MOSCOW – It’s always noticeable when Arkadiy Mkrtychyan isn’t among Idaho’s five players on the court.
The sophomore star spent the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s contest at Cowan Spectrum against Arkansas-Little Rock nested up on the bench next to his coaches.
Mkrtychyan, who is slowly recovering from surgery to his left knee, missed the first half because of a coaches decision, presumably a disciplinary decision, forcing freshman Nate Sherwood and junior Ty Egbert into action as Idaho’s premier post options.
Results weren’t favorable. Idaho bigs combined to shoot 3 of 17 from the floor, including two misses from Mkrtychyan when he checked in to play 11 second-half minutes.
Idaho felt the brunt of that trying to chase the lead late in the second half, ultimately falling 64-54 to the visiting Sun Belt foe.
“Bottom line is we have to get some production out of our inside players,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
The Vandals went even-up with the undefeated Trojans through a 29-28 halftime lead and a 44-all deadlock with 8:56 remaining in the game.
Then baskets became hard to come by. Idaho only made three field goals the rest of the way, which usually would be offset by the Vandals’ ability to get to the line. Idaho only took 10 trips to the line, hitting eight.
“Tonight, I didn’t think we nearly were aggressive enough against the basket. We didn’t attack the basket, we didn’t break down the defense the way we needed to and that basically came from our inside guys,” Verlin said. “When we got it in there, we came out empty.”
The backcourt did its part to carry the offense most of the way. Victor Sanders continued shredding defenses from beyond the arc, sinking four 3-pointers and being fouled twice on 3-pointers to net a career-high 24 points.
But don’t expect the sophomore from Portland to celebrate his individual performance. The loss doesn’t sit well with him.
“They’re a good team,” Sanders said of Little Rock. “We lost, so we can’t really say much about them. We have to look at ourselves and figure out the mistakes we made and what we need to do.”
Verlin pinpointed one of those mistakes on the defensive end – lack of discipline.
Idaho (5-4) allowed the Trojans to hit seven of their last nine shot attempts, many of those makes coming late in the shot clock.
“I think it’s discipline,” Verlin said. “The last 10 to 12 seconds of the shot clock, we got to sit down and guard them like we did the first 20 seconds of it. I thought it was discipline there late in the clock when we let them score some easy baskets right at the rim.”
The eighth-year Idaho coach laments losing a winnable game on fixable mistakes, but at least his players realize and don’t seem phased with the challenge of two Pac-12 opponents coming up. Idaho leaves Sunday morning at 10 a.m. for Los Angeles and a Monday date at USC. The Vandals return home Tuesday to prepare for a Thursday matchup in the Battle of the Palouse with Washington State.
“Those are two really good teams. We just have to go in there and just play how we play,” UI junior point guard Perrion Callandret said. “Don’t try to get out of our element, just try to run out sets with pace. When we’re getting prepared for them we have to understand what we’re getting ourselves in to.”
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