|Vandals can't answer|
SAN FRANCISCO - Idaho made plays, but San Francisco made even more on Wednesday, and the Dons advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament with an 81-73 victory at War Memorial Gym.
Idaho (18-14) forced San Francisco (18-14) into an opponent-season-high 24 turnovers, but the Dons connected 10 times from 3-point range and went 25-of-28 (.893) from the free throw line to make up for the miscues.
"You've got to give them credit," Idaho head coach Don Verlin said of USF. "They made a ton of free throws tonight. If they had a weakness going in, it was that, but they really shot well tonight."
The Vandals shot 42.6 percent overall from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range, but made just 13 of their 20 free throw attempts for a 65-percent clip. Idaho entered the game among the Western Athletic Conference's best free-throw shooting teams at 72.3 percent, while USF's 67.5 average rated last in the West Coast Conference this season.
USF opened the game on a 10-2 run, and that was the story of the game. Every time Idaho would string together a few possessions, the Dons answered with a key 3-pointer or the Vandals gave up a couple turnovers.
An 11-0 Idaho run late in the first half brought the Vandals within one at 32-31, but the Dons nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the closing minute of the half, including one at the buzzer. After the Vandals scored five unanswered to open the second half, USF matched it with five in a row of its own.
"They shot the ball really well from 3 and we killed ourselves with turnovers," Idaho senior Jeff Ledbetter said. "Every time we made a run, we'd turn it over, then all of a sudden we're back down 10 points."
The see-saw continued until midway through the second half when, with the score 56-53, USF went on a 15-6 run that put the Dons up by 12 at 71-59 with 4:33 to go. They extended their lead to a game-high 14 points at 75-61 moments later, but the Vandals refused to go down.
The Vandals got six points on a single possession after senior Shawn Henderson drew a foul, then USF's Moustapha Diarra got hit with a technical foul. Idaho made three of the four ensuing free throws and got the ball back, then junior Deremy Geiger knocked down a three to get Idaho within eight, at 75-67, with 1:06 to go.
It wasn't to be, however, as USF knocked down their final six free throws to cap off a 17-of-17 second-half performance from the line, and the Dons held on for the win.
Ledbetter led all scorers with 22 points, and with five made 3-pointers, brought his season total to 99, a new Idaho school record. Sophomore Kyle Barone dropped in 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while senior Brandon Wiley hit all four of his attempts and finished with 11.
Five USF players scored in double figures, led by Rashad Green, who had 16 and went 9-of-9 from the free throw line and grabbed eight rebounds. Michael Williams and Perris Blackwell added 15 points each for the Dons.
USF out-rebounded Idaho, 44-26, and outscored the Vandals, 26-22, in the paint. The Dons also held a 13-11 edge in second-chance points. Both teams had 17 assists, while Idaho had 11 steals to USF's eight.
The Vandals trailed at the half, 38-31, after giving up six made 3-pointers and sending the Dons to the free-throw line 11 times. Idaho shot 44.4 percent for the period and USF shot 48 percent, but the Vandals went just 4-of-7 (.571) from the free throw line.
It was a sloppy first 20 minutes for both teams, as they combined for 21 turnovers, 10 from Idaho and 11 from USF. Idaho held a 9-4 advantage in points off turnovers at the half.
At the 3:59 mark of the first half, Ledbetter made his 96th 3-pointer of the season to tie Gordon Scott's 11-year-old single-season school record, and then took sole possession at the 18:57 mark of the second.
The loss marks the end of a successful season for the Vandals, which started the year as the nation's fourth-least-experienced team and were picked eighth out of nine WAC schools during the preseason. Idaho went on to win 18 games, it's most since 1994, and finish tied for third in the conference, with a second CIT bid in three seasons to cap it off.
It was the final game for three Idaho seniors - Ledbetter, Henderson and Wiley.
"It's always tough at the end of the year and you're in the locker room, and there are three seniors who you'll never get to coach again," Verlin said. "These guys have really worked hard and built a good foundation here at Idaho."