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Sunday morning Pac-12 links

From Las Vegas — If you'll recall, the last team to beat UCLA was pesky Washington State. It's likely, therefore, that the Cougars played some small role in UCLA's victory over Arizona last night in the Pac-12 tournament championship game. Whether WSU's upset humbled the Bruins or merely caused coach Steve Alford to put the fear of extra suicides in his team, at the very least the Cougars can say they beat the conference champion.

The Vandals won the WAC championship on Saturday, but not all of them. The top-seeded women head back to the NCAA tournament after their win but the men's miraculous run came to a grinding halt.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced yesterday that the late start times aren't going anywhere, but hey, at least he's sending the Huskies to China. The Cougars held their Pro Day this week.

Vandals fall short of NCAA bid

Idaho's late-season mojo was no match for New Mexico State's size and athleticism.

The Vandals' best conference tournament showing in more than two decades ended one win shy of an NCAA tournament bid on Saturday when they fell quietly to New Mexico State, 77-55, in the WAC championship game in Las Vegas. Idaho shot just 38 percent and was outrebounded 38-21 by the much bigger and more physical Aggies.

After winning four straight and six of seven, Idaho's season ended at 16-18. This was its first conference title game since 1993. UI was seeking the school's first NCAA tournament bid in 24 years.

NMSU, which has won three straight WAC tournament crowns, controlled the paint with center 7-foot-5, 355-pound center Sim Bhullar and athletic big man Tshilidzi Nephawe. Bhullar, the tournament MVP, had 14 points and nine rebounds while Nephawe went for 12 and 7.

The Vandals knew they couldn't match up with NMSU's monstrous front line. But when the shots stopped falling after going up 8-3, Idaho was in trouble. The Aggies unleashed a 15-3 run and led by double digits most of the rest of the way.

Senior Stephen Madison led the Vandals with 17 points in his final game at Idaho, and point guard Mike Scott had 14 points. Shooting guard Connor Hill, who helped UI get on a late-season roll, was 0-for-5 from the 3-point line and finished with six points.

Saturday Morning links

From Las Vegas — I'm still here in Vegas (alack!) serving as a sort of reporter-talisman for the Idaho men's and women's basketball teams, which have both made it to today's WAC tournament finals so indulge me for linking my game stories from the men's and women's semifinal wins. Josh Wright has more in this blog post. If you haven't seen UI's Stephen Madison play before, turn in to ESPNU at 7 p.m. and check out the superb senior.

Back in Pullman the baseball team finally won a series but lost in yesterday's conference opener

Arizona and UCLA cruised in their semifinal games and will play for the tournament championship tonight.

Oh, and if you're wondering why there is a picture of a mountain wearing a basketball jersey at the top of this post, that's 7-foot-5, 355-pound Sim Bhullar, the wall the Vandals will have to go through to make it to the NCAA tournament.

Idaho men upend Utah Valley to reach WAC title game

Suddenly, everything is coming together for the Idaho men's basketball team. One more win, and it will find itself in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 24 years.

The fifth-seeded Vandals showed poise in crunch time to knock off No. 1 seed Utah Valley 74-69 in the WAC semifinals in Las Vegas. Their fourth straight win — and sixth in seven games — put them in their first conference championship game since 1993.

UI last went to the NCAA tournament in 1990.

Both the Idaho men and women will play in the WAC title game on Saturday. The Vandal men will face the winner of the New Mexico State-Cal State Bakersfield game at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

Senior Stephen Madison was superb again for the Vandals (16-17). He scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds, after his 26-point, 17-rebound performance on Thursday against UMKC. Mike Scott carried the Vandals in the first half and finished with 14 points, while redshirt freshman Ty Egbert came up with a team-high seven rebounds and hit 2 of 4 free throws late.

Vandals, Verlin get elusive WAC tournament win

Idaho's ineptitude in the WAC tournament? It's history. Senior Stephen Madison put in a masterful performance and his teammates stepped up in the final minutes as the Vandals vanquished the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 73-70, in the quarterfinals of the WAC tourney in Las Vegas.

This was Don Verlin's first win in the WAC tournament after going 0-5 to start his tenure at Idaho. And it was only Idaho's second win in this event since joining the WAC before the 2005-2006 season. It came at the right moment, too — the Vandals will depart for the Big Sky Conference this summer.

