They have a knack for defeating the undefeated and Idaho’s 72-68 upset victory over Nevada wasn’t any different Saturday evening, as the Vandals (12-11, 5-4 WAC) snapped the nation’s second-longest winning streak, and sent the Wolf Pack (19-4, 8-1 WAC) away with their first loss since November 25, 2011.
A year after upsetting then No. 17 Utah State, Idaho pulled it out once again, this time on the road against a Nevada team who had slaughtered them by 18 points in Moscow earlier this season.
The Vandals received a late boost from junior center Kyle Barone, who picked up six points and two rebounds in the game’s closing minutes, four of those points coming from crucial free throws.
Nevada and Idaho traded the lead numerous times, setting up what would be an extravagant ending in front of 7,350 at the Lawlor Events Center.
Idaho converted down the stretch, grabbing the necessary rebounds and converting six of seven from the charity stripe with less than 40 seconds to play.
“We just played really good. We can kind of find a really good performance and we found it tonight like we did at Oregon State earlier in the year,” coach Don Verlin said. “We’re trying to find a secret to get them to play like that all the time Vandal fans, if I had that secret I’d sure give it to them.”
WAC Player of the Year front-runner Deonte Burton scored seven points in the game’s final minutes including a three-pointer that would make it a one-possession game but as the Vandals drew the fouls and ensuing free throws, the hopes for an unscathed WAC record slipped farther and farther down the drain for the hosts.
The Vandals were fortunate to catch Nevada on a poor shooting night that saw the Wolf Pack go 6-24 from three-point range. Idaho on the other hand, was 10-22 and both Stephen Madison and Connor Hill shot above 50 percent from beyond the arc, with five attempts apiece.
“I thought Connor came off the bench and gave us a great lift when we needed it, Deremy Geiger made a couple of huge shots, Stephen Madison probably played his best game in about five or six games,” Verlin said.
Though Nevada benefited from a monster night on the boards, out-rebounding Idaho 35-23, the Vandals had the upper hand in multiple categories, including field goal percentage, which saw Idaho knock down just over 50 percent of their shots. The Wolf Pack were just 24-56 and 42 percent from the field.
Barone’s efforts were clutch down the stretch but it was Madison who provided Idaho’s offensive spark. Madison was 7-10 from the field and the sophomore turned in a team-high 18 points which, along with Burton’s 18 were a game-high.
The Portland native claimed this year’s marquee upset was similar in many ways to the team’s win against Utah State during the 2010-2011 campaign.
“Beating a ranked team was a big deal but this team’s just as good as a ranked team I feel, they’re very good and it’s a big win,” he said.
Madison went scoreless and fouled out of Thursday’s loss to Fresno State but a “hot start” helped him acquire an offensive rhythm Saturday night.
“My first shot didn’t go in but I felt I rushed it and the next shot just settled down and fell into place, kept it going,” Madison said.
Barone and Geiger each added 16 points and the two combined to go 10-18 from the field.
Nevada forward Dario Hunt was quiet offensively with just three points, however his 11 rebounds topped all players.
Prior to Saturday’s game, only undefeated Murray State, the nation’s No. 10 team held a longer winning streak than Nevada.
Verlin is now 3-1 at the Lawlor Events Center as Idaho’s head coach.
“The bottom line is we played very, very well, we executed our game plan, the shots went in and you know we look a lot smarter when the shots go in and you’re playing like that,” he said. “Hopefully we can continue that we have three big games this week at home, four in a row at home.”
Idaho returns to the Palouse this week for their longest home stand of the 2011-2012 campaign. The four-game stretch will square the Vandals up against future-WAC opponent Seattle U., Portland State in the annual Sears BracketBusters match-up and WAC contests against La. Tech and New Mexico State.
The week opens up on Tuesday when Idaho hosts the Redhawks, a squad they beat 73-62 in Seattle last December. Tipoff in the Cowan Spectrum is 7:05 PM.