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Vandals men's and women's basketball feels the cold against Eastern Washington

Jan. 14—MOSCOW — Saturday's proceedings at ICCU Arena began with the Idaho women's basketball players having to forgo use of their locker room when it was impacted by a pipe leak, and things did not improve much for the Vandals after that.

The women fell into a multiple-possession hole they would never recover from late in the first quarter en route to a 67-44 defeat to start a doubleheader against visiting Big Sky foe Eastern Washington, then the men hung tough through the opening half only to ultimately fall by a margin almost as large at 79-58.

Early hopes fade

After watching the women's team's struggles, the Vandal men gave hope to the home crowd by keeping pace with EWU (9-7, 3-0) up through an extended series of ties and lead changes in a fairly low-scoring first half. Idaho (7-9, 2-1) led a half-dozen times, but never by more than two points.

A turning point came after the home favorites went up 27-26 off a slam dunk from Julius Mims. Scoring stalled for several possessions, during which Idaho had multiple chances to extend its advantage, including a Tyler Linhardt 3-point attempt that almost established a two-possession lead, but rattled in and out.

The Eagles began their ascent in the closing minute of the half, nosing back ahead 28-27 off an Ethan Price hook shot that danced on the rim before finding its way in, then getting a boost from a Mason Williams 3 just before the buzzer that put them up 31-27 and opened the first bit of daylight in what had been a deadlocked game. The Vandals would never tie or lead again.

Second-half blues

Early second-half slumps have been a recurring theme for Idaho this season, and this game was no exception. Within five minutes following intermission, UI found itself in a double-digit hole at 40-30.

"With teams like that — good teams — you have to be consistent for 40 minutes," Idaho coach Alex Pribble said. "I think we played 20 solid minutes, but the wheels fell off a little bit in the second half, and we stopped being physical."

The Vandals would make one last push back to within a possession as a Quinn Denker 3-point goal launched on a fast-break cut the deficit to 42-39, but EWU quickly responded and led by double figures through the entirety of the last 10 minutes of play.

Pribble noted the Eagles "have a lot of ways to beat you," and the statistics bore that out as EWU got eight players on the board and five in double figures. Casey Jones, a 6-foot-6 junior, scored from all over and led the Eagles with 14 points. Price and Lejuan Watts put up 13 apiece and Williams and Cedric Coward had 11 each.

Denker was the top scorer for the Vandals with 16 points, adding four rebounds and three assists to his ledger. Mims provided another 13 points and five boards.

Idaho focused much of its defense on thwarting Eastern Washington's 3-point production, and it largely succeeded, as the Eagles finished just 7-for-22 from distance. Unfortunately for the Vandals, they could not stop EWU at close range (where the Eagles went 21-for-45) or maintain an offensive output of their own to compensate — they connected from outside early, but went cold as the game progressed to end up at 8-for-29. EWU also had a strong second half at the foul line to finish 16-for-18, while UI totaled an uninspiring 18-for-28.

"We know what we need to fix," Denker said. "We're starting games really well — it's what we do — but we've got to start the second half the same way we start the first half."

Women's win streak broken

Earlier Saturday, the Vandal women held even with the Eagles (13-3, 3-0) for the first six minutes of play, but went cold to trail 16-8 through the first quarter and never got back within two possessions. The loss broke a five-game winning streak for Idaho (9-6, 2-1).

After trailing 27-16 at the half, the Vandals found a brief spark early in the third quarter with a six-point run ending in a Sarah Schmitt hook shot that found its way in as she fell past the hoop and cut the gap to 31-24. EWU responded in brutal fashion with an 11-point run capped off with a fast-break layup from Aaliyah Alexander for 42-24, and Idaho would never pull back within single digits.

Alexander's efforts made a key difference between the teams — the redshirt sophomore who leads the conference in scoring finished with 27 points after shooting 11-for-16 from the field and 2-for-2 from the foul line, notching six rebounds and two assists in the process.

