Two weeks before the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are to meet in Super Bowl XLIX, Idaho men's basketball coach Don Verlin queued up an adage from the Patriot's three-time Super Bowl-winning coach when discussing how his Vandals can overcome the three-game Big Sky Conference losing streak they're on ...
"One thing you don’t want to do when you’ve lost a couple in a row, you can’t over analyze," Verlin said. "It's the Bill Bellsichick philosophy, you have to play harder and faster."
After dropping an 89-86 decision to Eastern Washington on Jan. 10, the Vandals followed up with two consecutive road losses in their first Big Sky road swing. A last-second shot at the buzzer clanked off the rim in a 79-76 loss at Sacramento State. Portland State kept Idaho out of arm's reach in a 85-73 loss in the Rose City.
The issues for the losses are numerous. Free throw differential, foul trouble, poor shot selection, poor defense.
Opponents on the road trip made 38 free throws, to Idaho's 22 points from the charity stripe. The Vandals were called for fouls 49 times in the two games. Both the Hornets and Vikings shot 45 percent from the field.
"It's not any one thing you can put your finger on, that’s what makes this game so challenging. You never know exactly if there’s one thing," Verlin said. "We’ve been in every basketball all year long against every opponent. Part of it is being a young team, part of it is controlling the tempo of the game."
Back at home where they're 2-0 in conference play, the Vandals now feel must-win type pressure. The Vandals are tied for eighth in the Big Sky with Southern Utah. Only eight of the 12 conference teams quality for the Big Sky Tournament, to be hosted by the regular season champion.
"I’m trying to beat into guys heads how important it is and how this conference goes," senior point guard Mike Scott said. " ... (These games are) very important. We always have to protect our home court. Especially in this league seeing only eight teams can make it, these are like must wins for us."
Scoring the ball and tempo hasn't been a problem for Idaho. The team averages 77.7 points per game on 46-percent shooting. Idaho ranks No. 70 in Ken Pomeroy's Adjusted Offense Efficiency, at 106.8 points per 100 possessions.
"One of our strengths is our ability to move the ball up and down the floor, scoring the basketball," Verlin said. "There’s an old adage in basketball, play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses."
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Idaho coach Don Verlin on North Dakota, which comes in at 5-11 (1-4 in Big Sky). The mascot-less program has played Marquette, Northern Iowa, Minnesota, Utah and North Dakota State.
"This team is a lot better than their record, they played a really tough non conference schedule. They’ve only had three or four home games (six). They know how important this game is to get themselves back on track. You watch them and Northern Colorado (9-7, 4-1) on tape you could switch the records and you wouldn’t know the difference."
On the importance of home games: "As you can tell in the Big Sky Conference most of the good teams are holding serve at home, that’s what you have to do. It’s really, really important you take care of your home court and then you scratch and claw and fight to get your road wins," Verlin said.
On the first Big Sky Conference game with students in town: "We’re excited about it, I hope they come out and watch. We’re a fun team to watch, it’s been a long time since we played a game in Moscow with our students here."
On sophomore guard Perrion Callandret, who scored 20 points on the road trip in 45 minutes of action: "Perrion, he’s been a good player this year. I would’ve played him a lot more in the Eastern game if he didn't pick up a couple of quick fouls," Verlin said. "He’s been a big part of what we do, I’d like to get those minutes up to 22 or 23 minutes a game."
Mike Scott on being a senior leader and his role with the team in a slump: "Yeah, definitely, I’ve met with Connor and Bira. And I tell them before practice, every game is on us. That’s the only way we can get guys going."