January 8, 1998 in Sports

Vandals Stick Together Team Play Gives Idaho Realistic Shot At Spot In Conference Tournament

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Big West basketball preview

“The Vandals aren’t especially athletic or big up front and don’t have any explosive scorers.”

- Sporting News college basketball preview

It was virtually unanimous: Idaho wasn’t supposed to be good.

That’s what the preseason magazines predicted. Most pegged Idaho to finish sixth in the six-team Big West Conference Western Division.

Thus far, however, Idaho hasn’t followed the script. Forecasters probably didn’t figure on Idaho defeating Gonzaga, Montana State and Southwest Missouri State.

“The fact that most people picked us at the bottom gives us an idea of how we’re perceived,” said first-year UI coach Dave Farrar, whose team opens Big West play against UC Santa Barbara tonight at 7:05 in the Kibbie Dome. Cal Poly-SLO visits Saturday night at 7:05.

But that doesn’t mean Idaho has to subscribe to what has been written. The Vandals’ goal isn’t to shock the world, though they’d accept that. It is simply to finish in the top four of the Western Division and advance to the Big West Tournament in Reno in March.

“It will be a hard thing to accomplish,” Farrar admitted, “but it would be a great accomplishment.”

The Vandals have a slim margin of error that has been widened by their tireless effort.

“Some teams can absorb things differently than we can,” Farrar said. “We have to be a collective, organized group that plays beyond what people might perceive us as able to do.”

So far, so good. In fact, several players feel Idaho should be better than 6-4.

“I still believe we should have won at WSU,” senior guard Kris Baumann said. “At Memphis we were ahead. If we have Cliff (Gray) in that game, who knows what happens.

“We hang around, Avery (Curry) keeps us in games and we feel like if we can get the game to the last three or four minutes we’re going to win.”

Curry is shooting just 40 percent, but still checks in at 16 points per game. Gray, whose minutes are limited by what is being called a pre-stress fracture syndrome in his tibia, has been an effective scorer and rebounder.

Farrar plans on playing Gray more on Thursdays and less on Saturdays because Gray needs recovery time between games.

UC Santa Barbara (3-7) presents matchup problems for Idaho. Then again, so does nearly every team on UI’s schedule. Do-everything guard Raymond Tutt will be guarded by Cameron Banks, one of UI’s many unsung contributors.

“I see a group of kids that have tried to buy into a system, who have tried to buy into their strengths and weaknesses and have worked through their fatigue,” Farrar said.

“My satisfaction is temporary, but totally relative to the progress they’ve made. I like watching our kids work.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

BIG WEST CAPSULES

In predicted order of finish:

EASTERN

New Mexico State

1996-97 record: 19-9 overall, 12-4 Big West, tied for first.

Coach: Lou Henson, 1st season; 35th overall.

Record: 10-4; 673-335 overall

Top returners: G Denmark Reid, 6-0, 180, Sr.; F Louis Richardson, 6-8, 220, Sr.; G Charles Gosa, 6-8, 180, Jr.

Top newcomer: G Donminic Ellison, 5-10, 175, Sr.

Outlook: The Aggies have quality wins over Virginia and Ohio State (by 27). Reid and Richardson are a dynamic guard-forward combination. One or both are in every major Big West statistical category except assists and steals. Ellison, a transfer from Washington State, is second in the conference in assists at 6 per game. Athletic Aggies have the conference’s best defense.

Utah State

1996-97 record: 20-9, 12-4, tied for first.

Coach: Larry Eustachy, 5th season; 8th overall.

Record: 82-49 at Utah State; 143-82 overall.

Top returners: G Marcus Saxton, 6-2, 195, Sr.; G Justin Jones, 6-3, 185, Sr.; F Kevin Rice, 6-3, 185, Sr.

Top newcomers: F Donnie Johnson, 6-7, 225, Jr.

Outlook: Typical Eustachy-coached team - emphasis is on rebounding and defense, which should keep USU in every game. USU led nation in rebound margin last season at 9.8. Aggies are at 9.3 this season. Saxon might be the best in a guard-dominated conference. He can penetrate or shoot from perimeter (51 percent on 3-pointers). Jones is a 3-point specialist (57 percent).

Boise State

1996-97 record: 14-13, 9-7, fourth place.

Coach: Rod Jensen, 3rd season, all at BSU.

