Vandals enter final week of regular season

The Idaho Vandals, led by senior point guard MAC HOPSON, return home this week to close out the regular season and battle for position going into the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Idaho (13-15, 4-10 WAC) will look to even their season record by hosting San Jose State Thursday night (7:00pm PST tipoff), followed by Hawaii Saturday (5:05pm PST tipoff) when Idaho's seniors will be honored.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho hadn't had a winning record since the 1993-94 season, and then Don Verlin, in his first season as head coach, guided the Vandals to a 17-16 mark. That was last season. More was expected this season, as Idaho returned its top five scorers and its top five rebounders from a team that appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last season. What's more, Idaho added senior guard Steffan Johnson, a former All-Big West performer at Pacific, to the lineup.

None of it, however, has translated to success this season.

In one of the big puzzles of the WAC season, Idaho enters the final week of the regular season with a 13-15 overall record, only 4-10 in the league.

"We've had an inconsistent performance all year long," coach Don Verlin said.

The schedule offers some hope. Idaho finishes the final week of the regular season with home games against San Jose State and Hawaii, two teams that haven't won a conference road game this season.

But even if the Vandals sweep, they will still end up three conference wins shy of last season's total.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho is 0-5 this season in games that have been telecast nationally. The Vandals have lost to Nevada, Utah State, Washington State, Boise State and New Mexico State with national TV cameras rolling.
--Idaho shot a season-low 30.9 percent (21 of 68) in a loss at New Mexico State on Feb. 24. The Vandals capped a horrible offensive showing on their road trip by shooting 38.9 percent at Louisiana Tech on Feb. 27. Idaho was 8 of 33 from behind the 3-point arc in those two games.


ON THE SPOT: Coach Don Verlin has called on his senior leadership to take over as the team tries to build momentum into the WAC tournament. With a sweep of its final two home games, there is a chance the Vandals can tied for fifth in the conference. Idaho's top four scorers are seniors -- G Mac Hopson (14.3), G Kashif Watson (10.5), G Staffon Johnson (9.5) and C Marvin Jefferson (8.9).


QUOTE TO NOTE: "You have to make plays. Defensively, I thought we played well enough to win. But, you have to give credit to Louisiana Tech. This is a good team." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin, after a 60-49 loss at Louisiana Tech on Feb. 27.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: Plagued by inconsistency and, at times, bad chemistry, Idaho was unable to build on a 7-4 nonconference record before the WAC season began. The Vandals stumbled with a six-game losing streak in the league, then went through a stretch in which they won five of seven, only to lose three in a row, capped by a Feb. 27 loss at Louisiana Tech. Idaho finished the season 0-8 against the teams that will finish in the top four spots in the WAC.

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:
Long Beach State 77, Idaho 66
New Mexico State 74, Idaho 57
Louisiana Tech 60, Idaho 49
GAME PREVIEW:
vs. San Jose State, Thursday, March 4
vs. Hawaii, Saturday, March 6
WAC Tournament (Reno, Nev.), Thursday-Saturday, March 11-13


IN FOCUS: Idaho has two starters who shoot less than 60 percent from the free throw line -- Marvin Jefferson and Luiz Toledo -- and can't afford to squander those kinds of opportunities as the offense has fizzled recently. San Jose and Hawaii rank near the bottom of the WAC in shooting percentage defense, though, as these games offer a final chance to get hot heading into the WAC tournament.


ROSTER REPORT:
--G Mac Hopson failed to score in double figures against New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech last week, compiling only 14 total points. He is averaging a team-best 14.3 points per game.
--C Marvin Jefferson has 54 blocks this season, ranking third in the WAC at 1.9 per game. He was the only Vandal to score in double figures at Louisiana Tech on Feb. 27, putting in 13 points on 6 of 6 shooting.
--F Brandon Wiley, who played in only three games this season because of a back injury, is taking a redshirt and is expected to return next year as a senior.





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