Hawaii stuns Idaho in WAC opener

LAS VEGAS – Hauns Brereton personified being in the right place at the right time. And because he was, Idaho made an early exit from the Western Athletic Conference tournament Thursday.

With the game tied at 70 and overtime looming, the Hawaii junior forward was in the right corner watching teammate Shaquille Stokes drive for the winning basket. But Idaho’s Deremy Geiger knocked the ball out of Stokes’ hands as the final seconds were ticking down.

Somehow, the ball ended up with Brereton and his 14-foot shot from the right side with 3.2 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner as the sixth-seeded Warriors held on for a 72-70 win over the No. 3 Vandals at the Orleans Arena.

“That was a tough one, no question,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said of the loss that knocked his team out of the tournament and dropped the Vandals to 18-13 overall. “We played hard and it came down to the last possession.”

Despite Thursday’s loss it appears the Vandals may still be playing next week as they are expected to be invited to take part in the CIT tournament.

“Hopefully, we’re playing next week,” Verlin said.

The Vandals appeared to be on their way to advancing to Friday night’s semifinals, having overcome an 11-point first-half deficit to lead 64-57 with 6:15 to play. But the Idaho offense, which had finally kicked into high gear thanks to Stephen Madison’s outside shooting and Landon Tatum’s ability to break down the Warriors’ defense, had suddenly stalled out.

Madison, who would finish with 15 points, didn’t make a field goal over the game’s final 9:25. Tatum, who finished with 12 points, had one field goal in the final 6:15.

“It seemed like we had two or three possessions where we waited until the end of the shot clock and we just threw it up,” Tatum said.

But despite squandering the lead, Idaho still had a chance. Geiger’s three-point play with 50.8 seconds remaining tied it at 68 and Barone scored on a layup with 17.6 seconds left to pull Idaho even at 70-70.

“I thought we had played well enough to win,” said Barone, who had a team-high 19 points. “I think when we got the lead, we might have relaxed a little bit and gave them a chance to get back in it.”

Hawaii (16-15) took advantage as Vander Joaquim, the Warriors’ sensational 6-foot-10 junior center, went to work. Joaquim had 20 points and 13 rebounds and he was a handful for Idaho all day.

“He’s been a great, great player for us all season,” Hawaii coach Gib Arnold said of Joaquim.

The Vandals could not have started any slower offensively. They made just three of their first 20 shots and didn’t connect from beyond the 3-point arc until their eighth try when Connor Hill’s shot with 40 seconds left in the first half fell.

Idaho was getting good looks inside but nothing was dropping. The Vandals’ saving grace was Barone, who had 14 of his 19 points in the first 20 minutes and allowed his team to stay in contact with the Warriors, trailing 35-28 at intermission.

But he was getting very little help. At the other end, Stokes was driving and scoring while Joaquim was dominating inside. Hawaii maintained a double-digit lead for the better part of the first half as Joaquim and Stokes had 10 points apiece.

The Warriors were playing without Zane Johnson, one of their leading scorers who averages 14 points. Johnson had contracted mononucleosis and was not medically cleared to travel to Las Vegas. It didn’t seem to matter. In addition to getting enough scoring from Joaquim and Stokes, the Warriors also used an effective 2-3 zone defense to frustrate the Vandals early on. But Idaho eventually got out of its offensive funk and took control, using a 17-2 run to pull ahead 45-41, then a 13-5 spurt to lead 64-57.

Then Idaho relapsed offensively and as Stokes drove for the attempt to win it in regulation, Brereton made sure he was in position.

“I knew he was going to drive and I saw they were going to collapse on Shaq,” said Brereton, who finished with 17 points. “I knew that short corner was going to be open so I just shifted there.”

Smart move. The deflected ball came right to him and his uncontested shot dropped. Still, with 3.2 seconds left, Idaho had one last look. However, Joaquim defended Barone and as the three-quarters court pass came toward the opposite foul line, Joaquim stepped in front of Barone, snagged the ball out of the air and held on to give Hawaii its first WAC tournament win since 2005.

“It was a great game,” Verlin said. “We both competed our tails off. It just came down to one possession.”

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