Vandal men prepare for WAC Tourney opener

Senior point guard MAC HOPSON and the Idaho Vandals (15-15, 6-10 WAC) set their sights on Nevada (19-11, 11-5 WAC), the No.2 team in the WAC regular season. The Vandals will have their hands full for many reasons, including the fact that the Wolf Pack finished the regular season an impressive 14-1 at home. But Idaho won five of their last seven games, including a one point home loss to Nevada.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho's regular season wasn't all it was supposed to be, and coach Don Verlin publicly at times, questioned his team's chemistry, consistency and senior leadership. And at least one player had some public comments about Verlin, too.

Senior guard Kashif Watson was suspended indefinitely before the regular-season finale against Hawaii for what Verlin called "conduct detrimental to the program." Watson had made comments on his Twitter account, apparently directed toward Verlin.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reported that Watson had asked how the team was supposed to win with "this guy coachin us." And earlier he had posted, "Wow just don't gett this guys mind set, it's like some times he don't wanna win that bad!!"

Verlin said Watson's status would be evaluated before the WAC tournament. Watson is the team's second-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game.

On Wednesday Travis Mason-Bushman of the Argonaut Sports VandalNation blog confirmed that Watson remained on suspension and would not be joining the team for the WAC Tourney. CLICK HERE to read more.

Idaho will be the seventh seed after finishing 6-10 in the conference and 15-15 overall. That came in a season in which the expectations were for at least the same finish as last season, when the Vandals were 9-7 in the WAC. Idaho did sweep its final homestand of the regular season, beating San Jose State and Hawaii -- two teams that were horrible on the road this season.

"I really believe we're a team that can make a run in the tournament," Verlin said after the win over Hawaii on March 6. "Like I told our guys afterward, it's the team that plays the best for 40 minutes now, not the team that plays best for four months."


NOTES, QUOTES

--Entering the WAC tournament at 15-15 overall, Idaho is trying for its second consecutive winning season. To have a chance for that, though, the Vandals must first beat second-seeded Nevada on its home court in the WAC quarterfinals.
--Idaho went 0-8 this season against the top four teams in the WAC -- Utah State, Nevada, New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. The Vandals were 6-2 against teams that finished fifth or worse.
--Idaho made 14 of 27 3-point shots in the regular-season finale against Hawaii. The 14 makes were the best for any WAC team this season.


ON THE SPOT: Idaho's top four scorers are seniors, so it's up to them to write their own happy ending to the season. G Mac Hopson ended the regular season with a team-best 14.4 points per game, followed by G Kashif Watson (10.7), G Steffan Johnson (10.2) and C Marvin Jefferson (9.0).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's been our whole goal this whole year -- to play well at the right time and there can't be any other time that's better than right before you go to the WAC tournament. We just need to keep our momentum and our intensity up going into this tournament and we have a real good chance of doing well." -- Idaho senior guard Steffan Johnson.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SEASON RECAP: A six-game losing streak near the start of the conference season put Idaho in a hole that it spent all season trying to climb out from. The Vandals did win five of seven games at one stretch, but two of those wins came against Seattle and the other three were against lower-division WAC teams. Idaho won at Utah to start the season, but the record was short on significant victories.

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:
Louisiana Tech 60, Idaho 49
Idaho 86, San Jose State 76
Idaho 78, Hawaii 69
GAME PREVIEW:
vs. Nevada, WAC quarterfinal (Reno, Nev.), Thursday, March 11


IN FOCUS: Idaho lost both regular-season games to Nevada this season, but did out-rebound the Wolf Pack by a combined 19 boards. That could be a key area in the rematch as the Vandals try to control the pace and keep the home crowd from getting too wild. Nevada averaged 59 shots per game in conference play, but the Vandals gave up 52.5 shots to the Pack in two games, which gave them a chance to stay within striking distance.

ROSTER REPORT:
--F Luiz Toledo, who had started all 26 games in which he had played this season, was out of the starting lineup for the final two regular-season games. He is averaging 7.5 points and 4.1 rebounds. F Luciano de Souza started those two games, and he gives the starting lineup a 3-point shooting threat, although Toledo ended the regular season as the WAC leader in shooting percentage (63.7).
--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.
--G Mac Hobson ended the regular season second in the WAC in assists at 5.1 per game.




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