LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Keoni Watson made not one, but two tremendous shots down the stretch, and carried Idaho to its first post-season triumph since the 2004 Big West Tournament.
Watson, a senior, hit a floater from about 8 feet with 1.3 left to give the Vandals a 50-49 victory over San Jose State in the play-in game at the Western Athletic Conference Tournament Tuesday night at the Pan American Center.
The win earned Idaho, 4-26, a date with 10th-ranked and top-seeded Nevada Thursday at 11 a.m. in the quarterfinals. San Jose State closed its season with a 5-25 record.
The Wolf Pack won this year's two regular-season meetings with ease, 81-55 and 84-68.
"It's a good opportunity for us to play them again," forward Desmond Nwoke said. "I'm really excited because there is a reason they call it March Madness. Anything can happen."
A lot of things will have to happen for Idaho to pull off the biggest upset in school history. Nevada is led by all-conference selections Nick Fazekas , who averages 22 points and 11 rebounds a game, and Marcelus Kemp, who is averaging around 18 a contest.
"They are awfully good and we are excited to play them again," Idaho coach George Pfeifer said. "We have to come in and play the best basketball we're capable of playing. They are really tough and we have to be tough-minded against them."
And he knows even that may not be enough.
Watson, who finished with a team-high 18 points, converted a three-point play to give the Vandals a 48-47 lead with 18.6 seconds remaining.
San Jose State went ahead 49-48 with 11 seconds left on Carlton Spencer's driving lay-up. Spencer, who led the Spartans with 21 points, missed the free throw, however.
Watson got the ball around the 3-point line on the left side of the court and drove hard to the basket. He got by Jamon Hill and floated it over Lance Holloway.
"I saw him step back a little as he was anticipating the drive so I stepped back and shot it," Watson said. "It felt good when it left my hand and it went in. I've made a lot of big shots in my day, but this one was the biggest."
Idaho coach George Pfeifer elected not to take a timeout after Spencer's missed free throw, and that decision paid off.
"We didn't want to call a timeout," said Pfeifer, whose team shot only 31 percent and was outrebounded 49-39. "We wanted to put it in his hands and let him make a play or kick it out."
Kicking it out wasn't an option for Watson.
"I think they wanted me to have it," Watson said. "It feels good when your team has confidence in you."
The win avenged two earlier defeats to the Spartans, including last Saturday's 62-57 loss.
"They made the big plays when they had to," San Jose State coach George Nessman said. "Keoni Watson made two just incredible shots.
"We missed quite a few free throws especially in the last eight minutes of the game when we had a small lead and a chance to extend it."
San Jose State went 10-for-19 from the free-throw line, and eight of the nine misses came in the last 8 minutes 45 seconds, including two front ends of one-and-one situations.
Holloway missed the front end of a bonus situation and he also missed both free throws on a shooting foul. Spencer misfired twice from the line down the stretch and Menelik Barbary, who scored 10 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked a tournament record nine shots, also missed the front end in a bonus situation with 3:52 left.
WOMEN: SAN JOSE STATE 72, IDAHO 66
The eighth-seeded Spartans, thanks to 20 points by Brittany Powell, 14 by Myosha Barnes and 10 from Amber White held off a late rally by the Vandals.
The Spartans play top-seeded Boise State today at 1:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
"Tomorrow is going to be a really competitive game, and we are going to have to be prepared," Powell said. "I'm very excited about it. I'm sure they are going to come out with a lot of intensity, especially since we beat them."
The teams were tied at 34 at the half, but the Spartans went on a 16-6 run to take a 50-40 lead with 15:42 left. Barnes led the surge with eight points and Kalia Williams added a 3-pointer.
"At halftime we talked about going out there and competing," Barnes said. "We also wanted to limit our turnovers. We were able to put up lots of shots and we got some open looks that helped us out."
Idaho cut the lead to 61-58 with 6:34 left, but the Spartans responded with baskets by Jaime Hall, Powell and Natalie White to build the lead back up to nine.
Hall blocked seven shots for the Spartans.
•Contact Darrell Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1281