Vandals set focus on postseason

Idaho had its best regular season in almost two decade. Not much was expected from the Vandals after an underachieving 2009-10 season. Idaho returned only 26.5 percent of its scoring and 36.1 percent of its rebounding from last year's team. And yet, through better teamwork and chemistry, the Vandals finished the regular season with an 18-12 overall record, 9-7 in the WAC.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho's 18-wins marks the team's highest victory total since the 1993-94 season, when Idaho also won 18 games.

The reward is a No. 3 finish and fourth seed in the WAC tournament with a first-round bye. The Vandals will take on the winner of the Hawaii-San Jose State game in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Idaho has leaned on a trio of seniors -- guard Jeff Ledbetter, wing Shawn Henderson, and forward Brandon Wiley -- to make this a happy season in coach Don Verlin's third year.

Wiley has been a big help after sitting out last season due to a back injury, averaging 7.7 points and 5.0 rebounds as a starter. Ledbetter ended the regular season averaging a team-best 12.2 points per game and being one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the WAC. Henderson started every regular-season game, averaging 9.2 points.

"This senior group has been unbelievable," Verlin said. "With a whole new team this year with basically six years of Division-I experience, I relied on the seniors. All year long, they kept this group together."


NOTES, QUOTES

--Guaranteed of a first-round bye in the WAC tournament, Idaho started slowly in its regular-season finale against non-conference Seattle University on March 5. The Vandals trailed by double-digits in the first half before coming back to win 78-69.

--Idaho was picked to finish eighth in the WAC preseason polls (media and coaches), but ended up with the No. 3 seed in the league tournament with a 9-7 record. That was similar to coach Don Verlin's first season in 2008-09, when they were picked ninth in both polls but finished third with a 9-7 league mark.

--Idaho overcame a 13-point deficit to beat visiting Fresno State 69-66 on March 3, thereby clinching a first-round bye in the WAC tourney. That was the biggest deficit that Idaho overcame this season. "I think if we had lost to this game we would have just been sick to our stomach," guard Landon Tatum said in the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

BY THE NUMBERS: 38.8 -- 3-point shooting percentage for Idaho, which led the WAC through the regular season. The Vandals don't really specialize in the long-range, taking fewer attempts from behind the arc than almost any other WAC team, but senior G Jeff Ledbetter helps Idaho be dangerous.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been doing that lately. That's one thing we've got to fix going into the tournament." -- G Jeff Ledbetter, in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, on the team's slow start to games.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

GAME PREVIEW: Idaho, the No. 3 seed in the WAC tournament, gets a bye into Thursday's quarterfinals, where it will play the winner of the Hawaii-San Jose State game. The Rainbow Warriors were one of the league's hottest teams in the second half of conference play, but the Vandals swept the season series. Idaho won at San Jose State but lost at home 92-89 in a double-overtime game.

POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: Idaho gets things done with offensive balance, as six players average between 7.7 and 12.2 points, and they usual play with intensity on defense. The Vandals aren't as physically talented as they were this season, but better chemistry has made them a more formidable opponent. They don't mind grinding out a game, which should make them a tough out in the conference tournament.

FUTURES MARKET: True freshman F Stephen Madison had a career-high 12 points against Seattle in the final game of the regular season. He had seven consecutive points for Idaho in the first half and hit a key 3-pointer in the second half. "I thought he gave us a huge lift, I thought he was aggressive," coach Don Verlin said. "He turned it over a couple too many times, but I thought he was one of the differences in the game for us tonight." Madison is the only freshman who is contributing for Idaho.


PLAYER NOTES

--Sophomore C Kyle Barone poured in 19 points in Idaho's March 3 victory over Fresno State. He had another strong game -- eight points, 10 rebounds -- in the regular-season finale against Seattle University on March 5.

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter finished second in the WAC in the regular season in 3-point percentage, hitting 45.9 percent (Utah State's Brian Green was at 46.8 percent). Ledbetter was also second in made 3-point baskets with 89 (Hawaii's Zane Johnson was first with 94).




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