevada

For the second time in 16 days, the Vandals dropped a hard-fought battle on an opponent's last second shot. Last time it was BSU sending the game into overtime with a 3-point heave as time expired. Last night, it was Nevada picking up a foul on a layup that scored, giving the Pack a shot at a 3-point play - which they made - to win the game 67-66 in Moscow in front of a national ESPN audience.

It didn't go into overtime, but the Vandals' 67-66 loss to Nevada at the Cowan Spectrum before a national ESPN television audience was every bit as devastating as Idaho's overtime loss to BSU 16 days ago. It was certainly more frustrating to Vandal coach Don Verlin who uncharacteristically unleashed several choice words in the post-game media conference.

The game was very similar to the BSU loss. The Vandals seemed in control having fought back from a 16-point deficit to carve out a 62-58 lead with 48.5 seconds left. The Vandals took a time out to discuss strategy. A sizeable, vocal Vandal student section was all over top Wolf Pack players Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson. Unfortunately, just like the BSU game when Bronco Anthony Thomas was mercilessly booed throughout the contest, once again the target(s) delivered the dagger(s).

Idaho was up 64-61 on the strength of two Kashif Watson free throws with 31 seconds left. After a Vandal time out to discuss strategy, the Wolf Pack worked the ball around until Babbitt hit Johnson with a perimeter pass and Johnson buried the three to tie the game with 19.4 second left. Nevada took a time out to discuss strategy. When play resumed the Vandals brought the ball down the floor to set up the offense for a potential last shot, but Mac Hopson saw a lane open up down the left side of the key and drove in for a layup. His shot missed, but the effort drew a foul from Nevada's Dario Hunt who fouled out with 6.2 seconds remaining.

Hopson sank both ends of the pressure-packed 1-and-1 to make it 66-64 Idaho. Then it was Idaho's turn to call time out to discuss strategy. When play resumed the Vandals threw up a full-court press. The ball went to Johnson who drove the lane. Kashif Watson stepped in on defense. The whistle blew. Johnson continued on and fired the layup which bounced tantalizing on the back of the basket. It fell in. Watson was called for the foul. Johnson turned and gestured to the Vandal student section then stepped up and made the free throw to make it 67-66 Nevada.

Neither team had any time outs left. The Vandals took the ball out and hustled it up the floor to Hopson who cast off a three at the buzzer, but it was off the mark as the Wolf Pack celebrated the win at mid court.

Verlin, normally very mild mannered and composed, was beside himself in the media session.

"Absolutely brutal. A poorly officiated game," he said. "I don't care if the WAC fines me or not. That was a poorly officiated game. Babbitt traveled out front. An ‘and-one' was called from a guy shooting it from about 19 feet. I thought it was very, very inconsistent and the WAC office will hear from me tomorrow. Like I told the people on the radio, Idaho is no longer a door mat. We're a contender in this league and the officials need to figure it out.

"I thought it was really inconsistent all night long," Verlin continued. "Marv (Jefferson) gets a block called on him, and then we get a charge call. I thought it was inconsistent all night long. Then I thought the travel call was blatent right out in front of mid court…It was blatent, and it was Luke Babbitt and it was at a crucial time of the game because Armon Johnson hits a three pointer. Make no mistake about it, they [Nevada] did a great job. Armon hit a big shot on us. He hit two big shots on us. You've got to give them credit, because they made the shots when they had to. But I didn't think we got a fair shake tonight, and I never say that about the officiating. Ever."

Having said that, Verlin turned introspective and examined why the Vandals got off to a poor start. Part of the problem could have been the fact that Idaho was able to penetrate Nevada's zone defense but made only 6 of 17 shots from point-blank range in the paint in the first 20 minutes.

