| March 22, 2018

Opinion: Loss and Reset

February 25, 2018

The perfect storm hit Moscow Thursday in the form of a great defense.

Idaho’s luck finally ran out because they could not deal with the stout defense that limited them to 32.7 percent shooting. Idaho State executed a perfect formula to get the Vandals out of their comfort zone and it paid off.

Both coaches treated the game like a playoff game, trusting the starters with long minutes and only dipping into two or three bench players. Idaho’s starters are used to playing long minutes, with junior guards Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce averaging 36.1 and 36.7 minutes, respectively. But the tight game prevented Head Coach Jon Newlee from changing pace and getting into a different lineup.

Idaho State beat the Vandals by taking them out of their comfort zones. Idaho is comfortable playing high-possession games that end in the 80-point range, while Idaho State has come alive in conference play by maintaining possession and keeping final scores in the 60s.

“We weren’t really running our offense the way we’ve been running it,” Newlee said. “We only had three assists at halftime which is a telling stat, and we just did not shoot the way that we wanted to tonight.”

If there’s a positive to be taken away from Thursday’s game, it is that Idaho will probably not have this kind of shooting night again.

Idaho State’s defense kept the pressure on and forced the Vandals into bad shots all night. Idaho never shot better than 36 percent in any quarter, while they came into the game averaging 43.7 percent from the field. Idaho also shot 20 percent from three, which is a remarkable aberration from their season average of 37.4 percent.

The Bengals also did an impressive job of shutting down each of Idaho’s shooters. Pierce and Ferenz each made less than a third of their shots and they shot a combined 7-22 from three. Without the production that Idaho usually gets from the pair, especially beyond the arc, the Vandals were in line for a struggle against Idaho State’s conference-best defense.

“We just came out flat, especially in the second quarter,” Ferenz said. “They scout us a lot better than other teams, and they came prepared today.”

Idaho never faced a comparable threat this season, and they probably won’t have to until a prospective matchup in the Big Sky Tournament. Idaho State has a point margin that is on a completely different level from the rest of Idaho’s remaining opponents. Weber State doesn’t have the same kind of lockdown defense and they much prefer the shootout style of play that Idaho specializes in.

The season-ending road trip to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah should be perfect opportunities to tune up the offense against two of the conference’s worst defenses.

Of course, it’s really unfortunate that the streak had to end. However, the loss came at a great time to a truly great team. Idaho wasn’t matched up well on paper, and the Bengals executed the perfect game plan to maintain control throughout the game. Going forward, the Vandals have a chance to reset and make the necessary adjustments before the Big Sky Tournament.

Jonah Baker can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @jonahpbaker

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