The Vandals looked shaky early, but had little trouble posting a 74-66 win over San Jose State on Saturday night. The game, or second half at least, wasn't as close as the final score suggests.
Read on for my game story from Moscow, where only 1,697 watched inside Cowan Spectrum. I have to think the crowd would have been at least a little bigger had Idaho played in the afternoon. After all, it is Valentine's Day.
By JOSH WRIGHT
MOSCOW, Idaho – In his first season at Idaho, Luciano de Souza has settled into pretty much one role: a sometimes deadly, sometimes erratic 3-point specialist.
But on Saturday night, the Brazilian with a hard-to-miss Afro morphed into a much more complete player – right when the Vandals desperately needed a pick-me-up.
Keyed by de Souza's 13 first-half points, the Idaho men's basketball team dispatched San Jose State 74-66 in a ragged Western Athletic Conference contest with 1,697 watching at the Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals, 11-13 and 5-6, ended a three-game losing streak and stayed in front of a cluster of bottom-tier WAC teams with their first win since Jan. 29 over Boise State.
Point guard Mac Hopson led all scorers with 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half as the Vandals methodically put the Spartans away. The Washington State transfer, who had been laboring with his stroke, connected on 6 of 7 shots after the break.
“Unbelievable,” UI coach Don Verlin said of Hopson. “He showed what the leader and your best player does.”
The real surprise, however, was the lift from de Souza, who poured in 10 of the Vandals' final 15 points to close the first half. His unlikely outburst fueled a 13-4 surge and helped Idaho erase a seven-point deficit.
“Luciano hitting shots, that always makes us better,” Hopson said. “The energy was up their tonight because everybody was playing hard.”
The final three points of the first half for the 6-foot-7 de Souza came after he snatched a poor SJSU pass – one of 17 Spartan turnovers – and missed a point-blank look. He then muscled in the follow shot and was fouled, giving the Vandals their first lead since early in the game.
“It was great to have him make some shots,” Verlin said, “because he kind of saved us in the first half.”
Before the de Souza-led turnaround, the Vandals lacked their usual zeal at home following a close loss to No. 21 Utah State on Thursday night. SJSU, 10-13 and 4-8, had little problem generating points in the paint and finding open looks outside.
The Spartans' zone defense also puzzled UI. The Vandals didn't get revved up offensively until de Souza and Trevor Morris buried long-range shots.
“I think it's hard to guard us in the zone,” Hopson said. “But that's what they went to and everybody contributed on our team.”
After Hopson turned in it on, Idaho started coasting. He had six straight points midway through the second half and a found a streaking Kashif Watson for a easy transition bucket with 3:51 left to put the Vandals ahead 68-52, their biggest lead of the game.
A more assertive Watson finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting while Tim Pierce led the Spartans with 14 points.
San Jose State played without leading scorer Adrian Oliver, a Washington transfer who's hobbled with an ankle injury. Oliver is averaging 19.5 points per game after becoming eligible on Dec. 20.