Record: 37-31.

Top returners: G/F Roberto Bergersen, 6-6, 200, Sr.; G Gerry Washington, 6-1, 170, Jr.; F Mike Tolman, 6-6, 195, Sr.

Top newcomers: F Kejuan Woods, 6-6, 190, Fr.; C Trever Tillman, 6-11, 242, Fr.

Outlook: Broncos will have trouble with physical, interior-oriented opponents. Tillman is progressing, but needs to add bulk. Bergersen is a dandy who can score inside or outside. Washington is a capable scorer, but rest of the cast is limited offensively.

Nevada

1996-97 record: 19-9, 12-4, tied for first.

Coach: Pat Foster, 5th season; 18th overall.

Record: 70-56 at Nevada; 346-178 overall.

Top returners: G/F Paul Culbertson, 6-6, 190, Sr.; G Jimmy Carroll, 6-6, 205, Sr.; F/C David Morgan, 6-10, 250, Sr.

Top newcomer: G Robin Kennedy, 5-11, 165, Jr.

Outlook: Turnover-prone but talented. Wolf Pack have struggled with difficult non-conference schedule. Wiry Culbertson is a proven scorer. Kennedy, a JC transfer, has stabilized guard line. He’s a scorer (14.6) and tops conference in assists (6.7). Carroll has yet to meet a 3-point shot he didn’t attempt. Interior scoring could be a problem.

Idaho

1996-97 record: 13-17, 5-11, tied for fifth.

Coach: Dave Farrar, 1st season, 6th overall.

Record: 6-4 at Idaho; 67-77 overall.

Top returners: G Kris Baumann, 6-1, 192, Sr.; F Troy Thompson, 6-4, 195, Sr.

Top newcomers: G Avery Curry, 6-0, 177, Jr.; F Clifford Gray, 6-3, 202, Jr.; G/F Cameron Banks, 6-2, 193, Jr.

Outlook: UI will lack the talent of most Big West teams, but could prove to be ornery, particularly at home. Curry is a go-to player and rest of cast seems to be settling into roles. Vandals lack height, but not muscle with Mao Tosi (270 pounds) and a slimming-down Eddie Hampton. Idaho won rematch games against Gonzaga and Montana State, both of whom could be champions in their respective leagues. That trait should serve UI well in Big West.

North Texas

1996-97 record: 10-16, 5-11, tied for fifth.

Coach: Vic Trilli, 1st season, 1st overall.

Record: 1-9.

Top returners: G T.J. Atkins, 6-1, 180, Sr.; G Pooh Davis, 6-1, 180, So.; F David Miller, 6-6, 225, Sr.

Top newcomer: G Ed Harvey, 6-2, 180, Fr.

Outlook: Rigorous non-conference slate has left the Eagles with a bunch of lopsided losses. Trilli, a former University of Texas assistant, is instituting a fastpaced offense, but defense isn’t holding up its end. Opponents are averaging 94.9 points and shooting 54 percent. Of course, Eagles won’t be facing Iowa, Texas, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech or Oklahoma in the Big West. UNT should battle Idaho for fifth.

WESTERN

Pacific

1992-93 record: 24-6, 12-4, first place.

Coach: Bob Thomason, 10th season; 13th overall.

Record: 144-128 at Pacific; 197-154 overall.

Top returners: C Michael Olowokandi, 7-0, 265, Sr.; G Adam Jacobsen, 6-2, 195, Sr.; G Corey Anders, 6-3, 195, Sr.

Top newcomer: G Earl Clark, 6-1, 195, So.

Outlook: Olowokandi is Big West’s premier big man. He leads conference in rebounding (10.3), blocks (2 per game) and field-goal percentage (66). Pacific’s most impressive outings were an 11-point win over Fresno State and a six-point loss to Stanford. Tigers are solid defensively and possession-conscious on offense. Could struggle in close games because of rotten free-throw shooting (57 percent).

Cal Poly-SLO

1996-97 record: 14-16, 6-10, tied for fourth.

Coach: Jeff Schneider, 3rd season, all at Cal Poly.

Record: 37-34

Top returners: G Mike Wozniak, 6-2, 175, So.; G Ben Larson, 6-0, 150, Jr.; F Ross Ketcham, 6-8, 235, Jr.

