The Vandals’ promising start to winter break took a turn for the worse on Thursday.
Idaho lost to UC Irvine 67-59, snapping a two-game win streak. The normally sharp-shooting Vandals could not get any sort of rhythm going, and their off night shooting the ball sank the team’s chances of recording their first win at the Centurylink Arena in Boise since 2013.
To the Vandals’ credit, the game was never fully out of reach. Irvine never broke out into a double-digit lead and the lead changed six different times. It wasn’t until the final minutes of the second half that the Anteaters were able to establish a lead greater than six points.
Idaho (8-4) got plenty of contributions from the upperclassmen in the loss. Senior guards Victor Sanders, Perrion Callandret and senior forward Brayon Blake all ended with double digit points. Blake added 13 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. Junior Nate Sherwood added seven points and five rebounds.
“We were definitely disappointed that we couldn’t get the job done tonight,” Idaho head coach Don Verlin said in a news release. “The crowd really came out and gave us a lot of energy. We were really looking forward to coming out strong down here and the guys are pretty down because they couldn’t deliver.”
Idaho definitely did not deliver on the offensive end of the floor. The team shot 36 percent from the floor and 29 percent from beyond the arc. Only three players shot better than 40 percent, and the team made only half of its 14 free throw attempts. Blake was the only Vandal to make more than half of his free throw attempts.
UC Irvine (5-10) put up very similar shooting numbers, but the difference came from the free throw line. The Anteaters went 17-21 from the charity stripe, led by sophomore Evan Leonard. Leonard led the team in points with 20, but he only shot 5-16 from the field. That lackluster night was made up for with an 8-9 performance from the free throw line. Irvine iced the game by making their last eight free throws to keep the game out of reach.
“You have to take care of all the details, especially against good teams,” Verlin said. “We were a little sloppy tonight, with some bad fouls and obviously with the big disparity in free throws.”
The loss to UC Irvine will finish out the nonconference slate for Idaho.
“This was a bittersweet way to finish out the preseason, but we’re going to be ready for conference play,” Verlin said.
The Vandals will take a small break before they return to action to start Big Sky conference play. The team will take on North Dakota 5 p.m. Dec. 29 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonahpbaker