Vandals clinch WAC tournament bye

Idaho took care of business on March 3, so now the Vandals can just sit back and wait. The Vandals defeated Fresno State 69-66, a victory that gave coach Don Verlin's team a bye in next week's WAC tournament in Las Vegas. Idaho is guaranteed at least the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye, but it could rise to No. 3 if Nevada defeats New Mexico State on March 5.

GETTING INSIDE

Regardless, the Vandals will get to celebrate Senior Night on March 5 against Seattle without having to worry about scoreboard-watching too much. Had Idaho lost to Fresno State, the Vandals could have fallen into fifth or sixth place and might have been in the tough position of having to win four games in four days to capture the WAC tournament title.

Instead, the Vandals can relax while saying goodbye to their senior class March 5 in a nonconference game. The Vandals have three senior starters -- forwards Brandon Wiley and Shawn Henderson, as well as guard Jeff Ledbetter.

Should Idaho finish third, it would match its best finish in the WAC. Verlin and the Vandals also were the third seed in the 2008-09 season after tying Boise State and New Mexico State with identical 9-7 records.


BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Vandals, who hadn't played at home since stunning nationally ranked Utah State on Feb. 9, trailed by as many as 13 points before rallying for a 69-66 win over Fresno State at Cowan Spectrum on March 3. "I thought our guys did a great job of not folding -- something this team has done all year," Idaho coach Don Verlin said in his postgame press conference. The win gave the Vandals a season sweep of Fresno State. Idaho also swept Nevada and Hawaii this season.


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. Seattle University, March 5

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

--Sophomore C Kyle Barone, who had scored in single digits in three of the previous four and four of the previous six games, poured in 19 points in Idaho's March 3 victory over Fresno State.

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter, who had scored in double digits in Idaho's first 15 conference games this season, was limited to nine points in the win over Fresno State.

--Freshman G Stephen Madison grabbed five rebounds in the win over Fresno State. It was the second-best total of his career. He had six in a win over Nevada back on Jan. 12.




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