MOSCOW, Idaho – Two loose balls, two heady saves under the basket.
At any other time in the game, Luiz Toledo’s hustle scarcely would have been noticed. But his extra effort in Wednesday night’s waning moments gave Idaho two extra scoring chances – and just enough to fend off Nevada.
The surging Vandals captured a satisfying 72-67 basketball victory over the Wolf Pack in front of 1,550 at Cowan Spectrum to nail down their first four-game WAC winning streak.
The Vandals (10-6, 4-1) last won four straight conference games in the 1998-99 season as members of the Big West. This is their best conference start since joining the WAC in 2005.
Guards Jeff Ledbetter and Deremy Geiger combined to score 35 points for the Vandals, who made 6 of 7 free throws in the last minute to salt away the victory.
Toledo’s clutch rebounding also played a big part. After Shawn Henderson missed his second consecutive free throw with 1:20 left, the Brazilian forward slashed under the basket and clutched an offensive board, which allowed the Vandals to milk nearly 30 seconds off the clock.
At the end of the same possession, after Geiger airballed a 3-point attempt, Toledo saved the ball from going out of bounds and tipped it to Kyle Barone. The fellow UI big man was fouled going up and converted a three-point play.
“We had a lot of game-winning plays,” Ledbetter said. “Coach preaches on that a lot.”
With 6 1/2 minutes left, it appeared the Vandals were going to separate from the Wolf Pack – maybe for good. Leading by eight, Idaho was early in a possession when Nevada’s Derrell Conner was called for a technical foul.
But Geiger made just 1 of 2 free throws, and the Vandals couldn’t cash in after getting the ball back.
UNR exploded for 10 of the game’s next 12 points to take a momentary lead, 60-59. The comeback was led by freshman point guard Deonte Burton, who finished with a game-high 23 points.
“Deonte Burton played a heck of a game and basically kept Nevada in the game,” UI coach Don Verlin said.
The Vandals constructed leads of 11-4 and 21-13 in the first half, largely on the strength of sturdy interior play from Toledo and Barone. Toledo began the game with a splash, throwing in a dunk and adding another bucket and free throw as UI pounced on the Wolf Pack.
Still, UNR was able to drive to the basket with ease. Late in the first half, the Wolf Pack reeled off 12 straight points to lead by four.
But then Ledbetter momentarily took over. The senior guard sank a 3-pointer to end Nevada’s run, then nabbed steals on three consecutive possessions – setting a career high in takeaways in the process – and made four free throws in a row.
“That came out of nowhere,” he said. “But it was fun and I think it gave us a little spark when we needed it.”