Courtesy: Ilya Pinchuk (Moscow, Idaho)
|Idaho comes up short|
LAS VEGAS – University of Idaho men’s basketball overcame an 11-point first-half deficit in the Western Athletic Conference quarterfinal round against Hawai`i, but an unlucky bounce and a few key plays late led to a 72-70 Vandal loss.
“We were able to get a lead, then missed a couple free throws, had a couple tough possessions and Hawai`i made the plays had to,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said after the game. “I really don’t think there’s a whole lot more to this game than that."
Despite trailing by double figures in the first half, third-seeded Idaho (18-13, 9-5 WAC) took a seven-point lead, 62-55, with 7:46 to play. Two minutes later, a Shaquille Stokes free throw started a 7-0 run that tied the game at 64-64 and three minutes to play.
“I thought we’d seized control of the game, no question about it,” Verlin said about taking the lead late. “We had definitely climbed the hill and I thought Hawai`i made some great plays down the stretch and we made a couple tough decisions, but that’s basketball.”
Hawai`i (16-15, 6-8 WAC) went up by three after a pair of Hauns Brereton free throws at 1:43, but Idaho’s Deremy Geiger converted a fast-break layup plus a foul to tie it at 68-68 with 50.8 seconds to play. Barone blocked a Stokes layup on the other end, but the Rainbow Warriors got a putback by Vander Joaquim to go up 70-68.
After a Kyle Barone layup brought it back square, 70-70, the Warriors got the key play of the game. Stokes drove the lane and Geiger stripped away the ball, which bounced off one player and directly into the hands of Brereton, who knocked down a 10-foot baseline jumper with 3.8 seconds left. Idaho’s desperation heave was knocked away as time expired.
“In that stretch, we might have had two or three possessions where we just tried to throw a shot up at the end of the shot clock so we got a shot up and not a turnover,” senior guard Landon Tatum said of the final minutes. “We just weren’t getting the shots we needed to get.”
Barone had an inspired effort for the Vandals with 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, along with three rebounds, two blocks and one assist. Madison added 15 points, three rebounds and three steals, while senior forward Djim Bandoumel had a career-high 16 rebounds.
While the two last-minute key plays – Joaquim’s putback and Brereton’s late shot – certainly hurt, Idaho’s first-half performance was the key to the game. The Vandals made just four of their first 22 attempts and missed their first seven 3-pointers despite getting several open looks throughout the period.
Idaho went into the first half trailing 38-25 after shooting just 10-of-29 (.345) overall and 1-of-8 (.125) from 3-point range. UH went 12-of-29 (.414) in the opening period.
“We didn’t get frustrated early in the game when our shots weren’t going in,” Verlin said. “I thought we got a lot of really good looks, but just didn’t knock them down.”
Joaquim led Hawai`i with 20 points and 13 rebounds on 9-of-17 shooting, while Brereton added 17 points and 11 rebounds on a 6-of-8 shooting day. Stokes, a freshman, finished with 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting, along with three assists.
As a team, Idaho finished the game shooting 44.2 percent from the floor (23-52) and 37.5 percent from 3-point range (6-16). The team added an 18-of-25 (.720) free throw performance. The Rainbow Warriors went 26-of-59 (.441) overall and just 2-of-10 (.200) from long range. They went 18-of-30 (.600) at the free throw line.
UH held a 41-33 rebounding edge, including 13 on the offensive glass which led to 11 second-chance points. Idaho had just six offensive boards and four second-chance points in the game. The Warriors also outscored the Vandals in the paint, 38-26, and off turnovers, 11-4.
While the team’s WAC Tournament is over, Verlin said he’s sure Idaho’s season is still alive. A third postseason bid in four seasons is a possibility for the team.
“Hopefully we’ll continue to play next week,” Verlin said. “We’ll find out pretty soon, I’m sure.”
Sixth-seeded Hawai`i moves on to the semifinal round, where it will face the winner of the No. 2 New Mexico State vs. No. 7 Fresno State matchup.
“Both teams played extremely hard, both teams played with a lot of heart,” Verlin said. “I thought we both competed our tails off and it came down to one possession and they made it tonight.”