January 28, 2012 in Sports

Vandals can’t find way to stop Warriors

John Blanchette Correspondent

MOSCOW, Idaho – Seems as if the old Idaho box step is back in style.

Up, sideways, back.

With a chance to join Western Athletic Conference heavies Nevada and New Mexico State and put some space between themselves and the rest of the league, the Vandals stumbled in rather puzzling fashion Saturday night, falling to Hawaii 76-70 at the Cowan Spectrum.

Four wins in their last five games had the Vandals feeling pretty good about themselves. But on this night they played ineffectual defense in the paint, made some dubious offensive choices in the last minute and lost to a WAC rival they’d beaten four straight times – and hadn’t lost to here since 2008.

The big guns of Thursday’s victory over San Jose State – Kyle Barone and Deremy Geiger – managed just 13 points between them. Having abused the Spartans on the glass, Idaho was outrebounded by Hawaii 32-25.

In other words, consistency took a holiday.

“We couldn’t get them stopped,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “Right now we’re not defending it well enough in WAC play. We’re giving up way too high a defensive field goal percentage.”

How high? The Warriors (12-9 overall, 4-3 WAC) shot 56.3 percent – which means league opponents are now shooting just a shade under 50 against UI.

Eighteen of Hawaii’s 27 baskets were layups, dunks or something in close – with 6-foot-10 Vander Joaquim (18 points) and 6-7 Joston Thomas (16) doing the big damage.

“They have two guys working like crazy down there and you try to match the intensity,” said Idaho forward Djim Bandoumel – who worked like crazy on the other end, too, to finish with a career-high 24 points.

“I’m very proud of my defense, but when somebody scores on you, you have to figure out how to stop it the next time.”

The Vandals (11-10 overall, 4-3 WAC) seemed on the verge of figuring things out midway through the second half with a brief burst of six straight points – four by Bandoumel, followed by a Barone putback. They were up 60-59 with 8:38 to play.

Then they managed one field goal in the next six minutes – and since they weren’t getting any stops, Hawaii was back in control quickly on a 3-pointer by Zane Johnson, a long-range gunner who himself had a quiet 16 points.

When Hawaii did miss, it was usually when they were unguarded – at the foul line. And an empty 1-and-1 by Joaquim with 59.3 seconds left gave Idaho a big opportunity, down just 70-67.

But Geiger – who couldn’t miss Thursday – clanked an extremely quick 3, his sixth miss in as many tries beyond the arc. And later, when the lead was five points and the clock inside 15 seconds, Stephen Madison – who had a solid night with 15 points – chose to drive to the hoop and collected an offensive foul.

Verlin was OK with the choices.

“(Geiger) had been so hot the night before,” he reasoned. “We were trying to go two-for-one there – we felt we needed to shoot quick to get it tied, because if it goes down to the end (of the clock) you’re in a free throw battle. We got him a good look with the same play we ran the other night.”

The Vandals were hurt when Barone picked up his third foul just 13 minutes into the game, but still led 36-35 at halftime. He then scored their first two baskets of the second half, but made just one of his last four shots.

“But it’s more about us getting some stops,” Verlin said. “They didn’t have a starter have an off-night tonight.”

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