Idaho prepares to regroup Saturday at La Tech

Idaho true freshman center KYLE BARONE (6-10, 220) has been coming on strong as the season has progressed, including hitting 10-points Wednesday in Idaho's loss at New Mexico State. As he becomes more comfortable competing at the collegiate level, he becomes a more integral part of an Idaho team (13-14, 4-9 WAC) battling for a seed in the WAC tournament as they head to Ruston to battle La Tech.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho laid another egg in a nationally televised game, something that has become a habit this season.

The Vandals fell to 0-5 in non-local TV games this season, this time a 74-57 loss at New Mexico State on Wednesday. Idaho also has lost to Nevada, Utah State, Washington State and Boise State with national TV cameras rolling.

The Vandals (13-14 overall, 4-9 WAC) also are in danger of not finishing with a winning record, which would be a first for coach Don Verlin. In all of his years as an assistant coach, he never was a part of a losing team at the NCAA level. In his first season as a head coach, Idaho posted a winning record.

The Vandals still have time to finish above .500.

Idaho travels to Louisiana Tech on Saturday, then returns home for a pair of games against San Jose State and Hawaii. The Vandals are in seventh place in the WAC standings, just one game behind San Jose State for sixth place and two games behind Fresno State for fifth.


NEW MEXICO STATE 74, IDAHO 57: The visiting Vandals watched six New Mexico State players sink 3-point shots in a blowout loss on ESPN2. Idaho turned the ball over 14 times in the first half to fall behind by 18 points, and the Vandals never got closer than 15 points after halftime. Kashif Watson and Kyle Barone scored 10 points apiece for Idaho, which fell below .500 (13-14) with the loss.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho has been a maddening team to figure out, as unpredictable as any team in the WAC. Instead of taking the expected step forward this season after going 17-16 overall and 9-7 in the WAC in Don Verlin's first season as coach, the Vandals have been plagued by inconsistency and a general lack of cohesiveness that has led to uneven results. After getting on a little hot streak -- five wins in seven games -- Idaho suffered a 77-66 home loss to Long Beach State on Feb. 20 in the BracketBusters event and then a conference loss at New Mexico State on Wednesday.

--Long Beach State coach Dan Monson, who is an Idaho alum and whose father, Don, was a head coach of the Vandals, said he didn't completely enjoy beating UI 77-66 on Feb. 20. "As far as the game goes, it feels good now," Monson was quoted as saying in the Spokane Spokesman-Review. "But I'm a Vandal. I root for the Vandals every game. Nobody was yelling more at the TV set than I was at the Humanitarian Bowl. So you don't enjoy that part of it."

--Idaho has been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the WAC, hitting 37.7 percent through Feb. 20, but the Vandals lost their touch against Long Beach State, contributing to the 11-point loss. They were just 3 of 18 from behind the arc against the 49ers.


ON THE SPOT: Idaho's inability to take care of the basketball again cost the Vandals. Idaho had 19 giveaways in a loss at New Mexico State, including 14 in the first half when Idaho fell behind by 18 points. It was the 11th game in a row that Idaho has had double-digit turnovers and the 24th time in 27 games this season.


QUOTE TO NOTE: "This game is an interesting game. If you don't play hard, you'll get your tail kicked, no matter who you're playing, and tonight we didn't play hard enough." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin, after a 77-66 home loss to Long Beach State on Feb. 20.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: Idaho began with a win at Utah and went 7-4 before conference play began, seemingly in decent shape. But the Vandals quickly hit a six-game losing streak in the league, sending them to the bottom of the standings. Idaho recovered somewhat with a pair of wins over Fresno State and one over Boise State to move out of danger of being the only team left out of the WAC tournament, but the Vandals have yet to defeat any of the top four teams in the league.

PLAYER ROTATION: 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

GAME REVIEW:
Idaho 68, Fresno State 59
Idaho 82, Seattle 72
Long Beach State 77, Idaho 66
New Mexico State 74, Idaho 57

GAME PREVIEW:
at Louisiana Tech, Saturday, Feb. 27
vs. San Jose State, Thursday, March 4
vs. Hawaii, Saturday, March 6
WAC Tournament (Reno, Nev.), Thursday-Saturday, March 11-13


IN FOCUS: In the first meeting against Louisiana Tech, Idaho shot 50.9 percent and forced 17 turnovers. The problem? The Bulldogs shot 57.1 percent and forced 18 turnovers. Tech won 77-71, getting 28 points from high-scoring senior guard Kyle Gibson.


ROSTER REPORT:
--G Mac Hopson failed to score in double figures against New Mexico State. The senior had nine points in the loss, snapping a string of five double-figure games in a row.
--G Steffan Johnson was held scoreless for the first time this season in the loss at New Mexico State. The senior was Idaho's third-leading scorer at 10.1 points per game before putting up the goose egg.
--C Marvin Jefferson blocked two shots in the loss to New Mexico State, upping his season total to 55. Idaho's school record for blocks in a season is 72, a mark that likely is out of reach unless Idaho extends its season beyond the WAC tournament.




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