Vandals at Montana State in Bracket Buster

THE VANDALS NABBED ONE OF THE BIGGEST WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE WINS OF THE SEASON when they knocked off Utah State in Moscow. Three days later they put up an impressive effort at Boise State on Saturday, but the Vandals fell short and now find themselves tied for 4th with BSU. Idaho will take a day off from the WAC schedule to play at Montana State Saturday in an ESPN Bracket Buster matchup.

GETTING INSIDE

After pulling off the upset of the year in the WAC, Idaho couldn't make it two feel-good victories in a row.

The Vandals stunned visiting Utah State 64-56 on Feb. 9, but then lost another tough matchup -- on the road in front of more than 12,000 fans -- to Boise State on Feb. 12. It was a close game throughout, and when the Broncos pulled ahead 61-53 with four minutes left, the Vandals battled back to score the next nine points.

Boise State made more plays down the stretch, though, to earn the 69-63 victory.

"I couldn't be prouder of our guys," Idaho coach Don Verlin said in the Idaho Statesman. "We were down eight with four (minutes) to go and fought back to take the lead. I thought it was a gutsy performance by both teams."

He had cause to be especially proud of his team against Utah State, as Idaho held the ever-efficient Aggies to 33.8 percent shooting. Idaho did another nice job defensively vs. Boise State, holding the Broncos to 41.2 percent.

It's that defense -- Idaho held its first 13 conference foes to 39.9 percent shooting from the field -- that has made this a surprising season for the Vandals. And it makes them a team that could be a factor in the league tournament.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho coach Don Verlin would like to see the school continue its state rivalry against Boise State, which is leaving the WAC for the Mountain West after this season. Both sides seem willing to set up a non-conference series. "I hope we do it," Verlin was quoted as saying in the Idaho Statesman. "We offered to come down here next here. We'll only play in a home-and-home series. We won't play them in a guarantee or anything like that. ... We'd love it to keep it going. I think it's good for basketball and good for the state of Idaho and I think it's a game that should be played."

--Idaho shot 55.3 percent from the field against Boise State and still managed to lose 69-63 on Feb. 12. The problem? The Vandals got off only 38 shots because they had 19 turnovers and a mere three offensive rebounds. Idaho is 12-2 under third-year coach Don Verlin when it shoots at least 55 percent.

--Idaho coach Don Verlin, who had been a long-time assistant to Utah State's Stew Morrill, had gone 0-4 against his mentor in his first two seasons with the Vandals. Verlin's squad pulled off the upset of the Aggies on Feb. 9 and will get another shot on Feb. 26 in Logan.


BY THE NUMBERS: 37.6 -- Idaho's 3-point shooting percentage in conference games, which led the WAC through Feb. 12 action. Senior G Jeff Ledbetter was the top shooter in league games, hitting 45.5 percent (45 of 99) through 13 conference contests.


QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've got to give Idaho a ton of credit. They came in here and they were tough-minded. They're really guarding the half-court right now and that showed up in their Utah State win and we really struggled to score there for a while." -- Boise State coach Leon Rice, in the Idaho Statesman, after his team pulled out a 69-63 win over Idaho on Feb. 12.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Montana State, Feb. 19 (Saturday)
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bobcats, who have been struggling in the Big Sky conference in recent weeks, are a 3-point shooting club, led by senior G Erik Rush. Where Idaho needs to exert its edge offensively is with the efficient post play of C Kyle Barone and PF Luiz Toledo, who have combined to make better than 58 percent of their shots.


FUTURES MARKET: Junior PG Deremy Geiger hasn't been sinking many long-range shots lately, although he's found other ways to contribute -- such as 11 assists vs. Hawaii on Feb. 5 or nine rebounds against Utah State on Feb. 9. Now, if he can only figure out his shot. Geiger has made just 6 of 37 3-point attempts (16.2 percent) in the past nine games. If he can start making a reasonable percentage of those, he'll be a much more dangerous all-around threat.


PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter had a game-high 19 points against Boise State on Feb. 12. The shooting ace drained 6 of 8 3-point attempts. "I was confident in my shot," Ledbetter told the Idaho Statesman. "The guys did a great job of finding me when I was open and getting me the ball in transition. I was able to knock them in tonight."

--Junior PG Deremy Geiger celebrated his 21st birthday in a big way, scoring 12 points and grabbing a career-high nine rebounds in the Feb. 9 win over Utah State.




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