Idaho hit the court to take on conference opponent Northern Arizona in the Cowan Spectrum. The game resulted in a 65-49 win, giving the Vandals a 3-game winning streak.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin said he was happy with the win and the way his team played.
“It was really good tonight,” Verlin said in a news release. “I thought we were really active. I thought our guys executed their game plan very well, you know, I was really happy with the defensive field goal percentages after the game. We are built to defend and rebound and we have to do that at the very top of the Big Sky Conference if we want to get to all of our goals.”
The Vandals held the lead over the Lumberjacks for the entirety of the first half. But the consistent score gap in Idaho’s favor didn’t capture the level of competition on the floor. Both teams battled for the duration of the first 20 minutes — on and off the court.
The first half was marked with aggressive rebounds and tension between the two teams.
The first half aggression peaked after junior guard Victor Sanders and NAU’s Jojo Anderson battled for the ball and ended up on the floor. The two exchanged words before intervention from teammates and referees broke the two apart.
On top for Idaho offense at the conclusion of the opening half was junior forward Brayon Blake with 13 points and two rebounds. Sanders was shortly behind with eight points.
The Idaho bench came out strong, outscoring the Lumberjacks’ 18-0.
Jordyn Martin led the Lumberjacks with 12 points.
The Vandals earned as much as a 20- point lead throughout the game.
The Lumberjacks continued their aggressive attack but were never able to take over the game. The verbal aggression from the opponents was also mimicked in the second, but the Vandals used it to drive themselves further ahead — not slow them down.
Senior point guard Pat Ingram commented on the added fuel the tension gave the Vandals.
“Coming out of the halftime that talking really got everyone going,” Ingram said. “That gave us a spark, a little extra energy.”
Blake echoed Ingram’s sentiments, noting that the response to the talking shows another side of the Idaho basketball team.
“The bear was the whole team,” Blake said. “When they started talking, they poked a lot of us, especially with Vic Sanders. You know it’s just a mindset that we have, don’t poke the bear because it can get real ugly. It just shows you our team. You know we are here for each other 15 strong.”
Sanders and Blake headlined for the Idaho offense in the big win at home. Blake led the team with 18 points and seven rebounds. Sanders was close behind with 17 points on the night.
A large portion of the Idaho offense came off the bench. The Idaho bench contributed a total 35 points on the night, defeating the NAU bench 35-5.
After earning a third win in a row, Verlin said he likes what he sees in the team and how they have responded.
“We are getting better. For the first time in a while I feel like we are starting to get better,” Verlin said. “We have been able to hang our hat on what we do. If you look at our first four games or five games, we didn’t defend it nearly well enough. I challenged the guys, they accepted the challenge.
But he recognizes it isn’t over yet.
“We got to work like crazy on that defensive end and not allow people to shoot a high percentage,” Verlin said. “I am really proud of our guys to commit to be tough and to buy into what we are doing, even a little more than they have at this point in the season.”
Idaho heads out on the road to face Montana State 6pm Jan. 26 in Bozeman.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com