MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho protected the ball, made its freebies and played solid defense against the visiting Utah State Aggies on Saturday, but rebounding troubles and second-half shooting woes kept the Vandals down in a 60-48 loss.
An ice-cold second half undid Idaho (8-9, 1-5 Western Athletic Conference) after the Vandals kept pace with Utah State (15-6, 5-2 WAC) for much of the first half. The Aggies went on a 15-2 run during a seven-minute span early in the second half to break open what had been a three-point game.
After hitting 12 of its 26 first-half attempts for a solid 46.2 percentage, Idaho went chilly in the second and made just four of 22 from the floor for an 18.2 percent clip. Meanwhile, the Aggies hit 10 of their 20 shots and extended their lead to double digits.
"I thought we got some decent looks in the second half, but we just didn't knock them down," Idaho head coach Don Verlin said. "When it gets to be a possession game like it was tonight, those possessions get magnified."
The Vandals committed a season-low six turnovers and shot 14-of-17 (.824) from the free-throw line to overcome what had been a sore spot for the team. Verlin attributed much of Idaho's struggles to the inside game, where Idaho was out-muscled by the Aggie front. USU out-rebounded Idaho 35-23 and outscored Idaho 30-24 in the paint.
"Tonight, they beat us in the trenches," Verlin said. "They kicked our tails on the boards and in the paint, and it was really about that simple."
What complicated matters even more for Idaho was that the team's top two scorers, seniors Mac Hopson and Steffan Johnson, struggled with cramps in the second half and combined for just 15 points in the game. Senior guard Kashif Watson led the team with 16 points on five-of-12 shooting, while hitting all six of his free throw attempts.As a team, Idaho shot .333 from the field, .143 from 3-point range and .824 from the free-throw line. Utah State hit .500 overall, .333 from long range, and .625 from the free-throw line. Each team had eight points off turnovers, while Utah State led 8-5 in second-chance points and Idaho led 6-2 in fast-break points.
Utah State led for most of the first half, but it was a close game for most of the period. After a big Marvin Jefferson slam brought Idaho within one at the 13:21 mark, the Aggies responded by scoring the next nine points and going up 20-10 with 9:37 left in the half. Idaho outscored Utah State 20-15 over the remainder of the period to go into the half down just five at 35-30.
The Vandals stormed out of the gates to open the second period, as Hopson score four quick points on a fast-break layup and free throws to get Idaho within three at 37-34, but just when Idaho appeared to gain some momentum, USU scored 15 of the game's next 17 points to put the Vandals into a 16-point hole with 10:12 remaining.
Idaho held Utah State to just 18 points over the final 10 minutes of the game, but the Vandals shot just one-of-nine from the floor and didn't capitalize on six Utah State turnovers during that span.
The Vandals will look to get out of their five-game skid on Monday, when Boise State comes to town for a nationally-televised game on ESPNU. The Broncos are 9-11 overall and 0-7 in WAC play. Tip-off for that game is 8:00 p.m. (PST).
"They're desperate for a win, and we are, too," Verlin said. "It's always a good game when Boise State and Idaho get together."
Spencer Farrin, University of Idaho Athletics, Asst. Media Relations Director (MBB, Soccer, T&F)