|Idaho busts out of funk|
MOSCOW, Idaho - The effort and intensity were there, and this time, it lasted the full 40 minutes, as University of Idaho men's basketball ended its four-game skid with a 75-61 win over Hawai'i on Saturday at the Cowan Spectrum.
Idaho (13-10, 6-5 Western Athletic Conference) earned the season sweep over Hawai'i (13-10, 4-7 WAC) with impressive outside shooting and strong second-half defense.
The Vandals hit a WAC-season-high 55.6 percent on 10-of-18 shooting from 3-point range, and went 17-of-21 (.810) from the free throw line to keep things efficient on the offensive side. Defensively, Idaho forced 10 first-half turnovers, then limited UH to 36.7 percent overall and 22.2 percent 3-point shooting in the second half.
"It was nice to make some shots," Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. "We just made a bunch of shots tonight, especially from three. When you shoot it 10-for-18, you're pretty hard to beat."
Early on, it didn't appear that Idaho would be able to handle the Warriors, as UH jumped out to a 17-10 lead at the 11:14 mark, but true freshman Stephen Madison came off the bench and nailed 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions to key a 15-0 Idaho scoring run that put the Vandals ahead, 25-17, at the 7:07 mark. The score would be tied once more, at 30-30, but Idaho never trailed after the run.
"When Stephen came in and knocked down three (3-pointers) - probably the difference in the game," Verlin said. "I thought he changed the momentum of the entire game by knocking those shots down and it kind of became contagious."
Idaho junior Deremy Geiger didn't light up the scoreboard on Saturday, but he made sure his teammates did. He had a career-high nine assists by halftime and finished the game with 11, which are the most dimes by a Vandal since Mac Hopson had 11, also against Hawai'i, on Mar. 6, 2010.
"Just trying to do different things and get my teammates involved," Geiger said after the game. "That was my main focus from the beginning of the game, to really get them going, because whenever the team plays really well, we always win.
"I've got great teammates that can shoot the ball and create, so just get them the ball where they like it and let them do what they do."
Vandal senior Jeff Ledbetter continued his torrid pace from long range, as he nailed four triples and finished with a game-high 15 points. Senior forward Brandon Wiley added 13 points, two rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal. Madison, who set a career-high in scoring, was one of four Vandals to notch nine points on Saturday, joining senior Shawn Henderson, junior Landon Tatum and sophomore Kyle Barone.
Vander Joaquim led the Warriors with 14 points and 14 rebounds, along with two blocks, while Joston Thomas added 12 points and led all players with three steals.
While Idaho surrendered late leads in two of its four games in its losing streak, that would not be the case on Saturday. Leading 62-50 at the 10:00 mark, Idaho gave up a layup to UH's Trevor Wiseman, then didn't allow another field goal by the Warriors over the next 4:34 and extended its lead to 17 points at 69-52.
"We played better defensively in the second half than we have in the previous three halves," Verlin said. "We really locked them down in the second half: 36 percent, 22 (percent) from three and five turnovers - that's a pretty good half of basketball, and we did it primarily guarding them man-to-man."
Idaho didn't make a field goal over the final 8:54 of the game, but they did notch eight straight made free throws and went 12-of-13 from the line in the last nine minutes to preserve the lead and the victory. The Vandals extended their lead to as many as 20 points at 75-55 with 1:08 remaining in the game.
Points in the paint (30-22) and second-chance points (16-12) went UH's way in the game, but Idaho held a 23-18 advantage in points off turnovers, 27-18 in bench points and a 10-6 edge on the fast break.
Hawai'i shot 43.6 percent overall and 35.3 percent from 3-point range for the game. The Warriors were 7-of-12 (.583) from the free throw line.
The season sweep is the second in a row by Idaho over Hawai'i. The Vandals have now won four in a row against the Rainbow Warriors.
Geiger's 11 assists tie him for sixth all-time in Idaho single-game history, while Ledbetter's four made 3-pointers bump him up to 66 for the season, which puts him at ninth in Vandal single-season history.
The win gives Idaho some much-needed momentum heading into their meeting with No. 21 Utah State, which enters the game 22-2 overall and 11-0 in the WAC. The Aggies extended their record 25-game WAC win streak with a decisive 77-49 victory over Boise State on Saturday.
Wednesday's game will be televised nationally on ESPN2 and will tip off at 8:05 p.m. at the Cowan Spectrum.