MOSCOW, Idaho – If the final hours of 2010 are any indication, the first few months of the new year hold promise for the University of Idaho men’s basketball team – much more, at least, than most expected in October.
The Vandals, two days after a last-second loss, smothered Louisiana Tech 77-47 on Friday night with a quiet New Year’s Eve crowd of 511 watching at Cowan Spectrum.
Idaho (7-6, 1-1 in the WAC) shot 60 percent in the first half and held the Bulldogs (9-7, 0-2) without a field goal for more than eight minutes in a rousing bounce-back effort.
“I thought we played as good as I think we could possibly play there, especially in the first 30 minutes of that game,” UI coach Don Verlin said. “We came out with a lot of intensity – guys playing hard, getting on the floor, fighting together.”
Louisiana Tech, playing for the sixth time on the road in seven games, looked discombobulated from the start. Four early turnovers led to easy transition buckets for Idaho, which started 7 of 8 from the field and raced to leads of 9-0 and 29-9.
It was the smoothest first half of the season for UI, and the good vibes extended after the break – even while the Vandals’ shooting touch cooled.
“We didn’t let up,” senior Shawn Henderson said. “We kept consistently huddling up (and telling each other), ‘Keep your foot on the gas.’ ”
The Vandals, picked to finish eighth in the WAC before the season, let a winnable game slip away in the final moments Wednesday against New Mexico State. They were intent on not letting that happen this time, and LTU obliged.
The Bulldogs showed signs of weariness after a 71-60 defeat at Boise State on Wednesday. They managed just five field goals in the second half and at one point missed five straight free throws, three on the front end of 1-and-1 opportunities.
The game got so out of hand late in the second half that Verlin brought in Sheridan Shayne and Paul Jorg, two walk-ons who won spots on the team in an open tryout before the season.
“They’re on a back-to-back road trip … and one of their best players (guard Brandon Gibson) got injured last game,” said UI guard Jeff Ledbetter, who had a career-high 20 points. “They’re a little down. But I would like to think it was our pressure and intensity that took them out of the game.”
LTU guard DeAndre Brown, the WAC’s second-leading scorer, started 0 of 6 from the field and didn’t score until the five-minute mark of the first half. Still, he ignited a quick Bulldogs flurry – the only one of the game – with nine straight points before the break.
Later in the second half, though, Idaho uncorked a 16-0 outburst that turned the game into a laugher.
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