The Idaho Vandals shot 52 percent and won by 14 points on Saturday night. What's not to like, right? Start with the fact they were playing Northwest Nazarene, a Division II school from Nampa. And add in the fact they led by just five points close to the midway point of the second half. UI coach Don Verlin wasn't happy on the sideline for much of the game, and you can read why in an unedited version of our game story below.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – For a good part of Saturday night, it was hard to tell if Idaho was playing poorly or if Northwest Nazarene – an NCAA Division II school from Nampa, Idaho – was playing way over its head.
Either way, Vandals coach Don Verlin looked perturbed on the sideline. And his frustration carried over to his postgame message to Idaho players after a 78-64 victory in front of 1,148 at Memorial Gym.
"He wasn't happy," said junior-college transfer Bira Seck, who had 14 points, all in the first half. "He’s been like that since after the loss at Oklahoma. We just got to listen to him because he only wants us to get better."
The Vandals (2-1) led by just five points with under 12 minutes left and didn't fully separate until Connor Hill's four-point play with 6:10 left put them up 69-52.
Even with a comfortable lead in the final minutes, Verlin didn't like how the Vandals were executing offensively or operating their ball-screen defense. He acknowledged afterward that he was a "little fired up."
"It’s probably the young team, and that’s an excuse you can make, but we’re making way too many executional errors in our offensive plays," the sixth-year coach said. "That’s where some of my displeasure came from.
"… We've got to get those things cleaned up or we’re going to struggle. That’s just the way it is. We’re shooting way too low of a number from the field offensively right now. Way too low. And we’ve got to execute on both ends of the court, and they’ve got to be held accountable for those things or we’re not going to get any better."
Two bright spots were Seck, a 6-foot-6 forward who carried the Vandals early, and Hill. The junior guard from Post Falls ditched a slow start to the year with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
He got things going with several easy layins and two steals that led to transition points. But he still wasn't completely happy with his play or the team's.
"I think we can get a lot better," Hill said. "We're not where we need to be yet."
The Crusaders hung around with an energetic zone defense and efficient play from Kevin Rima and Mario Donaldson, two standouts who combined for 37 points. NNU, which treated this game as an exhibition, trailed by six at halftime and scored five unanswered points to make it 46-41 with 11:55 left.
The Vandals responded with 9-2 spurt of their own. But still, NNU kept it interesting much longer than most UI fans expected.
Idaho plays nine of its next 10 games away from Moscow, including three games in Portland this week as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Its next true home game will be against Washington State on Dec. 7.