| March 18, 2018

Opinion: Heartache factory

March 9, 2018

For people living seven miles west of Moscow, there’s a common expression applied whenever their sports teams underperform, are upset, or let a game or season slip away — “Couged it,” or any variation of the phrase.

Colton Clark

As Vandals, fans don’t really have a statement like that, but maybe it’s time to fashion one. Fans have endured enough heartbreak, right?

Not everything, but close to all went wrong for Idaho in its 92-78 quarterfinals loss to No. 10-seeded Southern Utah in Reno, Nev. during the Big Sky Conference Tournament Thursday.
If there ever was a year during Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin’s 10-year tenure for the Vandals to finally grasp that slippery title, it was this one. Instead, Idaho suffered likely the greatest upset in the conference this season to a team which no one really gave a chance.

Senior forward Brayon Blake laid all his cards on the table. He finished with 27 points on 61 percent shooting and earned his 12th double-double of the year with 12 boards. It wasn’t enough, though. In a game more important than all others, Idaho needed to flash its facets that secured the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Instead, it let all its past ugliness show up.

Above all, it was inconsistencies with the scoring offense, perimeter defense and coaching. Shooting 15 percent under an opponent from the field and 30 percent worse from deep is woeful. Couple that with a delayed zone defense, foul trouble, questionable rotations and you have yourself the makings of a disaster.

Where did sophomore guard Trevon Allen disappear to in the second half? Why did he not continue to get the ball in his hands after individually sparking an 11-0 run to put the Vandals on top at the break? How does a team get 16 more possessions than its opponent, yet still lose by double-digits?

It’s frustrating. Surely the players feel the same way. Idaho had beaten SUU twice before, but only by slim margins, but it’s not erroneous to think the Vandals would save their best for when it actually counts. That’s not what happened.

Now, instead of excitedly typing a preview for tonight’s game, I’m gloomily dwelling on what could have been.

Retaining the journalists’ tag of impartiality is nearly impossible for a student reporter in this situation, especially for a senior. For everyone in this small college town too, a first-round (after the bye) loss from the best men’s basketball team in decades not only hurts presently, but it will for a long time to come.

And it’s not just the fact of losing that stings, we’re accustomed, it’s when it happened. If the Vandals would have only edged SUU, they would be playing regional rival Eastern Washington tonight, which would have been a much more entertaining game. Plus, a loss to a hot Eagles team wouldn’t have been quite the burn.

I’ll give credit where it’s due. SUU is not the terrible team its record and statistics make it out to be. The Thunderbirds have sharp-shooters (11-18 on 3’s), bona fide strongmen in the post, and have only gotten better with progression.

Still, it shouldn’t be good enough.
Idaho’s post-presence, with its No. 1 rebounding margin, was supposed to be unstoppable. It had two top-10 scorers — both all-conference ― an overabundance of experienced seniors and was riding the best streak in the conference.

I guess it’s just an accurate representation of the sports world, notably with March basketball. You may come in thinking you’re the one to beat, that you will be the Cinderella, but to overlook a shoddy team with its own aspirations is ultimately detrimental.

Maybe we should root for SUU throughout the tournament, so at least, if they somehow manage to take home the title and lock in an NCAA Tournament bid with a losing record, we won’t feel quite as bad.

Idaho was ESPN’s favorite to win the conference pre-tournament and had a 90 percent nod in this game. No one can always be right. Sometimes, you’re on the wrong end of it, and we’re on that end a little too often.

What this game also symbolized, though, is just another catastrophe in our long-running series of Idaho tragedy. It could’ve softened the FCS blow, but that’s evidently too much to ask.

If there’s any silver lining, and I assure you, there barely is, it’s that at the very least, Idaho will get a chance for semi-redemption in an upcoming postseason tournament. It could be the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT), which picks from the litter of mid-major teams which had decent records, but fell short in conference tournaments.

Better yet, it could be the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), which Idaho reached two seasons ago with 21 wins, but fell to Seattle U in the first round.

On the bright-side, the CBI is a touch more prominent than the CIT, but that’s the last droplet of what little hope still remains.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @coltonclark95.

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