"We didn't play with enough energy in the first half," Verlin said. "We let ‘em do what they wanted. You've got to give them (Reno) some credit. They made 8 out of 11 3's. They came in shooting about 33% on the year. (Brandon) Fields and Babbitt stepped up and made some great 3's, and they played a really good first half. We didn't play hard enough, and we didn't do a good enough job defensively. Second half we came out and got after ‘em. We got to their shooters. We were able to get ourselves in transition and we were able to get ourselves right back into it. What's frustrating here is we did everything we needed to do to win this ball game tonight. We made free throws (16 of 20, 80%). We didn't turn the ball over (8 compared to 10 for Nevada).. We made a number of big plays. I thought we did a very, very nice job in the second half of this game, and it's too bad we couldn't find a way to win this one."

Jeff Ledbetter was succinct:. "That's out of our control," Ledbetter said about the officiating "We got to just play. We can't control what they call. We've just got to play, do what coach says and just play through that. They're human, too. They're not perfect. We can't blame anyone but ourselves for doing that. We spotted ‘em 14 points at half; so we can't put the blame on anyone else.

"We just weren't ready to go. We just weren't prepared. We didn't have the best three days of practice; so that showed in the first half," he said. "That's the one thing we've got to turn around, not to have those starts like that. If they put us in [citing Idaho's solid bench performance tonight] we're gonna bust our butts and try and do everything we can to help the team, and if not we're gonna be on the bench and be good teammates. It's obviously more fun to contribute, but if we get the shot we're gonna go in there and give it our all."

Verlin credited the halftime changes to his assistants. "The assistant coaches did a great job at halftime tonight. I didn't say a lot. Ray Lopes is in charge of defense. He got after ‘em. Mike Score is in charge of offense. He got after ‘em. I thought our assistant coaches did a great job tonight."

The coach then tried to analyze the slow start by the Vandals. "I was disappointed with our senior leadership in the first half," he said. "I didn't think we came out ready to play. We're in February. We've got five seniors. They need to get their basketball team ready to play. At this point in the year they (the team) have stopped listening. They've heard from me for six months. The team has to take over and our seniors have to take over if this team's gonna be successful."

The Vandals are mired in a struggle with Hawai'i, Fresno, San Jose, and Boise to make it to the WAC tournament (the last place team at the end of the regular season does not compete in the tournament). "We're climbing the hill. We can't stop now. There are no secrets to this," Verlin said. "We've got to build ‘em back and get ‘em ready to go. We've got another big game at Fresno on Saturday. We've got five games left to play in league now and we've got to keep going. We still have to battle…to make it to the WAC tournament,. We've got to fight our tails off to make it to the WAC tournament, and that has to be our goal. We can't stop now. We've played pretty good basketball the last two, three weeks. A lot better than we had the previous four or five weeks, and its frustrating because I think this win would have really helped up, but it's a one-point loss. It's tough to take it in the other column, but we did do a lot of good things in the second half."

Looking at some of the statistics it would be hard to imagine Idaho lost. The Vandals outrebounded Nevada 42-30, outscored the visitors 30-22 in the paint, held a 15-9 edge in points off turnovers, had an amazing 20-2 edge in second-chance points, and outscored the Wolf Pack 24-2 in bench points.

Individually, however, it was a different story. Johnson left Nevada with 23 points and Babbitt had 21 to go along with 4 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. Hopson was Idaho's top scorer with 17 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Luis Toledo added 11 points and 3 rebounds.

Idaho will be in Caiifornia Saturday evening against Fresno State. Looking at that game, Verlin was asked what he felt he needed to do to get the Vandals ready for that game. "I don't know if there's a right answer," he said. "We've had a lot of these, and I put it on the seniors. There's not a lot you can say that changes it at this point. I mean, they're hurting in the locker room like we all are. We've just got to come out and focus in on Fresno State and forget about what happened against Nevada, because if we let it hang over it could cost us another game."


Jeff Ledbetter Post-game Press Conference:

Don Verlin Post-game Press Conference Part 1:

Don Verlin Post-game Press Conference Part 2:





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