IDAHO INSIGHT: Ledbetter keeps getting better

THIS IS IT. THE ENTIRE SEASON comes down to this week of Vandal basketball. With a victory Thursday night in the Cowan Spectrum (7:05pm PST tipoff), Idaho will assure themselves a finish no worse than 4th in the WAC (and a first round bye) heading into the Conference Tournament. For Idaho to achieve their goals, players like hot shooting senior JEFF LEDBETTER will have to bring their A-game.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho's balance and teamwork have led to a surprisingly good season, but senior guard Jeff Ledbetter has emerged as a significant scoring threat.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Ledbetter was up to a team-high 12.4 points per game on a Vandals squad that had six players averaging better than 7.6 points. Ledbetter had led the team in scoring in six of the previous nine games through Feb. 26 ... and he was close in the other three.

"He is a really confident shooter right now, first and foremost from the 3-point line," said Utah State coach Stew Morrill, comparing Ledbetter to his super sub guard, Brian Green. "He can shot-fake and drive to the hoop. He gets out on the fast break and does some things off the dribble. He is just a very confident senior right now that is playing really well."

Ledbetter scored a career-high 25 points in the Feb. 24 win at Nevada. He made seven of 11 shots, including five of six 3-point attempts.

He followed with 16 points and three assists as the Vandals lost at Utah State 84-68 on Feb. 26. That dropped Idaho to 8-7 in the WAC with one conference game to play -- March 3 against Fresno State.

Idaho begins the week in fourth place in the WAC and will need a win -- and help -- to get into a second-place tie. But the Vandals, if they beat Fresno State, would finish no worse than the fourth seed in the WAC tournament, which would give them a first-round bye.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho couldn't finish off the season sweep of Utah State, losing 84-68 in Logan on Feb. 26. The Vandals nearly had as many field goals as the Aggies (26-25), but the big difference came at the free-throw line. Utah State was 26-for-30. Idaho was 10-for-15.

--The game at Utah State was such a tall task for Idaho, considering the Aggies wanted payback, they were holding Senior Day ... and they are a ranked team for a reason. Idaho coach Don Verlin was just happy to go back to Moscow with a split on the late-February road trip. "If you told me that we would have a one-and-one split, we would have taken it," Verlin said. "The big game for us this week was Nevada, and we took care of business."

--Helped by making 10 of 15 3-point shots, Idaho won at Nevada 67-59 on Feb. 24 to complete the season sweep. It was Idaho's first sweep of the Wolf Pack since joining the WAC in 2005.

BY THE NUMBERS: 38.8 -- Idaho's 3-point shooting percentage, which was the best mark in the WAC through Feb. 26.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think Don Verlin's done a great job with that team. He had a better team talent-wise last season, but this team seems to have a little more chemistry than it did last season, and they've played very well." -- Utah State coach Stew Morrill, on his former longtime assistant, Don Verlin.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
GAME PREVIEW:
--vs. Fresno State, March 3 (Thursday)

KEY MATCHUPS: Idaho's pesky and energetic defense, which mixes man and zone, should stymie Fresno State, which will be without third-leading scorer Tim Steed, who is on team suspension through this game. Idaho shot an amazing 61.4 percent in the teams' first meeting, while the Bulldogs managed just 35.8 percent. The Vandals won 67-57, and the margin figures to be bigger if Idaho can do a better job on the glass than they did the first time. Fresno State, led by C Greg Smith, had 14 offensive rebounds; Idaho had four.

--vs. Seattle University, March 5 (Saturday)
KEY MATCHUPS: Idaho will have no control of its fate in the WAC standings at this point, but it will be looking for a strong finish to the regular season. And the Vandals might want a bit of revenge. Seattle won this matchup 66-56 at home back on Dec. 11. Idaho had 20 turnovers in that game, and Seattle's 5-foot-10 guard Cervante Burrell went for 20 points. This game should keep Idaho fresh as it prepares for the WAC tournament.


FUTURES MARKET: Freshman F Stephen Madison came off the bench to provide 10 points in the loss at Utah State on Feb. 26. He has been providing key minutes, especially late in the season, giving the Vandals a 3-point shooting threat off the bench. The 6-foot-5 forward figures to be a more significant player next season.


PLAYER NOTES

--Senior G Shawn Henderson scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting at Utah State on Feb. 26. "Shawn was energetic -- he played extremely hard and shot the ball really well," coach Don Verlin said.

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter was second in the WAC in 3-point percentage (46.9) and in 3-pointers made (3.0 per game) through games of Feb. 26.




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