“It feels awfully good, and Stephen and I enjoyed a special moment because we hadn’t gotten one yet,” Verlin said.

Fifth-seeded Idaho (15-17) moves on to the semifinal tomorrow night, when it will face No. 1 seed Utah Valley at 6 p.m. The Vandals lost both regular-season matchups against UVU, but the games were decided by a total of six points.

Keep reading for more.

Can the Idaho men break through?

Since joining the WAC, the Idaho men's basketball team has won one conference tournament game, and that was an opening round affair in 2007. The Vandals are 1-7 in the event all-time and 0-5 under Don Verlin. But Idaho's postseason struggles go back even further: Since 1997, the program is 2-14 in conference tournaments as members of the WAC and Big West. That's right — 1-7 in the WAC, 1-7 in the Big West.

The Vandals will try to break through this afternoon against UMKC when the quarterfinals of the WAC tourney get under way in Las Vegas. The topic of our preview for this morning's paper was Idaho's suddenly aggressive transition game. We've posted a longer version of the story below, as well as a few quotes from coaches and players.

Postseason beckons for UI men, women

The WAC men's and women's basketball tournaments will again be held at one site — Orleans Arena in Las Vegas — over the next four days. The top-seeded Idaho women (22-8) get things started Wednesday at noon with a quarterfinal matchup with Chicago State. The Vandals are looking to get back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year, but the situation is different this time. We wrote about this in our preview.

The Idaho men take on UMKC on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. The Vandals are just 1-7 in the WAC tournament since joining the conference in 2005-06, and Don Verlin is 0-5. We'll have more on this tomorrow. Idaho star Stephen Madison was named to the US Basketball Writers Assocaition's All-District VIII team on Tuesday, two days after being named a first-team all-WAC player. Meanwhile, guard Connor Hill was selected as the WAC player of the week on Monday — the seventh such honor for a Vandal this year.

Madison misses out on WAC’s top award

In the end, the Western Athletic Conference's nine coaches went with the best player on the one of the league's two best teams instead of the league's leading scorer. New Mexico State's Daniel Mullings was named WAC Player of the Year on Sunday afternoon, beating out Idaho's Stephen Madison.

Madison led the WAC in scoring, averaging 19.9 points per game in his senior campaign for the 14-17 Vandals. He was a first-team All-WAC selection along with Mullings, Utah Valley's Holton Hunsaker and Ben Aird and Grand Canyon University's Killian Larson. No other Idaho players were honored in the postseason awards.

Utah Valley won the league, just ahead of NMSU. Idaho, which finished tied for fifth, will square off Thursday with University of Missouri-Kansas City — the team they beat 87-80 on Sat — in the first round of the WAC tournament. Tipoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

Last year, Idaho's Kyle Barone nabbed the WAC's Player of the Year award despite the Vandals going 12-17 in the regular season.

Idaho completes road sweep at UMKC

The Idaho basketball team entered the week with three road wins all year. In the span of three days, it pocketed two victories away from Moscow — and the latest was arguably the Vandals' most impressive road victory of the season.

Idaho thundered back from a late 10-point deficit to dispatch the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 87-80, in Kansas City. Senior Stephen Madison poured in 26 points and Connor Hill had 24 for the rejuvenated Vandals (14-17, 7-9), who finished the regular season by snatching their fourth win in five games.

“We’re playing our best basketball,” sixth-year coach Don Verlin said. “If this team will make a bigger commitment to defense and rebounding, we’ll have a chance to win the WAC tournament.”

The fifth-seeded Vandals will play fourth-seeded UMKC again in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in Las Vegas. Idaho is still searching for its first WAC tourney win with Verlin at the helm. Its only victory at the WAC tournament came in a play-in game in 2007.

Click below for more.

WAC tourney seeding scenarios for Idaho

After last night's 79-76 win over Chicago State, Idaho is still in play for the No. 4 seed in next week's WAC tournament. But it could also drop down as low as the seventh seed depending on what happens tomorrow. The full scenarios are below. The Vandals (13-17, 6-9) close the regular season at Missouri-Kansas City. Tipoff is 7:35 p.m. PST.

