RENO, Nev. – Mac Hopson and Steffan Johnson are two important cogs in Idaho’s offense, and unfortunately they went ice cold in the Vandals’ most important game of the basketball season.
The duo went 5 for 24 and combined for just 17 points, as Idaho ended its season with an 87-71 loss to Nevada Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament at Lawlor Events Center.
Idaho ended its season at 15-16 under second-year coach Don Verlin, and four of those losses were by three points or less.
Hopson scored 13 points, but was only 4 for 16 from the field. Johnson, who had scored 38 points in his last two regular-season games, went 1 for 8 from the field and finished with only two points.
“Things didn’t go as we hoped, but that happens sometimes,” Hopson said of the season-ending loss. “Nevada is a good team, and you have to give them a lot of credit. Our shots weren’t falling for whatever reason.”
Nevada’s Brandon Fields spent time guarding both Johnson and Hopson.
“We just stayed attached to them,” Fields said. “They were still hard to guard. We just tried to keep a hand in their face.”
Nevada made it extremely tough for the Vandals at both ends of the floor.
Idaho went 10 for their first 20 from the field yet trailed by 12 points, 35-23, with 7 minutes 53 seconds left in the opening half. Idaho alternated between man-to-man and zone, and Nevada did a great job handling both.
Nevada shot 61 percent in the first half and 55 percent from the game.
“It was a little frustrating,” Verlin said. “We kept switching defenses. They did a good job of finding the open shooter.
“You have to give credit to Nevada. They played extremely well. They started fast, and we didn’t get the tempo to where we wanted it. I think we had chances in the first half to keep it close, but we didn’t make shots.”
Nevada built an early 13-2 lead, but thanks to the inside play of senior forward Luciano de Souza and the inside play of junior center Marvin Jefferson (14 points, 10 rebounds), the Vandals pulled to within 21-16 with 11:41 left in the half.
DeSouza, who finished with a team-high 20 points, knocked down two 3-pointers in that surge, Jefferson scored baskets on back-to-back possessions and freshman Kyle Barone, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds, added a putback.
“Luciano shot very well,” Verlin said. “He got open looks and knocked them down. His early shooting kept us in the game.”
“He (DeSouza) is a good player,” Nevada coach David Carter said. “He can stretch defenses. He got into a little zone shooting 3-pointers. They were running the on-ball screen and a pick and roll. He’s a tough match-up for us at the 4 position.”
After the Vandals got to within five, the game got away from them. Nevada went on a 20-7 run to build its lead to 41-23 with 5:04 left in the half.
Joey Shaw and Fields each knocked down two 3-pointers apiece in the spurt, which was finished off by back-to-back baskets by Luke Babbitt, who ended with 21 points and seven rebounds.
Nevada went 7 for 13 from beyond the arc in the opening half. Fields was 2 for 5, reserve Ray Kraemer went 2 for 2 and Shaw went 2 for 3.
It didn’t get any better for Idaho in the second half.
DeSouza hit a short bank shot to cut the deficit to 47-36, but runs of 13-4 and 10-5 gave the Wolf Pack a 70-49 lead with 10:25 left. Hopson had seven of Idaho’s nine points in those two Nevada surges.