Once again, the Vandals had a chance to make a big splash in WAC play. But poor rebounding and too many big plays from Utah State resulted in a 62-53 loss at the Cowan Spectrum.
Keep reading for my game story that will appear in tomorrow’s S-R.
By JOSH WRIGHT
MOSCOW, Idaho – For the longest time, it had the makings of a colossal upset. Pesky and opportunistic, the Idaho men did just enough to hang around against the nation’s hottest team.
But once again, the undersized Vandals’ prime weakness – an inability to bring down rebounds – was impossible to overcome.
Sparked by a bounty of second- and third-chance points, No. 21 Utah State pulled away late for a 62-53 triumph Thursday night over Idaho to claim at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference crown.
In front of 2,295 at the Cowan Spectrum, the Aggies (24-1, 12-0) nearly doubled up the Vandals on the glass and found their long-distance stroke in the second half to win their 19th straight game and ninth consecutive over the Vandals (10-13, 4-6).
USU, on the nation’s longest current winning streak, led by just three points with 2 minutes remaining. But 6-foot-9 post Gary Wilkinson sank a 3-pointer and USU hit 7 of 8 free throws in crunch time to pad the final tally.
It was coach Stew Morrill’s second victory this season over longtime assistant Don Verlin, who took over at UI last spring.
“Baskets were hard to come by,” Morrill said. “I mean, both teams had (a) pretty good idea of what the other team was doing. Imagine that?
“I’m just proud of how our guys keep making plays in close games. It’s a credit to those kids.”
Verlin has brought a renewed energy to UI basketball, and it’s clear he’s molded the program after Morrill’s. The two spent 15 years together at Colorado State and USU.
“You could just tell by the way they warm up and the way we warm up,” Idaho point guard Mac Hopson said. “It’s identical. We’ve just probably got a couple more black players. That’s pretty much the difference.”
The Aggies came into Thursday with the No. 1 field goal shooting percentage (.506) in Division I. But while the Vandals held them to 40 percent, USU had its way on the glass.
The club from Logan won the rebounding battle 40-21, with 16 offensive boards resulting in 20 points. With just one true post, Marvin Jefferson, the Vandals looked helpless at times scrambling for loose balls.
Wilkinson paced USU with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while scrappy point guard Jared Quayle came up with 12 points and four offensive rebounds.
“I thought our guys played as hard as they played all year,” Verlin said. “It’s too bad that it comes down to a couple missed blockouts, but that’s basically what happened. We had the game right how we needed to have it.”
The Vandals, losers of three straight, began the game 2 of 14 from the field and fell behind 13-6. But they clawed back by coaxing turnovers with their up-tempo defense and eventually led by one point on two occasions.
The battle-tested Aggies never flinched, however. They went 5 of 8 from the 3-point line in the second half against an Idaho D that struggled to rotate out its trapping and constant double teams in the post.
The biggest outside shot came from Wilkinson with 1:59 left. The senior had been held without a field goal in the second half before silencing the crowd with the trey from the left wing.