IDAHO INSIGHT: Vandals extend streak to six

THE VANDALS (12-6, 5-1 WAC) ARE OFF TO THEIR BEST CONFERENCE START SINCE JOINING THE WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE. Idaho's last 5-1 start came in 1993-94 as a member of the Big Sky, and their last 6-1 start came the previous year. Idaho hasn't strung together five consecutive conference wins in 12 years, and not since 1988-89 have they won more than six straight conference games.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho has won six games in a row -- its longest streak since reeling off seven in a row back in 1992-93, when Larry Eustachy was on the bench in Moscow. And the Vandals (12-6 overall, 5-1 WAC) are alone in second place in the conference heading into Saturday night's home game against rival Boise State.

Coach Don Verlin has a 3-1 record against Idaho's chief rival, and a win would continue the Vandals' best start in conference play since joining the WAC in 2005. Since losing its conference opener to New Mexico State, Idaho has captured five consecutive WAC games.

Three of those conference wins came away from home.

"Any time you can go on the road and get wins, it's huge, especially here at Fresno where it's tough to get wins," Verlin said after his team's 67-57 win over the Bulldogs. "What you've got to do in this conference is get road wins and then hold your home court if you want to win a title."

Balanced scoring and solid defense are two reasons why Idaho is in title contention. The Vandals entered Monday's game with the conference's second-best defense, and six Idaho players were averaging between seven and 11 points per game.


BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The visiting Vandals shot 61.4 percent Monday to grab a 67-57 victory at Fresno State. It was Idaho's fifth win in a row over the Bulldogs. Kyle Barone (18 points), Shawn Henderson (15) and Jeff Ledbetter (11) reached double figures for coach Don Verlin's team, which turned an eight-point, first-half deficit into a double-digit victory.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to give Idaho a 78-77 victory at Cal State Bakersfield on Jan. 15. He said it was his first game-winner since high school. "I live for those shots," he said. "I knew if I got the ball, it was going in."

--Idaho squandered a 14-point second-half lead at Cal State Bakersfield before winning the game in overtime. One of the things that helped the Vandals prevail was free throw shooting, as they hit 17 of 21. That area has been a strength all season as Idaho had made 72.9 percent -- second in the WAC -- through games of Jan. 15.

--With its 72-67 victory over Nevada on Jan. 12, Idaho won its fourth consecutive conference game, the first time it had done that since joining the WAC in 2005.


BY THE NUMBERS: 42 -- 3-point baskets made by senior G Jeff Ledbetter through 17 games this season. Last year, in 30 games, he made 23 shots from behind the arc.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The balance makes us hard to prepare for." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin, whose team entered the week with five players averaging between 9.4 and 10.8 points per game.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME:

--vs. Boise State, Jan. 22


KEY MATCHUPS: Boise State F Paul Noonan is a tough matchup because he's a plus-40-perent shooter from 3-point range with the ability to drop down and work in the post. Idaho's Brandon Wiley and Luiz Toledo could be called upon for the assignment. Idaho PG Deremy Geiger, meanwhile, will have his hands full with Boise State G La'Shard Anderson, who recently took home WAC Player of the Week honors.

FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore C Kyle Barone, who flashed potential last season, appears to be developing into a force. He had his best game Jan. 15 at Cal State Bakersfield, when he played 41 minutes in the overtime victory and posted his first career double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. The headline of the game was Jeff Ledbetter's game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, but the enduring storyline could be the play of the 6-10 Barone, who entered the week averaging 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.


PLAYER NOTES

--Senior guard Jeff Ledbetter was named the WAC player of the week on Monday for leading the Vandals to a pair of wins last week. Ledbetter has scored in double figures in six straight games -- all Idaho victories.

--Junior guard Deremy Geiger, who leads in Idaho in scoring at 10.8 points per game, was held to a season-low two points in the win over Fresno State.

--Redshirt freshman center Joe Kammerer posted career-high totals in points (six) and rebounds (five) in the win over Fresno State.

--Junior F Luiz Toledo, a starter, did not play against Cal State Bakersfield on Jan. 15 because of injury. He is averaging 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds.

--Sophomore C Kyle Barone matched his career-high total when he blocked three shots in the home win over Nevada on Jan. 12.

--Junior F Djim Bandoumel, a junior college transfer who played in eight games this season, was declared academically ineligible for the second semester. He was averaging 3.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 8.6 minutes per game.



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