Idaho beats Utah 94-87; first time in 71 years
Eds: Idaho 94, Utah 87. Optional.
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Mac Hopson had watched enough from his seat on the bench.
After sitting out with foul trouble, Hopson scored eight of his 16 points in the last six minutes Friday as Idaho beat Utah, 94-87, for the first time in 71 years.
“I was ready, so ready,” Hopson said. “I just wanted the ball in my hands because I thought I could make some plays at the end.”
Hopson re-entered the game with the score tied and engineered a 13-6 run to end it.
“Hops did a great job down the stretch,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “He’s our leader. He’s first-team all-WAC and he’s the toughest guy I have ever coached.”
Steffan Johnson scored 19 points and Jeff Ledbetter added 16 as the Vandals (1-0) won for the first time ever in Salt Lake City after losing 11 straight on the road.
“We heard about us never winning here and we wanted to change that,” Ledbetter said.
The teams have played 15 times over the years and the last Idaho victory was in 1938, a 44-38 decision in Twin Falls, Idaho.
“We heard their coach said this was our Super Bowl and I thank him for that,” Verlin said. “It really irritated our guys that something like that was said. Our guys have a lot of pride and that motivated them. I didn’t have to say a lot in the pre-game.”
The Utes trailed much of the game but made their comeback behind freshman center Jason Washburn. After falling behind by eight, Washburn scored six points – including two follow shots off teammates’ missed free throws – in a 10-2 run that tied the game at 81 with 5:39 remaining.
But Hopson, playing with four fouls, promptly hit an outside jumper and a leaner in the lane to spark the clinching surge for Idaho in the season opener for both teams.
“My job is to have the ball in my hands and make something happen. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so happy. This is a really big win for us,” Hopson said.
Washburn finished with 20 points and fellow freshman Marshall Henderson added 18 but Idaho’s 94 points were the most Utah has allowed in a game since Jim Boylen became head coach three years ago.
In a herky-jerky game that had 48 fouls, the Vandals made 10 of 21 from 3-point range and out-rebounded the taller Utes 40-34.
Idaho led by as many as 10 points in the first half when Ledbetter made two free throws after a technical foul on Henderson to make it 43-33. Matt Read’s 3-pointer just before halftime trimmed the lead to 47-41.
The Utes won the Mountain West Conference title last season but lost all four of their top scorers and struggled in their defensive rotations as the Vandals screened and moved without the ball effectively.
“It’s painful to lose at home but my guys are young, they’re learning and it’s all part of the process,” Boylen said.
The Vandals are looking to improve on last season’s third-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference, their best ever. Each of the 11 Vandals that played had at least nine minutes of action and they all scored.