To say Idaho was desperate for a victory coming in to Saturday night’s game against UT-San Antonio would be an understatement. Idaho had lost five of its last six games in conference play — all of them going down to the wire.
The last loss saw Idaho relinquish a 17 point first half lead to give Texas State its first conference victory.
Idaho was able to hold on Saturday night fending off the Roadrunners for a 74-70 victory, Idaho’s first conference victory at home.
The back-and-forth contest went down to the wire, something Idaho has been used to in conference play. The major difference is that Idaho didn’t make self-inflicted errors to cough up the game.
With a minute remaining in the game Kyle Barone found Mike McChristian in the corner for a wide open 3-pointer which essentially put the game to bed, giving Idaho a four point lead. It was a fitting cap to the game for Barone who ended the night with 25 point and 16 rebounds, shooting 10-for-10 from the field – a school record for perfection from the field.
That was all punctuated with six dunks.
The win gives Idaho a much needed lifeline in conference play, pulling the Vandals to 4-5 in conference play with its next two games at home. Idaho currently sits at sixth in the WAC, a game behind Utah State and UT-Arlington. If Idaho finishes No. 6 or higher it will avoid having to play a first round game in the conference tournament.
Five of Idaho’s next nine conference games are at home, including four of the teams currently sitting ahead of the Vandals.
Can Idaho string together the wins?
“Nothing gives you more confidence then winning,” Verlin said. “That’s what we need to do. We need to string some wins together, no question about it.”
“We can get right in the middle of it,” Verlin said. “We could at least finish in the top three.”
Idaho has lost to each of the top four teams in the conference, but by close margins down the stretch.
The blueprint for a run by the Vandals was drawn up on Saturday — Idaho only turned the ball over 11 times, none in the final three minutes of the game.
Idaho has been involved in one conference game decided by more than 10 points, a 77-64 victory at UT-Arlington. Idaho shot 59 percent from the field in that game. In a nine point victory over San Jose State the Spartans were held to 27 percent shooting from the field on 71 attempts. Neither of those are very likely to happen, so nail-biters should be the reality of life for Idaho in the WAC.
As we alluded to last week Idaho is one of the most offensively efficient teams in the country when looked at from an advanced statistical perspective. Defensively is another issue, thanks to the turnover factor (both not forcing and giving the other team so many points off turnovers).
Upcoming for Idaho is now a limping Utah State team on a four-game losing streak without its leading scorer in Preston Medlin, and a San Jose State team riding a five-game losing streak heading in to its game against Seattle on Thursday.