Idaho, which was playing without standout Hope Butera, enjoyed 14 points and six rebounds from Kennedy Johnson and 10 points plus five boards from Asha Phillips. Sarah Schmitt and Clarkston product Ashlyn Wallace chipped in another five points apiece.

As a team, one statistical bright spot for the Vandals came at the foul line, where they were 12-for-12 until late in the fourth quarter and finished 12-for-14.

"You just take this loss and you try to figure out, 'Okay, what can we fix?'" UI coach Carrie Eighmey said. "Obviously it's disappointing after you go on a five-game winning run. Your expectations — the players' expectations — change. We're disappointed, but we're also resilient. We've had a little adversity this week, and we'll figure it out and go back to the drawing board."

WOMEN

EASTERN WASHINGTON (13-3, 3-0)

Knowles 2-6 0-0 4, Martin 1-5 0-0 2, Lawrence 3-9 0-0 7, Loera 3-7 1-1 7, Alexander 11-16 2-2 27, Buckley 4-6 0-0 8, Pettis 3-7 1-2 8, Zylak 0-3 0-0 0, Jung 0-1 0-0 0, Gallatin 0-0 0-0 0, Boni 1-1 0-0 2, Schuler 0-2 0-0 0, Hays 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 29-66 4-5 67.

IDAHO (9-6, 2-1)

Brans 1-8 2-2 4, Schmitt 2-7 0-0 5, Langer 2-7 0-0 4, Johnson 3-13 8-8 14, Phillips 5-9 0-0 10, Wallace 1-3 2-2 5, Caldwell 1-2 0-0 2, Bea 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 15-49 12-14 44.

EWU 16 11 21 19—67

Idaho 8 8 12 16—44

3-point goals — EWU 5-16 (Alexander3-3, Lawrence 1-2, Pettis 1-2, Zylak 0-1, Schuler 0-1, Martin 0-2, Loera 0-3), UI 2-19 (Wallace 1-2, Schmitt 1-3, Johnson 0-2, Phillips 0-2, Langer 0-3, Brans 0-7). Rebounds — EWU 45 (Loera 10), Idaho 28 (Johnson 6). Assists — EWU 11 (Loera 6), Idaho 3 (Brans, Langer, Phillips 1). Steals — EWU 10 (Loera 3), Idaho 10 (Johnson, Phillips 3). Attendance — 1,045.

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MEN

EASTERN WASHINGTON (9-7, 3-0)

Coward 5-11 1-1 11, Price 5-11 2-2 13, Jones 5-6 3-4 14, Kyman 3-6 2-3 8, Magnuson 0-0 0-0 0, Watts 3-5 6-6 13, Erikstrup 3-10 0-0 7, Hartmann 1-3 0-0 2, Williams 3-4 2-2 11, Zanki 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 16-18 79.

IDAHO (7-9, 1-2)

Mims 3-5 6-9 13, Linhardt 2-8 1-2 6, Blassingame 1-3 2-3 5, Denker 4-15 5-6 16, Minnis 2-10 0-0 5, Frank 2-8 0-4 5, Rose 0-4 2-2 2, Neal 1-3 2-2 4, Yearout 0-1 0-0 0, Hardy 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 16-57 18-28 58.

EWU 31 48 — 79

Idaho 27 31 — 58

3-point goals — EWU 7-22 (Williams 3-4, Price 1-4, Jones 1-2, Kyman 0-3, Watts 1-1, Erikstrup 1-4, Hartmann 0-2, Zanki 0-1), UI 8-29 (Mims 1-2, Linhardt 1-4, Blassingame 1-2, Denker 3-9, Minnis 1-8, Frank 1-2, Neal 0-2). Rebounds — EWU 41 (Price 8), UI 36 (Frank 6). Assists — EWU 10 (Erikstrup 4), UI 10 (Denker, Neal 3). Steals — EWU 7 (Watts 3), UI 5 (Denker 3). Attendance — 2,256

Wendt may be contacted at (208) 848-2268 or at cwendt@lmtribune.com.