Idaho coach Don Verlin admits his Vandals haven't been the team he envisioned on the court this last into the Big Sky Conference schedule.
He has injuries to thank for that.
In what could potentially be their final game without starting point guard Perrion Callandret, the Vandals fell 72-70 at Northern Arizona, splitting another weekend of Big Sky games.
Callandret was given an estimated recovery time of two weeks prior to Idaho hosting Sacramento State and Portland State last week. He was walking around the Kibbie Dome this week without his boot on. We'll get a more clear idea of if Callandret will return this week for Idaho's home tilts against North Dakota and Northern Colorado when we speak with Verlin on Tuesday.
Idaho's last four losses have all been two-point games. The Vandals are 4-4 since their second-leading scorer went down with a right foot sprain against Eastern Washington.
The backcourt scored just 17 of Idaho's 70 points and shot 2 of 9 from beyond the arc. Vandal guards also turned it over 12 times.
The Vandals are now 2-4 in their last six games decided by five points and less, and 1-4 in their games decided by one possession.
Idaho (14-10, 6-5 Big Sky) is 2-3 in its last five games without leading scorer Victor Sanders, who will be out for at least the next two games and most likely longer with a broken right hand.
Bright spots on the road trip, which opened with a 68-44 win at Southern Utah, included Arkadiy Mkrtychyan's 25 points in the two games. The sophomore, who has been slowed while recovering from left-knee surgery prior to the season, went 10 of 13 from the field and is showing confidence with his post moves and use of his off hand. He scored a season-high 15 points on Saturday. Junior Ty Egbert showed more poise offensively as well, scoring 11 points on six shot attempts.
Lastly, Verlin said senior point guard Chris Sarbaugh was battling some kind of neck injury today. He said Sarbaugh sat out practice on Friday and spent two more hours before the game on Saturday "getting his neck worked on."
Here are Verlin's full comments on the Learfield Sports broadcast following the game:
General thoughts on the game: "You’ve got to give them credit but I didn’t think we were tough enough tonight. They were able to do some things that we wanted to take away. Number one, we wanted to keep Kris Yanku out of the lane. He was able to get to the lane, he was able to shoot 17 free throws. That was probably the difference in the game of what we talked about in the pre-game. We didn’t do a good enough job sealing our gaps, we didn’t do a good enough job of guarding without fouling and when you let them go to the line 17 times, that’s tough."
He expands: "Number two is, we weren’t tough enough rebounding tonight. They ended up with 10 offensive rebounds, even though we outrebounded them by a big margin, those 10 offensive rebounds is something we can’t have. We’ve got to limit them to six, seven, eight second shots. And then the last thing is, last night in practice we devoted about 20 minutes to them pressing us and I thought we made very poor decisions press breaking tonight which allowed them to get some easy shots."
On Idaho fighting: "I’m proud of our guys, they’re battling like crazy, they’re fighting like crazy. Things aren’t easy right now, we’re a little out of sync, but it’s not from a lack of effort. That’s what, Vandal fans, you’ve gotta realize is this is a team we didn’t all envision playing because we’ve got some injuries but it’s a team I envisioned playing being of hard these guys are playing. I mean, Chris Sarbaugh played hurt, he didn’t practice yesterday. He spent two hours yesterday and then two hours today before the game getting his neck worked on so we could get him to play. I thought he gave us all he had today, it just didn’t work out."
On Idaho's struggles finishing around the rim: "We just didn’t finish them, and that comes down to what I said earlier: That’s toughness. That’s creating your habits in practice, but you know you’ve got to have confidence to score that ball right around the rim. We had a number of shots right around the rim but we didn’t finish. Are they blocking our shots or whatever the case may be? You can’t worry about that, you gotta take it at the glass, you gotta finish around the rim because we’re way too good of a free throw shooting team to start changing our shots."
On recovering from this loss: "We just have to keep fighting. This team is fighting, they’re good kids, they’re working hard and we’ll continue to fight like crazy and if we do that we’ll be a team that has a chance to win the Big Sky Conference tournament."