|Vandals complete monumental upset|
RENO, Nev. – Luciano de Souza and Mac Hopson each scored 16 points and Idaho hit 16-of-18 free throws in the second half to escape the Lawlor Events Center with a 78-73 upset victory over five-time Western Athletic Conference champion Nevada in the conference opener for both teams.
Idaho (7-7, 1-0) scored 15 of the first 18 points and answered every Nevada (7-7, 0-1) run in surviving six ties and five lead changes in the second half. The victory snapped Idaho’s nine-game losing streak to the Wolf Pack and handed Nevada only its second home loss in its last 22 WAC contests at home.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am for this program and we really need to feel good about this win,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “Our guys have worked tremendously hard to get to this point and I can see us continuing to get better if we continue to see this type of effort. I was most happy with how we didn’t have many loose possessions tonight.”
De Souza hit 6-of-9 field goal attempts, including 3-of-4 three pointers, and put the exclamation point on Idaho’s first WAC victory with a breakaway dunk and free throw to put Idaho ahead five with 31 seconds remaining. The Vandals sealed the victory with 7-of-8 free throws in the final 25 seconds.
Hopson added eight assists and two steals to his point total and Kashif Watson scored nine points in the second half to finish with 13. Brandon Wiley chipped in 12 points and hit all six free throw attempts and Marvin Jefferson scored 10 points in 17 minutes before fouling out.
As a team, Idaho hit 26-of-50 (.520) field goal attempts and finished a blazing 7-of-11 (.636) from beyond the 3-point line. The Vandals, who entered the contest ranked seventh in WAC for free throw shooting at 66-percent, nailed 19-of-24 (.792) attempts.
“The players make 200 free throws a week and it has been one of our biggest areas of emphasis. We all have been disappointed in our performance thus far and our guys stepped up and made them tonight and it was the difference in the game," Verlin said.
Idaho opened the contest with the first six points and later used a 9-0 run to build a 15-3 advantage with 13:58 remaining in the first half. Nevada put together a 13-5 run over the next four minutes to pull with four points and later trailed 23-19 before the Vandals scored six straight to push the advantage back to double-digits at 29-19 at the 6:26 mark. Nevada then scored seven straight points and continued on a 10-2 run to pull within 31-29 and a Wolf Pack tip-in at the buzzer cut Idaho’s advantage to 35-33 at half time.
Nevada quickly tied the score at 35-35 as the second half started, but Idaho kept the Wolf Pack at bay with timely baskets. The score was again tied at 41-41 and Nevada later claimed its first lead with a 5-0 run to make the score 47-45 with 12:12 remaining. Idaho responded with the next seven points and held the advantage until Nevada moved ahead 61-60 with 3:55 remaining. Wiley hit two free throws to give Idaho the lead, but the Wolf Pack scored the next four points to earn their largest lead of the night at 65-62 with 2:48 remaining. Hopson responded with a driving lay in and the Vandals took advantage of a Nevada turnover with two free throws from Watson to regain the lead for good. Idaho went on to score the next five points, punctuated by de Souza’s dunk, and eventually claimed a 73-66 margin with 25 seconds remaining. Nevada cut the lead to 76-73 with 1.4 seconds remaining, but Trevor Morris completed the upset with two free throws to put the game out of reach with 0.7 remaining.
The victory was Idaho’s first at Reno since Feb. 20, 1999.
The Vandals continue their road trip with a contest at Utah State Monday (Jan. 5) at 6:05 p.m. PT.