A frustrating season for Idaho continued as the Vandals (3-14, 0-7) survived two scoring explosions from a white-hot University of Northern Colorado (9-8, 4-1 Big Sky), but Idaho was running on fumes when the Bears detonated a third time midway through the second half, expanding a six-point lead to as many as 22 points before closing out an 87-70 victory.
“They’re a really good team. They have firepower all over the place,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said of UNC. Bode Hume led all scorers with 25 points for the Bears. Daylen Kountz followed with 16 while Dalton Knecht 15 and Dru Kuxhausen 11.
UNC was a scorching 36 of 63 from the floor, 57.1 percent, including 9 of 19 from beyond the arc. Claus gave a nod to the Bears for keeping the game pace fast and for aggressive passing that consistently created good looks for shooters.
Idaho managed to hit 28-of-64 field goal attempts, 43.8 percent, but was a lackluster 3 of 16 on 3-point shots. Without that long game in its arsenal, the Vandals simply couldn’t keep up with the Bears in the final 10 minutes.
“At the beginning of the game, we came right back at them. But that last punch they threw at us staggered us,” Idaho guard Ethan Kilgore said.
Idaho trailed 9-2 early, but by the first time out, it had closed the gap to 12-8. Both teams were playing four guards and a post. The court was widely spaced, and the tempo was electric. Idaho gave as good as it got.
Kur Jongkuch scored on an alley- oop to put UNC ahead 17-12, but on the next possession, Philip Pepple Jr. threw one down for the Vandals off a Trevante Anderson feed. The Bears kept scoring through the remainder of the half, but Idaho’s Mikey Dixon collected 13 of his team-high 22 points in the period and kept the Vandals in contention. They trailed 46-39 at the break .
They were able to hang around through the early second half and got within six points on a Tanner Christensen put back, closing to 60-54. From that point, however, Idaho gradually fell off the pace.
Christensen was Idaho’s only other double-digit scorer with 10 points, and he contributed 10 rebounds. However, he was whistled for his third foul before the second half was four minutes old and picked up his fourth midway through the period. Having him in foul trouble might have hurt the Vandals “a little,” Claus said. He added quickly “Philip came in and gave us good minutes. He did what we asked of him. Pepple Jr. scored six points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots.
The Bears on offense were terrific off the dribble, and Idaho’s help defense scrambled all game to keep up.
“We had some hiccups in our defensive game plan,” Kilgore said. “It’s something we’re trying to fix. It’s something we’re going to fix. One of these games it’s going to click.”
Claus said the fact UNC was hitting from the perimeter slowed Idaho’s defensive response.
“You do not want to give up an easy three, so you are hesitant to be in the gap and help a teammate,” he said. “The guy on the ball feels like he is on an island.”
As the Vandals seek their first conference win Saturday at home against Sacramento State, Claus said his players must put UNC behind them.
“It’s okay to be disappointed before you but you heard on the pillow tonight,” he said. “But you better wake up with a renewed spirit.
“This conference, this schedule doesn’t wait for anybody.”
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