Vandals sweep Seattle University

THE VANDALS IMPROVED THEIR SEASON RECORD TO 13-12 (4-8 WAC) with their 82-72 victory over Seattle University Thursday night in the Cowan Spectrum. Three Idaho seniors finished in double figures, led by KASHIF WATSON'S 20-point effort to lead all scorers. Center Marvin Jefferson added 16 points and 8 boards. Up next, Idaho hosts Long Beach State (5:30PM PST tipoff) Saturday evening at the Cowan.

Eight days ago in the aftermath of a bitterly disappointing home loss to Nevada, Idaho coach Don Verlin drew a lot of attention for his criticism of the officiating in the post-game media conference. It even led to a comment that might become a catch phrase in WAC basketball lexicon. When Vandal women's coach John Newlee drew a technical foul from the officials in a 10-point loss at BSU Wednesday night, Idaho Statesman reporter Nick Jezierny asked Newlee to comment on the game. Newlee replied, "I'm not gonna go all Don Verlin on you…"

Lost in the aftermath of the post-game statement were Verlin's comments a few minutes later in that same media conference. When asked how he would prepare the Vandals for their next game at Fresno State the second-year Vandal coach said, "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 (to me). 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…"

Four of the six seniors – Mac Hopson, Marvin Jefferson, Steffan Johnson, and Kashif Watson – started against Seattle U (Luciano de Souza is one of the first off the bench and Travis Blackstock adds depth). It was hard to tell if Verlin's words had any effect last week when the Vandals traveled to Fresno and shook off the Nevada loss to hand Fresno State a surprising 68-59 defeat, one of the Bulldog's few home court losses at Save Mart Center.

Thursday night in the Cowan Spectrum it looked like the Vandal seniors took their coach's comments to heart. The Vandals played a great first half to lead by 10 at intermission, and then were clutch down the stretch in all aspects of the game to hang an 82-72 loss on the Seattle University Redhawks in non-conference action. This is the same Seattle U team that beat Fresno State, University of Utah, and – shockingly – Oregon State 99-48 in Corvallis.

Watson finished within one point of a career high 20-points Thursday night. He would have eclipsed his old mark, but his bucket just before the horn at the end of the first half was waved off on an instant replay review. The decision also cost Hopson a double-double as he lost an assist on the play and wound up with nine assists on the game to go with 15 points. Jefferson also came close to a double-double with 16 points and 8 rebounds. Johnson had four points, three rebounds and three assists with only one turnover.

After the game Watson told the media the seniors had indeed stepped up. "We have five seniors on this team; so any night coach is always preaching that our seniors are going to lead this team at the end of February and March," Watson said. "It was just a night when me and Marvin stepped up and we felt like we needed to come out and play a big game. We came out kinda slow; me and Marv figured out that we just keep going and playing our game. It'll just come to us. Everybody did a good job just passing the ball around and getting open shots."

The game was a study in contrasts in the two halves. Seattle likes to play up-tempo, pressing transition basketball. Thursday the Vandals were willing to oblige in the first period. Idaho kept adjusting to whatever changes the Redhawks made and made it a point to work the ball inside against Seattle. Making 13 of 18 shot attempts in the paint, the Vandals broke out to a 10 point halftime lead (after Watson's score was erased). Idaho committed just five turnovers, scored 26 points in the paint, and outscored the Redhawks 6-0 on fast breaks.

In the second half both teams dialed down the tempo, working on half court sets although Seattle did stick with its pressure defense. The Vandals maintained the lead for the full 20 minutes, but the visitors continued to challenge and, with 62 seconds left, made it a two possession game slicing the Vandal lead to 76-72.

It was a scenario played out countless times this season for Idaho. However, This time the final outcome was positive. Seattle started fouling, but instead of succumbing in the stretch the Vandals stepped up in the clutch. Johnson and sophomore Luiz Toledo were a combined six-of-six from the free throw line in a span 54 seconds to ice the win.

Before the first question was uttered, Verlin went on the offensive in the post-game media session. "Well, I'm not gonna lose my temper about the officiating tonight," he said with a laugh. "I thought we did a great job. We turned it over 24 times over there (in Seattle). I thought tonight in the first half we executed very well in our press breaker. In the second half we got a little sloppy. We turned it over a little too much in the second half, but I thought we did a very nice job of executing our press breaker. I thought we did a really good job of rebounding the basketball, which was a huge key coming into this game. We outrebounded ‘em by nine, we kept them about six under their offensive average, and I thought we did a great job in transition defense," Verllin said. "At halftime they only had one point in transition, and (on the game) they had four. Against UC Davis they had 43 in transition; so I thought we did a good job in what we call the big three going into this game – transition D, handling their pressure, and rebounding. I thought we did a great job in all three of those areas to come out with a very nice win."

Verlin reflected on the just-completed game and singled out individual efforts. "I thought Marvin (Jefferson) played very well in the second half -- I thought he rebounded the ball extremely well. Kashif Watson had a solid game tonight, did a nice job driving the ball to the basket and finishing around the basket. And I thought Mac Hopson played very well, nine assists, three turnovers," the coach continued. "In two games against Seattle U he has 20 assists. That's pretty good, and I thought that our guards played very well tonight. Our two main handling guards (Hopson and Johnson) handled the ball and the pressure all night long. Thirteen assists, four turnovers, that's pretty good against that pressure all night. I felt good about that."

Idaho is now 5-0 at home in non-conference action. The Vandals are 13-12 on the season, back over the .500 mark for the first time since January 9. They have also posted more wins than any Idaho team since the 1998-99 Vandals went 16-11. There are still five regular season games and (hopefully) the WAC tournament left on the schedule. Three of the five games will be played in the Cowan Spectrum. Only the top eight teams in the conference will go to the tournament.

"I've said all along taking care of your home court is very important, and we've got to continue to do that," Verlin said. "We've not only got a big game on Saturday, but we finish with senior weekend at home which will be two very important basketball games at home to finish the home stand this year. Winning at home is really important in college basketball."

Verlin looked ahead to Saturday's Bracket Buster game against Long Beach State. "A big game. Good game," he said. "Should be a lot of fun. They're very athletic, very talented. They're a solid Big West team. They're picked to win their league. Dan Monson coming back, an Idaho graduate, Moscow High graduate. I know he'll have his team ready to play. He's had a lot of success here in the Northwest. They're always well coached. The Big West is a very good league this year. They've got very good teams in that league. It's gonna be a good basketball game. It's an important game for us. It's a chance to get another win and keep building. I think our guys will be ready to play."

Tipoff Saturday will be at approximately 5:30 p.m. after Newlee's Vandal women face New Mexico State at 3 p.m.


LINK: IDAHO OFFICIAL SITE: Vandals outlast Seattle
(Game Recap and Stats)

LINK: Vandals hold Garcia in check, complete Seattle sweep (Vandal Nation)

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