Possible seeds for Idaho:

4      If Idaho beats UMKC and Seattle U beats Chicago State
 
5      If Idaho beats UMKC and Chicago State beats Seattle U OR
        If Idaho loses to UMKC, Chicago State beats Seattle U and UTPA beats Grand Canyon OR
        If Idaho loses to UMKC, Utah Valley beats Bakersfield, Chicago State beats Seattle U and Grand Canyon beats UTPA
 
6      If Idaho loses to UMKC, Utah Valley beats Bakersfield and Seattle U beats Chicago State OR
        If Idaho loses to UMKC, Bakersfield beats Utah Valley, Chicago State beats Seattle U and Grand Canyon beats UTPA
 
7      If Idaho loses to UMKC, Bakersfield beats Utah Valley and Seattle U beats Chicago State
  

Vandals fend off Chicago State for rare road win

It looked like Idaho might absorb another excruciating loss after going up big on Chicago State. This time, though, it was the Vandals who made the winning plays in the closing seconds — on the road, no less.

Connor Hill carried Idaho in the first half and buried the game-clinching free throws with 6 seconds left in the Vandals' 79-76 win at Chicago State on Thursday night. UI nearly let a 17-point lead disappear, but the Cougars missed four straight foul shots and threw the ball away with 11 seconds left to help Idaho escape.

More below.

Examining the Idaho Vandals’ road woes

The Idaho men's basketball team finishes the regular season with two games against beatable opponents — Chicago State and MIssouri-Kansas City. The problem for the Vandals? Both games are on the road.

It's almost been two full months since the Vandals last won away from Moscow, and they've won a total of three road games all season. After the jump, we take a look at what's gone wrong for Idaho (12-17, 5-9) on the road ahead of tonight's game at Chicago State and overall the last two seasons under Don Verlin. Read on.

Umipig, Seattle U streak past Idaho

For much of Saturday night, Seattle U's Isiah Umipig was magnificent and Idaho's Stephen Madison was in foul trouble.

The duel between the WAC's top two scorers never really materialized in the Vandals' 76-68 loss to Seattle U at Key Arena. Madison finished with a quiet 18 points in 21 minutes after sitting for long stretches of both halves. That was half of the scoring total for Umipig, who drained eight 3-pointers and set a career high with 36 points.

Umipig had 23 points in the second half, when the Vandals (12-17, 5-9) struggled to get stops and looked disjointed on offense with Madison out of sync and Connor Hill quiet after playing superbly earlier in the game. Hill finished with 18 points but didn't score after his 3-pointer put Idaho up 48-45 with 15:29 left. Two possessions later, Seattle U took the lead and never trailed again.

More below.

Idaho starts season-finishing stretch

Don Verlin and the Vandals close out the regular season with three road games. The first is tonight at Seattle U, and it's a big one for Idaho. The Vandals are 12-16 and 5-8 in the WAC and have a chance to grab the third seed in the conference tournament. But they lost by one point to the Redhawks (12-14, 4-9) in Moscow on Feb. 1.

Read on.

Madison nets fifth weekly WAC award

Fresh off a 34-point performance in the final home game of his year, Idaho senior Stephen Madison was named WAC Player of the Week for a record fifth time this season on Monday. No other WAC player has won the award that many times during a season, according to the Idaho media relations department. Madison leads the WAC in scoring (19.8 ppg) and is fourth all-time in scoring at Idaho. With 1,495 points, Madison needs 91 more to become UI's second-leading career scorer. The Vandals (12-16, 5-8 WAC) have three road games left before the WAC tournament.

Madison, UI seniors get special sendoff

After Idaho gritted out an 83-77 win over Grand Canyon, it felt like a festive family reunion on the Memorial Gym court. Glen Dean's cousins shot hoops with a few of the Vandals. Stephen Madison took photos with his baby, girlfriend, sisters and parents. Dean and Madison had just played for the final time on their homecourt, and they wanted to soak it in.

You can read an early version of my story on Idaho's fourth straight win to close out its home schedule below.

Senior Day for Madison, Vandals

The last home game of the season at Idaho is usually Senior Night. Tomorrow, because of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest, it's Senior Day. The Vandals (11-16) will play host to Grand Canyon at 1 p.m. at Memorial Gym. And they'll bid farewell to one of the most accomplished seniors in recent program history. Read on.