Top newcomers: G Watende Favors, 6-2, 175, Fr.; F Chris Bjorkland, 6-9, 230, Fr.; G Jabbar Washington, 6-3, 180, Fr.

Outlook: Mustangs love to run, shoot and bump point totals into the 90s. Team is still unproven because it hasn’t played a strong schedule and because they play a ton of underclassmen. Four freshmen have started at least one game. Wozniak’s only a sophomore. Mustangs’ future is bright.

UC Santa Barbara

1996-97 record: 12-15, 7-9, third place.

Coach: Jerry Pimm, 15th season; 24th overall.

Record: 218-190 at UCSB; 391-276 overall.

Top returners: G Raymond Tutt, 6-4, 205, Sr.; F Kealon Wallace, 6-6, 190, Sr.; F Josh Merrill, 6-9, 220, Jr.

Top newcomers: G Brandon Payton, 6-0, 170, Fr.; G Tory Woodward, 6-1, 180, Fr.

Outlook: Tutt is an NBA prospect. He scores (16.7), passes (3.1 assists per game), shoots (39.5 percent on 3s), defends (1.9 steals per game) and rebounds (6.4). Thus far, though, he’s had limited support. Gauchos are struggling with turnovers, but figure to get healthy in league. They appear capable of challenging Pacific for Western crown. Payton is younger brother of Sonics’ Gary Payton.

Long Beach State

1996-97 record: 13-14, 9-7, second place.

Coach: Wayne Morgan, 2nd season, all at Long Beach State.

Record: 18-20

Top returners: G Quincy Nuckles, 6-3, 200, Sr.; D’Cean Bryant, 6-6, 215, Jr.;

Top newcomers: F Grant Stone, 6-7, 220, Fr.; F/G Antrone Lee, 6-7, 195, So.; C Andrew Betts, 7-1, 250, Sr.

Outlook: 49ers overhauled their roster as only all-name teamer Nuckles and Bryant return from last season. Scoring has been a monumental task. Long Beach has been held to 55 points or less five times. Offense has picked up of late with the addition of Betts, who became eligible last month. If they mature quickly, 49ers could be a factor in postseason tournament.

Cal State Fullerton

1996-97 record: 13-14, 6-10, tied for fourth.

Coach: Bob Hawking, 4th season, all at CSF.

Record: 31-59 Top returners: G Chris Dade, 6-2, 205, Sr.; G Chris St. Clair, 6-0, 170, Sr.; F DeVaughn Wright, 6-6, 215, Sr.

Top newcomer: F Ike Harmon, 6-7, 190, So.

Outlook: Could finish anywhere between second and fifth. Dade, a physical guard, and St. Clair, a long-distance threat, provide quality backcourt. Post play has been suspect and Titans have been battered on the boards.

UC Irvine

1996-97 record: 1-25, 1-15.

Coach: Pat Douglass, 1st season, 17th overall.

Record: 3-7 at Irvine; 379-125 overall.

Top returners: F Juma Jackson, 6-4, 180, So.; G Lamarr Parker, 6-1, 180, Jr.; C Andrew Carlson, 6-10, 245, So.

Top newcomers: F Ben Jones, 6-7, 210, Fr.; F Adam Stetson, 6-8, 220, So.

Outlook: Anteaters already have tripled last year’s win total. Victories from here on out, however, could be scarce. The Anteaters don’t wear out the scoreboard (56 points per game, 39 percent shooting) and they’ve been badly outrebounded. New coach Douglass was successful in Division II ranks and is attempting to restock Irvine’s barren cupboard. It’ll take time.

This sidebar appeared with the story: BIG WEST CAPSULES In predicted order of finish:

EASTERN

New Mexico State 1996-97 record: 19-9 overall, 12-4 Big West, tied for first. Coach: Lou Henson, 1st season; 35th overall. Record: 10-4; 673-335 overall Top returners: G Denmark Reid, 6-0, 180, Sr.; F Louis Richardson, 6-8, 220, Sr.; G Charles Gosa, 6-8, 180, Jr. Top newcomer: G Donminic Ellison, 5-10, 175, Sr. Outlook: The Aggies have quality wins over Virginia and Ohio State (by 27). Reid and Richardson are a dynamic guard-forward combination. One or both are in every major Big West statistical category except assists and steals. Ellison, a transfer from Washington State, is second in the conference in assists at 6 per game. Athletic Aggies have the conference’s best defense.

