MOSCOW, Idaho – Don Verlin swears the inclination was never there, not even when Trevor Morris was in the throes of what seemed like an impossible-to-shake shooting funk.
“He’s never been told not to shoot,” the first-year Idaho coach said. “I just ask him to take good ones that are open.”
That message appears to have sunk in for Morris, the longest-tenured player on a surprising Vandals squad. The 6-foot-4 senior guard has rediscovered his long-range stroke in recent weeks, especially the past two games.
Morris pumped in 27 points and canned 7 of 9 3-pointers in a road swing through San Jose State and Fresno State last week, helping Idaho snag a much-needed split after a numbing loss to the Spartans. His resurgence is the latest in a string of rosy developments for a program picked to finish last in the Western Athletic Conference.
Instead the Vandals (14-14, 7-7) sit in fifth place, just a game behind third-place Boise State, entering the final two contests of the regular season. They’ll square off with Louisiana Tech tonight at the Cowan Spectrum, followed by a rematch Saturday night with Fresno State.
Regardless of how this weekend unfolds, Idaho has already snatched as many WAC victories this season as it did in its first three years (2006-2008) combined in the conference. And the club is guaranteed to avoid the dreaded play-in game between eighth- and ninth-place teams at the conference tournament.
“It’s amazing,” Morris said earlier this week. “The last couple years obviously have been terrible. But to come in and be (at .500) at this point in the year, it’s just amazing to me. It feels way better than any season I’ve had here.”
The way Morris and the Vandals began the season, however, it looked like another frustrating year was in store. As Idaho put up back-to-back stinkers at Michigan State and Gonzaga, both 30-plus point losses, Morris went a combined 6 of 22 from the field.
His slump continued through non-conference play with the low point coming in two games against South Carolina State. He clanged all nine of his 3-point attempts at SCSU and went 0 for 4 from outside when the Bulldogs came to Moscow a week later.
“I kind of went through a period like that last year, too,” said Morris, in his third year at UI. “I remember at Washington State I was like 1 for 9. It was kind of the same thing – you’ve got to get in the gym and get extra reps.”
The lanky Missoula product has worked tirelessly alongside Chris Helbing, UI’s director of basketball operations, to solve his shooting woes. His persistence, despite weeks of seemingly little progress, has impressed Verlin and assistant coach Ray Lopes.
“He’s been a guy who Coach (Verlin) has gotten on hard a lot in practice throughout the year,” said Lopes, a former head coach at Fresno State.
“But the thing about Trevor, he continues to practice hard. He still continues to listen. He still continues to try and learn how he can get out of the rut that he’s in.”
The key to Morris’ success is shot selection, Verlin said. When he avoids off-balance looks and releases perimeter shots in the flow of a Vandals offense that relies heavily on 3-pointers, good things usually happen.
Morris contends his recent stretch of torrid shooting isn’t the result of a newfound approach or tinkering with his mechanics. More than anything, confidence has played a key role.
“It’s kind of the law of averages – they’ve got to go down eventually,” he said. “And they just did this last week. It felt good.”
The positive vibes will continue if the Vandals can keep their late-season surge going. They have won four of their past five games, and two more wins heading into the WAC tournament could lead to an even bigger payoff.
Depending on how things shake out this weekend, Verlin figures the Vandals could land anywhere between the second and seventh seed.
“These two games that we have coming up are huge,” Morris said. “If we win both of these, I think we’ll be right where we need to be to make a run in the WAC tournament.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.