IDAHO HAS A RARE THREE GAME HOME STRETCH this week, starting with Tuesday night's matchup with Seattle U in the Cowan Spectrum. Idaho (12-11, 5-4 WAC) beat Seattle U (6-13) by a final score of 73-62 in Seattle early this year, and is going for the season sweep. On Thursday Idaho hosts New Mexico State (17-7, 6-2 WAC), and then on Saturday Louisiana Tech (11-12, 3-5 WAC) visits Moscow.
What a difference a month makes. Only 30 days after losing by its largest margin this season -- 73-55 at home against Nevada -- Idaho turned things around and beat the Western Athletic Conference-leading Wolf Pack 72-66 in Reno on Feb. 4.
In their loss to Nevada in Moscow a month ago, the Vandals committed 13 turnovers in the first half and were never competitive. The Wolf Pack had 12 steals before halftime. The small crowd of 1,081 at the Cowan Spectrum painted more of a dismal scene for the Vandals.
After the game, Idaho coach Don Verlin gathered his team to watch the loss on film. He reportedly was vociferous in his displeasure with several players. The Vandals were in a team meeting room past midnight that night for what Verlin calls "prayer meetings."
They responded with wins in four of their next five games. Idaho slipped again recently losing two straight to Hawaii at home on Jan. 28 and then at Fresno State on Feb. 2. Then came the matchup with Nevada on Feb. 4.
The Vandals denied the Wolf Pack an opportunity to set a school record for consecutive wins and handed Nevada its first loss since Nov. 25, 2011, against BYU. The Wolf Pack were attempting to win their 17th consecutive game.
"I thought we had a lot of guys step up and play very, very well and play very hard," said Verlin, whose team shot 60 percent from the field in the second half to overcome a 35-31 halftime deficit.
Junior center Kyle Barone scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals to lead Idaho. He also added the highlight of the game at the most crucial moment. He was fouled on a drive with 38 seconds remaining and flipped up a towering lob shot that took one high bounce off the side of the rim and popped in for a three-point opportunity, which he converted to put Idaho up, 67-63.
"We had a number of guys step up and make big plays, but none bigger than Kyle Barone's last play that he throws to the rafters and somehow finds a way to fall through the net," Verlin said.
--When Fresno State played at Idaho on Jan. 7, the Vandals' Stephen Madison was a problem for the Bulldogs. The sophomore guard played 35 minutes and scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds, five on the offensive end. Idaho won 63-59.
Madison was a marked man when Idaho played at Fresno State on Feb. 2. Madison ended up playing only 13 minutes for the Vandals, scoring five points with three rebounds, none on the offensive end, before fouling out. The Bulldogs won 65-55, beating Idaho for the first time in nine tries.
"One of their keys guys we attacked, which was Madison," Fresno State coach Rodney Terry said. "He's a guy that had a really good game up at their place. We got him off the floor early with fouls and he's a key guy for them, a glue guy for them."
--A significant reason why host Nevada lost to Idaho 72-66 on Feb. 4 was the subpar night from Nevada standout guard Deonte Burton, who had 25 points in the Wolf Pack's 73-55 win over Idaho last on Jan. 5. Burton finished with 18 points against in the Feb. 4 game but he went 5-of-12 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3-point range.
"We did a great job on the defensive end of changing their tempo," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "We were able to slow the game down and make it an executional game. We put in a few new looks in practice and executed them very well, and I think it really got Nevada off their game."
BY THE NUMBERS: 50 percent -- The Vandals, with their 72-66 victory over league-leading Nevada on Feb. 4, moved to 8-0 this season when shooting at least 50 percent from the field. They shot 52.2 percent from the field, including at a 60 percent clip in the second half. The Vandals have won 10 games in a row when shooting 50 percent or better, dating back to last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The bottom line is we played very, very well, we executed our game plan and the shots went in. Hopefully we can continue that." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin after the Vandals upset league-leading Nevada on the road on Feb. 4.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--vs. Seattle, Feb. 7
KEY MATCHUPS: The two teams met in Seattle way back on Dec. 11 with Idaho prevailing 73-62. The Vandals' 3-point field-goal defense was impressive holding Seattle to 23.1 percent shooting (6-of-26) from beyond the arc.
--vs. New Mexico State, Feb. 9
KEY MATCHUPS: The difference in the first game, won 80-68 by New Mexico State in Las Cruces, were free throws. The Aggies attempted 32 compared to only 12 for Idaho. New Mexico State also grossly out-rebounded Idaho 38-21. New Mexico State forward Wendell McKines was unstoppable making 8-of-12 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line to finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
--vs. Louisiana Tech, Feb. 11
KEY MATCHUPS: Guard play determined the outcome in the first meeting, won by Idaho 90-88 in overtime at Louisiana Tech. The Vandals were led by guards Deremy Geiger (23 points, including 21 after the half) and Landon Tatum (career-high 20 points). Louisiana Tech freshman guard Raheem Appleby had 19 for the Bulldogs.
FUTURES MARKET: Idaho received a verbal commitment from Eastern Arizona Junior College point guard Robert Harris on Feb. 2. Harris, 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, averages 14.6 points and 3.5 assists per game. "We ask an awful lot out of Robert; he plays 40 minutes. He's the first guy to bring the ball up the floor, (and) he's the first guy to pick the ball up on defense," Eastern Arizona coach Maurice Leitzke told the Eastern Arizona Courier after Harris scored 28 points in the Gila Monsters' 81-73 win over South Mountain on Jan. 28.
--Sophomore G Stephen Madison fouled out for the first time in his career on Feb. 2 at Fresno State. He played a season-low 13 minutes and failed to score a point for the first time this season. That ended a streak of 24 consecutive games with at least one point scored.
--Junior center Kyle Barone needs seven more rebounds to reach 500 for his career. He's also 226 points away from becoming the 13th member of Idaho's 1,000-point club.
--Senior G Landon Tatum, who had nine assists in the Vandals' win over Nevada on Feb. 4, now has 202 career assists heading into this week and is 32 assists away from cracking Idaho's career top-10 in that category.