Hill, Vandals erupt in win over Northridge

Connor Hill felt comfortable on Tuesday night, and why not? He was shooting at Memorial Gym, where the Vandals are unbeaten this season (albeit in just three games). Hill sank 8 3-pointers and finished with 28 points in Idaho's 96-88 victory over Cal State Northridge. The win over an old Big West Conference foe moved the Vandals to 11-16 with one home game left in the regular season (Saturday at 1 p.m. vs. Grand Canyon).

We've got our usual recap below.

Idaho’s Madison scores 42 in loss

Stephen Madison will go down as one of the best scorers in Idaho history. And Saturday night might very well go down as his masterpiece. Unfortunately for UI, it came in game with an all-too-familiar outcome — a one-point loss.

Madison, a 6-foot-6 senior from Portland, dropped in 42 points — the most for a Vandal since Orlando Lightfoot in 1993 — in a 89-88 setback at Utah Valley. The Vandals fell to 10-16 and 4-8 in the WAC despite Madison's career-best performance.

Before Saturday, Madison had made a strong case that he was the best player in the WAC. But his most convincing argument yet came against the WAC's leading team. He went 16 of 21 from the field, 8 of 11 from the free-throw line and missed just one shot from inside the arc.

Madison tied Steve Weist for the third-most points in a single game at Idaho, and he passed Kyle Barone for fourth all-time in scoring at UI with 1,440 points. The only Vandals in front of him are Lightfoot (2,102), Brian Kellerman (1,585) and Kenny Luckett (1,571).

We have more on Madison and Idaho below.

Defense lets Idaho down in second half

The Idaho Vandals had the lead, and a chance for their third straight win, in the second half at Cal State Bakersfield. But like has happened so many times this season, the Vandals fell flat down the stretch in a 76-67 loss to the Roadrunners. Idaho gave up 48 points in the second half against a team it beat by three points last month in Moscow to drop to 10-15 overall, 4-7 in the WAC. CSUB shot 60 percent after the break.

Stephen Madison led UI with 18 points, Connor Hill contributed 12 and Sekou Wiggs had 10 off the bench. But none of the Vandals' top offensive threats shot particularly well — Madison was 7 of 15 from the field, Wiggs went 3 of 10 and Glen Dean was 2 of 8.

Idaho plays at Utah Valley on Saturday at 6 p.m. Pacific. UVU got thumped tonight by Seattle U, 71-57.

More below.

Madison, Vandals nudge UTPA in OT

Idaho finally got it going at Cowan Spectrum — just in time to say goodbye for the year to its primary home venue. After upsetting New Mexico State on Thursday, the Vandals gutted out a 70-63 overtime win over Texas-Pan American to collect back-to-back WAC wins for the first time this year.

Idaho is now 10-14 and 4-6 in the conference, which puts them in sixth place and a half-game behind Missouri-Kansas City. The Vandals finish the regular season with five of seven on the road, and their final two at home will be at Memorial Gym with the Lionel Hampton Jazz Fest in the Kibbie Dome.

The last crowd at the Spectrum was one of the best of the year — an announced 1,717. Our unedited game story is below.

Vandals upset New Mexico State, 73-67

It was hard to imagine before tonight. Idaho had lost eight of its last 10 games. New Mexico State had giant center Sim Bhullar back healthy and had just creamed league-leading Utah Valley. But the Vandals frustrated NMSU just enough and were clearly the more hungry team in pulling off a 73-67 upset of the Aggies at Cowan Spectrum.

Our story on the game is below.

Vandals find a way to lose again

After another puzzling loss, this one a 68-67 defeat at home to Seattle U, Idaho coach Don Verlin was asked if his team had played its worst basketball of the year during an eight-minute stretch when the Vandals went from leading by 16 to trailing by five. “I don’t know if ‘worst’ is the way to describe it,” he said. “Lack of discipline, lack of fundamentals, lack of execution. So I guess if that’s worst, yeah it is.”

That pretty much sums up the Vandals' 14th loss of the season, and their sixth loss in seven games at Cowan Spectrum. The Vandals fell apart — not once but twice.

Our recap of the game is below, and we also have a note on part of the bleachers at the Spectrum collapsing before the game.

Stat-stuffing year for Idaho’s Madison

Idaho's Stephen Madison has improved in each of his four years in Moscow. That seems like a fair summary of a fine career for the 6-foot-6 small forward out of Jefferson High in Portland, and it's something that coach Don Verlin appreciates. “I couldn't be happier with his development in the program,” Verlin said last week.

