“We didn’t finish,” he said after both losses.
First, a 67-66 loss to Washington State Saturday evening at the Cowan Spectrum, a game that the Vandals had complete control of.
Then, Wednesday’s 69-58 loss in Missoula to Montana, in which the game was tied at 52 with 3:40 remaining in the game.
Both were huge rivalry games that Idaho could have won to have a 5-4 record on the season. Both games Idaho dropped for its actual 3-6 record on the season.
Idaho failed to finish for different reasons in each game. Against Washington State, it was the inability to keep the Cougars off the offensive glass. Against Montana, it was the inability to make free throws and keep the Grizzlies from getting 3-point looks.
Finishing is something Idaho hasn’t been able to do for at least two seasons now. Idaho dropped a plethora of key conference match-ups last season, because of problems down the stretch in the second half of games.
Though, I’m confident that this Vandal team will eventually be able to put it together.
Last year’s team was doomed from the start because of the lack of talent in the backcourt. That team was never going to get it going with the point guard duties being left to Denzel Douglas and Robert Harris. By the time Mike McChristian got it turned on in March, it was far too late.
This team has re-invigorated the talent in the backcourt with Utah transfer Glen Dean, freshman Sekou Wiggs and junior Connor Hill playing with more of a fire getting to the rim, drawing fouls and getting high percentage shots around the basket.
What the team doesn’t have is Western Athletic Conference player of the year Kyle Barone and his nightly double-doubles. But do not fret. The one positive to come out of Wednesday night’s debacle in Missoula was the emergence of junior college transfer Bira Seck, who put together his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 boards.
My point is, this team will come together. It’s less junior college dependent than most of Don Verlin’s previous teams and it has the talent that, in a very depleted WAC, could come together and compete and play an exciting brand of basketball.
This is, of course, dependent on the ability of players like Ty Egbert and Paulin Mpawe to develop in the frontcourt with Seck. The two combined for only five rebounds in 22 minutes of action on Wednesday.
This is dependent on the ability of true freshman Perrion Callandret to turn on the potential that made him one of the most hotly recruited players in the Seattle area. Callandret only had two points in 18 minutes on Wednesday.
This is dependent on the ability of fifth-year senior Glen Dean to run the offense with efficiency. One assist nights won’t do it.
And, most importantly, it’s dependent on the ability of Stephen Madison to constantly lead this team in scoring. Nine points and fouling out won’t get it done for Idaho, like it didn’t on Wednesday.
This will come together for Idaho eventually. The pre-conference season schedule hasn’t been easy for Idaho. Games against opponents like Oklahoma, Columbia, Portland, Washington State and now Montana aren’t supposed to be easy. These are good teams and teams that Idaho has largely been able to compete with despite the issues with chemistry.
When the chemistry does come together, will Texas-Pan American, Utah Valley, Grand Canyon, Missouri-Kansas City and Chicago State present the same challenges? I don’t think so.
Have patience. Verlin-ball will prevail, come the WAC schedule.
Sean Kramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org