The final score says Idaho 68, Portland 48. But it wasn’t really that close, which should tell you all you need to know about this night for the Vandals. They beat their first ranked team since 1982 on a night when the football team accepted an invite to the Humanitarian Bowl. Keep reading for my hoops story.
MOSCOW, Idaho – In the waning moments of one of the more memorable recent evenings for University of Idaho athletics, Portland’s Nik Raivio corralled a loose ball and breezed up the court for what figured to be a gimme layin – the easiest bucket for UP all game.
Instead, Raivio’s point-blank look skimmed off the rim, touching off a round of jeers from delighted Vandal fans. There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to the non-conference contest that was flowing with good vibes for Idaho and full of frustration for the Pilots.
The Vandals prevailed 68-48 on Sunday, crushing the nation’s 25th-ranked team to cap a night in which the UI football team was invited to the Humanitarian Bowl. The announcement was made during a rousing halftime speech by coach Robb Akey.
“It’s a good time to be a Vandal,” men’s basketball coach Don Verlin said.
Thrown off-kilter by a slow start and tenacious Idaho defense, Portland (5-3) never found a rhythm in losing its third straight game. Its last two setbacks have come after the program cracked the top 25 for the first time in 50 years.
“It was good, sound basketball fundamentals with some good athletes playing really hard,” UP coach Eric Reveno said. “And they took us out to the woodshed tonight.”
A capacity crowd of 1,500 squeezed into Memorial Gym as UI (5-2) topped a ranked team for the first time since 1982. The Vandals never trailed and eventually saw their lead balloon to 25 late in the second half.
Portland mustered just 32-percent shooting and had 17 turnovers, nine of which came in the first 12 minutes as Idaho built a 17-6 lead.
Luke Sikma led the Pilots with 11 points while point guard T.J. Campbell, the leading scorer on the year, managed just three points on 1-of-11 shooting. Campbell struggled against aggressive UI point guard Mac Hopson.
The Vandals’ relentless defense was surprising on several fronts. They were torched for 95 points in a loss to Cal State Northridge last week, and also fell at Texas Southern after suffering a number of defensive lapses.
But Idaho put in several hours in the film room to correct its mistakes and was clearly pumped for its first home non-conference game against a ranked team in school history.
“It feels real good,” said UI center Marvin Jefferson, who had nine rebounds. “We all knew it would be a challenge tonight. They’re a real good team and it feels good to beat them. It gives us a lot of confidence.
The balanced Vandals shot a scorching 56.5 percent in the first half and easily overcame 18 turnovers. Three UI players scored in double figures, led by Kashif Watson (15) and smooth 6-foot-7 Brazilian Luiz Toledo (12).
“We almost played a perfect game except turning the doggone ball over,” Verlin said.