Very interesting game in store for tonight in Reno, Nev. The Idaho Vandals, picked fourth in the WAC preseason polls, have stumbled in late-game situations and lost three in a row. Nevada did a good bit of stumbling itself through the nonconference part of its schedule but is 9-1 at home after an overtime loss to Utah State.
Read on for more. Tipoff is set for 7:05.
First, here’s a brief look-ahead blurb and notebook item that appeared earlier in the Spokesman:
UI Record: 8-7, 1-3 WAC
Coming up: Saturday, at Nevada, 7:05 p.m.
Outlook: The Vandals lug a three-game conference losing streak into one of the toughest home courts in the WAC. Nevada was 9-0 in Reno coming into Wednesday’s home showdown with Utah State (UPDATE). Post Luke Babbitt (20.4 points per game), Armon Johnson (16.8), and Brandon Fields (14.6) highlight the Wolf Pack’s talented but top-heavy club. Depth has been an issue for UNR, which stumbled through a brutal preconference schedule. UI toppled Nevada last year at Reno to start the WAC season, and a win on Saturday would energize a team that’s stinging from three straight losses by a total of 12 points.
Wiley sorely missed in post
An undersized post at 6-foot-6, Brandon Wiley was often overlooked last year as Idaho climbed to third place in the WAC. But the senior’s absence due to a lingering back injury this season appears to have had a far bigger impact than most envisioned.
Wiley has appeared in just three games for after leading UI in rebounding last year. Coach Don Verlin said he doesn’t expect Wiley to return this season, even though he hasn’t officially been ruled out.
After Monday’s loss to New Mexico State, Verlin was asked how much Idaho misses Wiley. “That’s a great question,” he said. “But we don’t have Brandon Wiley. I can’t focus on that right now.”
Verlin said the junior college transfer could possibly redshirt and be eligible next season.
The Vandals’ biggest focus defensively will be on Babbitt, an ultra-talented 6-9 sophomore who torched UI at Cowan Spectrum last year. Babbitt is a skilled long-range shooter and a good scorer in the paint.
UI’s defense has been spotty throughout the season — looking solid at times and letting up at others. Here’s what Steffan Johnson had to say about the D after losing to New Mexico State on Monday: “It’s something that we need to work on everyday. We have a pretty good focus on it right now, but there’s a lot of times where we don’t sustain our intensity on defense, we don’t execute on defense as well as we’ve like to. We had a couple breakdowns at the end there that (were) pretty crucial for us — guys getting some open looks.”
Another loss tonight and Idaho will join 0-5 Boise State (and perhaps Hawaii) at the bottom of the WAC standings. Not a good place to be of course, especially with Utah State in Moscow next Saturday.