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Idaho men snatch hoops victory from UC Davis

MOSCOW, Idaho – Denzel Douglas is pretty sure he’ll never get an easier steal in his life. And as far as his first year at Idaho is concerned, he might not have a more important one either.

With UC Davis charging, and the Vandals in danger of dropping their third straight game, Douglas swiped an errant inbounds pass with 19 seconds left and sank two ensuing free throws.

The steal was both heady and fortuitous, and it helped Idaho fend off the Aggies 73-66 on Saturday night at Cowan Spectrum in a nonconference men’s basketball game.

Idaho (2-4) nearly let a 13-point lead fade away in the final 5 minutes. But it mustered enough defensive stops – something it was unable to do Wednesday night in a loss at Washington State – and made 5 of 6 free throws in the closing seconds to withstand UC Davis’ rally.

The Aggies (1-4) got within two points, 68-66, on a 3-pointer in the corner from Ryan Sypkens with 1:11 left. After UCD missed another 3 that would have given it the lead, Douglas made 1 of 2 free throws to pad the Vandals’ less-than-comfortable advantage.

The Aggies then inbounded the ball, and Douglas was startled when Ryan Howley’s pass came right to him – and not to the UCD guard it was intended for.

“They were trying to hurry up,” said Douglas, a 5-foot-10 junior point guard. “But I came up a little bit, and he curled and his big man (Howley) wasn’t on the same page. He just threw it to me.”

Douglas was thrust into a bigger-than-usual role Saturday after starting point guard Mike McChristian turned it over twice in the first 90 seconds and was benched. Douglas brought stability to the position, finishing with eight points, three assists and just one turnover.

Junior Stephen Madison, the Vandals’ leading scorer, poured in 21 points and center Kyle Barone struggled through a 3-of-9 shooting night to finish with 12 points.

Late in the first half, Barone eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in his career, becoming the first UI big man to reach the milestone since Deon Watson in 1994. Until checking his phone and seeing congratulatory texts afterward, the four-year contributor hadn’t realized he had passed the mark.

“I just totally forgot about it this game, too,” Barone said. “It’s an accomplishment and I’m proud of myself for doing that.”

UI coach Don Verlin wasn’t pleased with the Vandals’ offense, which repeatedly stalled, but he liked how his team shut down UC Davis when it needed to late. He acknowledged that the Vandals could have ill-afforded to lose this game after dropping four of their first five.

“It was huge because our schedule has been tough,” Verlin said of the win. “This has been a tough preseason, and you worry about (losing) confidence.”