| March 20, 2018

Men’s Basketball: Late-game Wildcat-withering

Unlike Moscow’s exterior Saturday night, fans huddled in Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah witnessed periodic junctures of extended dryness — scoring droughts were prevalent on both ends.

Idaho men’s basketball overcame several stages of aridity, dampened its scoring-scene and withered away Wildcat humidity late in its 68-62 victory over Weber State.

With their first win in Ogden since Jan. 1991, the Vandals leapt over the Wildcats for the Big Sky’s No. 2 spot, locked in a tiebreaker in the case of duplicate conference-record finishes and clinched at least 20 wins for the 10th time in program history.

The Vandals (20-8, BSC 12-4) awoke late after mimicking themselves from their Thursday loss at Idaho State in the first half. Weber State was prohibited from scoring for nearly six minutes in the second half, beginning around the 10-minute mark, and although Idaho’s offense had issues of its own, it’s perimeter defense and freebies were vital down the stretch.

“Our zone came up big tonight. They missed some open shots, but I felt like we really got them out of rhythm,” Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin said in a news release.

Unlike in the first, the Wildcats (19-9, BSC 12-4) had almost no clean looks from deep late in the second. Their percentage from the field, at one time imposing, was now deteriorating.

Idaho went almost six minutes without a field-goal midway through the second, but crucial post-play and free-throws from senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan and junior Nate Sherwood kept it at near-deadlock.

Mkrtychyan gave the Vandals their first lead at 11:37 in the second half on an and-one, and in-face defense along with Sherwood’s presence on the glass allowed Idaho to linger in front.

With under 30 seconds left, N. Sherwood nabbed two critical defensive rebounds. The forward was fouled both times, and both times he connected on each of his freebies, giving Idaho its largest lead at 68-60 and effectively putting away Weber State in the process.

Sherwood finished with 15 points and 10 boards — his third double-double of his career — and took some pressure off of Idaho’s routine offensive stars in seniors Brayon Blake and Victor Sanders, who each finished in double-figures but shot 25 and 30.7 percent from the field, respectively.

At first, a barn-burner looked likely to develop. It was 11-8 after just two and a half minutes, but Idaho’s offense became parched while the Wildcats hydrated.

The first Vandal drought came about three minutes in and lasted until freshman guard Trevon Allen entered off the bench and provided Idaho some much-needed offensive life almost three minutes after its last score. Meanwhile, Weber guards Jerrick Harding and Dusty Baker were saturating their numbers.

The looks were there, but stringing together anything substantial was a tall-task. Idaho went down by 10, its largest deficit, midway through the first on a Baker triple, and trailed for 19 minutes in the period.

Allen took the place of injured senior guard Perrion Callandret, and finished with 12 points, including three big triples to cut the lead in the first half. The Vandals ended the first on a near-three-minute scoring drought, but were down only five points.

Idaho’s No. 1 scoring defense did its duty in preventing runs from the Wildcats’ first-ranked scoring-margin down the stretch. It forced eight Weber State misses from long range in the last 10 minutes of the game, and limited the Wildcats to 1-11 shooting over the final seven minutes.

Although Weber led for nearly 29 minutes, the Vandals proved their value as a team adept at reorganizing. Once the lead was snatched, the advantage was fully in Idaho’s grasp.

“We had a number of guys play very, very well defensively,” Verlin said. “They’re hard to guard, their offensive stats speak for themselves. Our guys did a heck of a job in changing our defenses and executing our game plan.”

Scoring was dispersed — Idaho finished with five double-figure scorers while Weber tallied four. Harding, the Big Sky’s top-scorer, dropped 13 in the first but was limited to two in the second. Wildcat guard Ryan Richardson was the catalyst for second-half scoring. He finished with 17 points on 6-11 shooting, including 11 in the second.

With Blake and Sanders underperforming, the Vandals relied on consistent shooting from the Sherwood brothers and Allen. Each shot 50 percent or better, and senior guard Chad Sherwood, who finished with 11, constantly helped to dig Idaho out of its droughts.

Weber shot nearly 49 percent from the field in the first, but only dropped in 30 percent of its shots in the second. On the other side, Idaho went into the break dry, shooting 34 percent, but rained in 50 percent of its shots in the second.

Idaho will return to its snow-blanketed home for its final home-stand of the year, beginning with a contest against Big Sky bottom-feeder Northern Arizona 7 p.m. Thursday in the Cowan Spectrum.
“…We’re going to finish this thing the right way,” Verlin said.

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

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