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Sports >  Idaho basketball

Analysis: Lack of offensive firepower, mix of lineups have hampered Idaho’s consistency

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 24, 2021

Idaho men’s basketball coach Zac Claus instructs his team during a 90-64 Big Sky Conference setback against Eastern Washington on Feb. 6 in Cheney.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho men’s basketball coach Zac Claus instructs his team during a 90-64 Big Sky Conference setback against Eastern Washington on Feb. 6 in Cheney. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – Embedded in its team statistics is information that may reflect, in a broad way, a significant reason Idaho is pressing on through a winless season.

In 19 games, the Vandals have started 10 players in 10 lineup configurations.

Only sophomore guard Gabe Quinnett has started them all.

With two games apiece remaining against Montana State and Montana, it is hard to look at the Vandals and say with any certainty who would be top five or even top seven. None of the rotations coach Zac Claus has sent out on court has delivered on a regular basis .

“We’ve had a little bit of injury. … We’ve also had, for us, a lack of consistency,” Claus says of his varied lineups. “It’s a matter of guys continuing to come to the forefront every day in practice and every game playing to the best of their ability and being efficient with their minutes and shots.”

While the Vandals, at times, have looked equal to their competition, in no game has Idaho put a team on the floor that rattled an opponent or created matchups demonstrably in the Vandals’ favor. That includes playing with a pair of big men in 6-foot-8 senior Scott Blakney and 6-10 freshman Tanner Christensen and going with a pair of ball-handling guards in senior Damen Thacker and freshman Hunter-Jack Madden.

Opponents have also learned Idaho’s ability to score is fragile when the Vandals, especially the guards, face rugged pressure.

In its most recent series, against Portland State, Idaho committed 26 turnovers in an 84-64 loss and 20 turnovers in a 71-40 beating in which the Vandals trailed 28-24 at the half but was outscored 43-16 in the final period. The Vikings scored 28 points off turnovers in that game. Blakney, Idaho’s leading scorer at 11 points per game, scored 12 against PSU in the opener. He found himself guarded front and back in the second game and was held to six points and a pair of rebounds while making four turnovers.

Claus minced no words about what happened.

“Their pressure just enveloped us,” he said. “We could not get off our heels. We did not take care of the ball and they played downhill. They were able to knock down both jumpers and get themselves to the rim with frequency and gave us a big old burst of it and we were not able to respond.”

Ja’Vary Christmas quietly had an efficient series against PSU with 17 points, nine rebounds and a pair of steals.

Early in the second half of the second game, he forcefully grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back for a basket. It was the kind of play that could ignite a team to go on a run if it had enough parts meshing smoothly to take advantage of such a boost.

The Vandals are at home again Friday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at noon with Montana State for their final games in Memorial Gym.

They finish the season March 4 and 6 at Montana.

That’s not much time to take big enough strides to figure out an effective lineup to beat Big Sky Conference teams. At 0-19 the Vandals, in truth, don’t have much to play for anymore.

But after the humbling loss to PSU on Saturday, Claus said his team continues to bring a workmanlike demeanor and an optimistic attitude to practice.

“I know these guys keep coming back for more each and every day,” he said. “They had a bad day today. We had a bad day today. I know these guys will jump right back in it. They are resilient in coming back for more.

“They keep coming back with a smile on their face asking, ‘What’s next?’ They won’t stop doing that.”

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