Even though Idaho men’s basketball was able to hang with the Mountain West Conference’s best team Nevada during portions of Friday night’s 88-64 loss, the Vandals were plagued by avoidable errors – half on the team’s part, half on officiating.
Players on both ends often had looks of bewilderment on their faces, wondering how the whistle could be blown with such miniscule contact. Midway through the second half, for example, junior forward Nate Sherwood stood completely still, both his hands raised high in the air. Nevada’s Jordan Caroline pushed his way inside, making almost no contact in the process. But, just as it had happened 37 times before this point, a referee blew his whistle as Caroline’s shot fell, and Sherwood put his hands on his head, once again infuriated by the subpar, somewhat fastidious refereeing.
It was a difficult game to watch, as Idaho was whistled for 24 fouls and Nevada, 22. Some of the calls were outright egregious, often putting a damper on runs from both teams.
The Wolfpack used the officiating to their advantage, however, dropping 21 points at the line. Idaho had its opportunities as well, but it seemed as if fouls were called in substantial moments, giving Nevada needed momentum when Idaho appeared to make a push.
Senior forward Brayon Blake was bumped as he dropped a lay-in, but an official waved the bucket off, saying the foul was on the floor. Even the pro-Nevada announcing crew was baffled by that one.
With about 12 minutes remaining, Idaho went on a run, cutting the game down to 57-52 after Nevada once had a 16-point advantage. Just as the Vandals appeared to have regained their confidence, the momentum and their true form, in came the fouls.
Every Idaho player that put five or more minutes on the court had at least one foul, and three Vandal forwards, junior Nate Sherwood and seniors Jordan Scott and Arkadiy Mkrtychyan, were on the brink of taking seats with four fouls a piece as the game still had nearly 10 minutes left.
Aside from fouls, Idaho was not exceedingly stellar throughout. Turnovers were a big factor — the Vandals had 17, five coming from the senior star and pre-season Big Sky MVP guard Victor Sanders.
In just the first 10 minutes, Idaho had already turned the ball over six times, mostly off of mishandles or errant dribbles directly into tight defense.
Possibly there were some first-game jitters, or maybe Nevada’s defense had successfully put the clamps on Idaho. From what it looked like, it was the latter. The Wolfpack press-defense hurt an Idaho team that looked fairly unprepared. Plus, on several quick-action offensive attacks, the Vandals simply mishandled the ball and watched helplessly as it sailed out of bounds.
Idaho’s stars, Sanders and senior guard Perrion Callandret, did not ignite the spark the Vandals needed to win. While Sanders did record a double-double, and showed flashes of greatness, whipping through the defense with impressive handles, misses in big moments happened all too often.
Callandret had struggles of his own, finishing with three points and five turnovers in what was a murky return for the hailed Idaho veteran.
Nevada is not a shoddy team by any standards. The Wolfpack finished last season with a 28-7 record, earned a conference championship and put up a fight against fifth-seeded Iowa State in last season’s March Madness tournament. Idaho started the season out rough, but don’t expect this to be any representation of what’s to come throughout this season.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95