Utah State 1996-97 record: 20-9, 12-4, tied for first. Coach: Larry Eustachy, 5th season; 8th overall. Record: 82-49 at Utah State; 143-82 overall. Top returners: G Marcus Saxton, 6-2, 195, Sr.; G Justin Jones, 6-3, 185, Sr.; F Kevin Rice, 6-3, 185, Sr. Top newcomers: F Donnie Johnson, 6-7, 225, Jr. Outlook: Typical Eustachy-coached team - emphasis is on rebounding and defense, which should keep USU in every game. USU led nation in rebound margin last season at 9.8. Aggies are at 9.3 this season. Saxon might be the best in a guard-dominated conference. He can penetrate or shoot from perimeter (51 percent on 3-pointers). Jones is a 3-point specialist (57 percent).

Boise State 1996-97 record: 14-13, 9-7, fourth place. Coach: Rod Jensen, 3rd season, all at BSU. Record: 37-31. Top returners: G/F Roberto Bergersen, 6-6, 200, Sr.; G Gerry Washington, 6-1, 170, Jr.; F Mike Tolman, 6-6, 195, Sr. Top newcomers: F Kejuan Woods, 6-6, 190, Fr.; C Trever Tillman, 6-11, 242, Fr. Outlook: Broncos will have trouble with physical, interior-oriented opponents. Tillman is progressing, but needs to add bulk. Bergersen is a dandy who can score inside or outside. Washington is a capable scorer, but rest of the cast is limited offensively.

Nevada 1996-97 record: 19-9, 12-4, tied for first. Coach: Pat Foster, 5th season; 18th overall. Record: 70-56 at Nevada; 346-178 overall. Top returners: G/F Paul Culbertson, 6-6, 190, Sr.; G Jimmy Carroll, 6-6, 205, Sr.; F/C David Morgan, 6-10, 250, Sr. Top newcomer: G Robin Kennedy, 5-11, 165, Jr. Outlook: Turnover-prone but talented. Wolf Pack have struggled with difficult non-conference schedule. Wiry Culbertson is a proven scorer. Kennedy, a JC transfer, has stabilized guard line. He’s a scorer (14.6) and tops conference in assists (6.7). Carroll has yet to meet a 3-point shot he didn’t attempt. Interior scoring could be a problem.

Idaho 1996-97 record: 13-17, 5-11, tied for fifth. Coach: Dave Farrar, 1st season, 6th overall. Record: 6-4 at Idaho; 67-77 overall. Top returners: G Kris Baumann, 6-1, 192, Sr.; F Troy Thompson, 6-4, 195, Sr. Top newcomers: G Avery Curry, 6-0, 177, Jr.; F Clifford Gray, 6-3, 202, Jr.; G/F Cameron Banks, 6-2, 193, Jr. Outlook: UI will lack the talent of most Big West teams, but could prove to be ornery, particularly at home. Curry is a go-to player and rest of cast seems to be settling into roles. Vandals lack height, but not muscle with Mao Tosi (270 pounds) and a slimming-down Eddie Hampton. Idaho won rematch games against Gonzaga and Montana State, both of whom could be champions in their respective leagues. That trait should serve UI well in Big West.

North Texas 1996-97 record: 10-16, 5-11, tied for fifth. Coach: Vic Trilli, 1st season, 1st overall. Record: 1-9. Top returners: G T.J. Atkins, 6-1, 180, Sr.; G Pooh Davis, 6-1, 180, So.; F David Miller, 6-6, 225, Sr. Top newcomer: G Ed Harvey, 6-2, 180, Fr. Outlook: Rigorous non-conference slate has left the Eagles with a bunch of lopsided losses. Trilli, a former University of Texas assistant, is instituting a fastpaced offense, but defense isn’t holding up its end. Opponents are averaging 94.9 points and shooting 54 percent. Of course, Eagles won’t be facing Iowa, Texas, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech or Oklahoma in the Big West. UNT should battle Idaho for fifth.

