MOSCOW, Idaho – Vic Sanders wasn’t supposed to be a point guard this season. Nor was he supposed to be the Idaho Vandals’ only premier scorer.
But when he gets the help he received Thursday night, the Vandals suddenly look more like the threat in the Big Sky Conference that they were projected to be.
Sanders matched a career high with 33 points and UI’s big men made important contributions to help the Vandals slide past Southern Utah 79-67 in front of 889 fans at Cowan Spectrum.
The Big Sky coaches picked Idaho (8-9, 3-3) to finish second in the preseason, and UI still expects to be in the conference’s upper tier come March. First, though, it knew it had to get to .500 in league play like it did against the Thunderbirds (4-15, 2-4).
“We didn’t start so well,” Sanders said, “but we’re fighting back and the only thing that matters is when everybody is in Reno (for the Big Sky tournament). … We’re not happy where we are right now, though. Let’s get that straight.”
The Vandals won for the third time in the last four games after a forgettable December during which they learned point guard Perrion Callendret was lost for the year with a knee injury. Coach Don Verlin experimented with freshman Trevon Allen at point, then slid Sanders from off-guard to the team’s main ballhandler full-time two weeks ago.
It’s working out pretty well so far.
The 6-foot-5 junior from Portland took over late in the second half, pouring in seven straight points to help UI break the game open. Sanders’ drive and bucket with 6:02 left gave UI a 60-49 lead, and SUU never seriously threatened after that.
His night started with a missed dunk and a turnover, but Sanders scored 23 in the second half and connected on 11 of 12 free throws.
“That’s just another day for Vic,” forward Jordan Scott said. “I have to guard him every week, every day (in practice). It’s fun to watch him do it against other people. It’s just another day for us, but it is something spectacular.”
Scott had 10 points and six rebounds. He also spent a good part of the game defending SUU point guard Randy Onwuasor, who entered the night as the nation’s fifth-leading scorer (23.1 points per game).
The Vandals outrebounded the T-birds 24-10 after halftime.
“This team is built to defend and rebound,” Verlin said. “That’s where I’m really proud of our guys.”
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