Madison averaged 3.7 points per game as a freshman in 2010-11. The next year he bumped up his average to 12.1 ppg. Last year, he increased his scoring to 14.1 ppg, and as a senior he's averaging 17.5 points — in addition to career-bests in almost every other statistical category.

He came into the week as the only player in the nation to lead his team in five areas – points (17.5 per game), rebounds (7.8), assists (2.4), steals (0.8) and blocks (0.6). But is that a good thing for the Vandals, who are languishing at 8-13 and 2-5 in the WAC?

We explore below.

Idaho routed at D-I newcomer Grand Canyon

Idaho kept pace with Grand Canyon University at the free-throw line in the first half. But the Antelopes, a Division I and WAC newcomer, got to the line 10 more times after the break — and made more 10 more free throws to pull away from the Vandals in a 86-73 win in Phoenix.

Grand Canyon, coached by former NBA star Dan Majerle, went on a decisive 20-3 outburst after Idaho briefly took the lead early in the second half.

The Vandals (8-13, 2-5) were called for 31 fouls, and the Antelopes made them pay. Grand Canyon connected on 35 of 41 foul shots, the most makes at the line for an Idaho opponent this year. Idaho, meanwhile, went 26 of 35 from the line, with five misses alone from reserve guard Sekou Wiggs.

More below.

Idaho’s Dean doubtful for Thursday

Idaho has just one game this week (Thursday at Grand Canyon) and one game next week (vs. Seattle on Feb. 1). It's a good thing, too. The Vandals are banged up. Starting point guard Glen Dean missed the Vandals' last two games with a sprained ankle and is doubtful for the GCU game. “It's not looking good,” said coach Don Verlin, adding that Dean is still day-to-day. If Dean's ankle doesn't progress, Verlin said he'll have an MRI next week.

More below.

Idaho finally wins at home in close game

Teams are supposed to have a big advantage at home, but that hadn't been the case for Idaho at Cowan Spectrum. In five games before tonight — three played without students in Moscow — the Vandals had lost five times. Yep, 0-5. But they made a string of winning plays down the stretch to dispatch Cal State Bakersfield 64-61.

An early version of our game story, and a few notes, are below after the jump.

Hobbled Vandals host Bakersfield

After six losses in their last seven games — four of them to conference opponents — the Idaho Vandals find themselves in last place in the WAC heading into tonight's tilt with Cal State Bakersfield (7 p.m., Cowan Spectrum). Idaho is 7-12 and 1-4 in the WAC, a half-game worse than Seattle and Texas-Pan American after dropping to 0-5 in the Spectrum on Thursday night with a 71-66 loss to Utah Valley.

We've got an update on the suddenly injury-plagued Vandals below, and where things have gone wrong during this extended slide.

NMSU pounds reeling Vandals

New Mexico State handed Idaho its worst of the loss of the season on Saturday night, a 78-54 beatdown in Las Cruces. And the Aggies dominated even more than the final score indicates.

NMSU, the WAC's top team at 14-5 and 3-0, thundered to a 24-4 lead in the first 8 minutes and led by 32 midway through the second half. The Aggies converted 17 Idaho turnovers into 30 points and held UI to 35 percent from the field. And they did all this without 7-foot-5 center Sim Bhullar, who missed the game with a foot injury.

The Vandals (7-11, 1-3) have lost five of their last six heading back to Moscow to host Utah Valley and Cal State Bakersfield.

More below.

Vandals snap 4-game skid with 2OT win

Idaho finally broke through with a clutch win. All it took was a basket in the final second from an unlikely source.

Freshman Perrion Callandret scored his only points of a wild game with 0.5 seconds left in double overtime to vault the Vandals past UTPA, 86-85, on Thursday night. Idaho (7-10, 1-2) ended a four-game losing streak and snagged its first WAC win of the season despite four starters fouling out and going 22 of 36 from the free-throw line.

UTPA (4-13, 0-2) has lost nine straight.

“I couldn’t be happier, especially for the guys in the locker room,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “When you lose games like that, they rip your hearts out, and it can be hard to get the pieces back together. Our guys hung together all night long and fought. At the end, we had four of our five starters fouled out. It’s hard to win on the road in the WAC, and when you miss as many free throws as we did, it makes it even harder. But what a great way to find a way to win and get our first WAC road win of the season.”

More below.