WESTERN

Pacific 1992-93 record: 24-6, 12-4, first place. Coach: Bob Thomason, 10th season; 13th overall. Record: 144-128 at Pacific; 197-154 overall. Top returners: C Michael Olowokandi, 7-0, 265, Sr.; G Adam Jacobsen, 6-2, 195, Sr.; G Corey Anders, 6-3, 195, Sr. Top newcomer: G Earl Clark, 6-1, 195, So. Outlook: Olowokandi is Big West’s premier big man. He leads conference in rebounding (10.3), blocks (2 per game) and field-goal percentage (66). Pacific’s most impressive outings were an 11-point win over Fresno State and a six-point loss to Stanford. Tigers are solid defensively and possession-conscious on offense. Could struggle in close games because of rotten free-throw shooting (57 percent).

Cal Poly-SLO 1996-97 record: 14-16, 6-10, tied for fourth. Coach: Jeff Schneider, 3rd season, all at Cal Poly. Record: 37-34 Top returners: G Mike Wozniak, 6-2, 175, So.; G Ben Larson, 6-0, 150, Jr.; F Ross Ketcham, 6-8, 235, Jr. Top newcomers: G Watende Favors, 6-2, 175, Fr.; F Chris Bjorkland, 6-9, 230, Fr.; G Jabbar Washington, 6-3, 180, Fr. Outlook: Mustangs love to run, shoot and bump point totals into the 90s. Team is still unproven because it hasn’t played a strong schedule and because they play a ton of underclassmen. Four freshmen have started at least one game. Wozniak’s only a sophomore. Mustangs’ future is bright.

UC Santa Barbara 1996-97 record: 12-15, 7-9, third place. Coach: Jerry Pimm, 15th season; 24th overall. Record: 218-190 at UCSB; 391-276 overall. Top returners: G Raymond Tutt, 6-4, 205, Sr.; F Kealon Wallace, 6-6, 190, Sr.; F Josh Merrill, 6-9, 220, Jr. Top newcomers: G Brandon Payton, 6-0, 170, Fr.; G Tory Woodward, 6-1, 180, Fr. Outlook: Tutt is an NBA prospect. He scores (16.7), passes (3.1 assists per game), shoots (39.5 percent on 3s), defends (1.9 steals per game) and rebounds (6.4). Thus far, though, he’s had limited support. Gauchos are struggling with turnovers, but figure to get healthy in league. They appear capable of challenging Pacific for Western crown. Payton is younger brother of Sonics’ Gary Payton.

Long Beach State 1996-97 record: 13-14, 9-7, second place. Coach: Wayne Morgan, 2nd season, all at Long Beach State. Record: 18-20 Top returners: G Quincy Nuckles, 6-3, 200, Sr.; D’Cean Bryant, 6-6, 215, Jr.; Top newcomers: F Grant Stone, 6-7, 220, Fr.; F/G Antrone Lee, 6-7, 195, So.; C Andrew Betts, 7-1, 250, Sr. Outlook: 49ers overhauled their roster as only all-name teamer Nuckles and Bryant return from last season. Scoring has been a monumental task. Long Beach has been held to 55 points or less five times. Offense has picked up of late with the addition of Betts, who became eligible last month. If they mature quickly, 49ers could be a factor in postseason tournament.

Cal State Fullerton 1996-97 record: 13-14, 6-10, tied for fourth. Coach: Bob Hawking, 4th season, all at CSF. Record: 31-59 Top returners: G Chris Dade, 6-2, 205, Sr.; G Chris St. Clair, 6-0, 170, Sr.; F DeVaughn Wright, 6-6, 215, Sr. Top newcomer: F Ike Harmon, 6-7, 190, So. Outlook: Could finish anywhere between second and fifth. Dade, a physical guard, and St. Clair, a long-distance threat, provide quality backcourt. Post play has been suspect and Titans have been battered on the boards.

UC Irvine 1996-97 record: 1-25, 1-15. Coach: Pat Douglass, 1st season, 17th overall. Record: 3-7 at Irvine; 379-125 overall. Top returners: F Juma Jackson, 6-4, 180, So.; G Lamarr Parker, 6-1, 180, Jr.; C Andrew Carlson, 6-10, 245, So. Top newcomers: F Ben Jones, 6-7, 210, Fr.; F Adam Stetson, 6-8, 220, So. Outlook: Anteaters already have tripled last year’s win total. Victories from here on out, however, could be scarce. The Anteaters don’t wear out the scoreboard (56 points per game, 39 percent shooting) and they’ve been badly outrebounded. New coach Douglass was successful in Division II ranks and is attempting to restock Irvine’s barren cupboard. It’ll take time.


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