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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vandals use quick start to edge Bears

Scott atones at the line to seal it

Mike Scott subtly shook his head in disappointment when reminded of two missed free throws that could’ve changed Idaho’s fate for the worse Saturday evening at the Cowan Spectrum.

With 21 points and six assists going into the final 35 seconds, Scott’s aggressive play offensively had Idaho in position to snap its four-game losing streak. That is, until two consecutive missed free throws on the front ends of one-and-ones with under 35 seconds remaining allowed Northern Colorado to turn a 78-72 deficit into a 78-77 game in just 12 seconds.

The senior point guard found redemption 4 seconds later, hitting two free throws with 18 seconds left to effectively push the game into the win column for Idaho.

“I just told myself to finish, believe and finish this game out,” Scott said.

Finishing was the most difficult part of Idaho’s 83-79 Big Sky Conference win over Northern Colorado.

The Vandals dominated for 35 minutes, pushing the halftime lead to 47-32 and leading by as many as 23 with 11:38 remaining in the second half.

Energy and intensity were the words players used to describe the first half. Bodies constantly hit the floor in battles for rebounds, defensive rotations were aggressive and players weren’t bullish with shot selection. Idaho went 8 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc, grabbing three steals and blocking three shots in the half en route to a 15-point advantage.

That intensity largely carried over in the second half, for at least 15 minutes. Tempo slowed down when the Vandals held a 21-point lead with 5 minutes remaining. That’s when the Bears slowly chipped away, to a 14-point deficit with 3 minutes remaining and a nine-point deficit with a minute remaining.

Idaho coach Don Velrin couldn’t pinpoint the reason.

“Boy, if I knew that answer I would have solved it in the game,” Verlin said. “We got a little sloppy with the ball, we were a little nervous.”

Thursday’s loss to North Dakota, in which Idaho (8-10, 3-4 Big Sky) relented a seven-point halftime lead, wasn’t on the mind of players when the Bears came roaring back.

Instead, it was Friday’s practice, which Verlin said it was fair to assume had more intensity than a typical Friday practice.

Senior Connor Hill agreed, after taking a second to think about it when asked.

“It was fun, we were just competing,” said Hill, who scored 21 points on 5-of-9 shooting from 3. “It wasn’t that light.”

The win puts Idaho back over the eighth-place threshold needed to qualify for the Big Sky Tournament.

“It turned out the right way tonight,” Verlin said. “I joked with the guys in the locker room, as you guys know I’ve lost a little weight this year to help my heart and I told them they’re trying to affect my heart. They must have been trying to get back at me.”