Idaho opens CIT at Univ. of San Francisco

FOLLOWING A SUCCESSFUL REBUILDING SEASON the Vandals have been invited to the Tournament (CIT) and Wednesday night at 7pm PST Idaho (18-13, 9-7 WAC) plays at the University of San Francisco (17-14, 11-4 WCC) in the opening round. The Dons are 36th in the nation in rebounds per game (38.0) and the Vandals counter with the 49th field goal percentage in the NCAA.


Sometimes, starting over is exactly what's needed.

Idaho did that before the season, when just about everyone thought that would be a negative. The Vandals returned one starter and only five letter winners, including one, forward Brandon Wiley, who was coming off a redshirt season because of injury.

Idaho no longer had Mac Hobson, Kashif Watson and Steffan Johnson in the backcourt. The Vandals didn't have Marvin Jefferson in the post. Those four players accounted for 46 points per game in 2009-10.

Idaho didn't need them this season.

With balance and teamwork and chemistry, Idaho defied low expectations and extended its season into the Tournament. The Vandals open Wednesday at San Francisco (17-14).

The school would be willing to host a second-round game in Moscow if the Vandals get that far, athletic director Rob Spear said. Playing on the road for the first game was fine with Idaho because it is spring break on campus.

Idaho heads into the matchup at 18-13 overall, having lost to San Jose State 74-68 in the quarterfinals of the WAC tournament. That loss endangered the Vandals' chances of playing on, but they got into the CIT and have a chance to make this an even more memorable season.

"I couldn't be happier for this team and this program," coach Don Verlin told the Idaho Statesman. "After how hard this team has worked, it's a nice reward to have. San Francisco is a well-coached team and the WCC is a tough conference, but we're just happy to be playing."


--This is Idaho's second appearance in the Tournament. The Vandals won an opening-round game in 2009, beating Drake 69-67, before falling at Pacific 69-59.

--Idaho was picked to finish eighth in the WAC preseason polls (media and coaches), but ended up with the No. 4 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 signed three players in the fall period, including two junior college transfers -- F Wendell Faines from Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., and G Anthony Jones from Paris Junior College in Memphis, Tenn. Coach Don Verlin also signed G Xavier Bazile from Mt. Tahoma High in Tacoma, Wash. Verlin has at least one more scholarship available in the spring.

COACH: Don Verlin, three years at Idaho, second postseason appearance (second CIT)

KEYS TO VICTORY: Idaho has leaned on a trio of seniors -- guard Jeff Ledbetter, wing Shawn Henderson, and forward Brandon Wiley -- to make this a surprising season in coach Don Verlin's third year. Wiley, who sat out last season due to a back injury, entered the CIT averaging 7.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Ledbetter is averaging a team-best 12.5 points per game and being one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters in the WAC. Henderson has started every game, averaging 9.1 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."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're just hoping it's a preview of things to come. We just want to continue to build this program, and we want to take the necessary steps to keep playing in things like the CIT and to get to the NCAA tournament in the near future." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin, on playing in the Tournament.


At San Francisco, March 16, Tournament first round

KEY MATCHUPS: Idaho could have its hands full with 6-0 sophomore guard Michael Williams, who is averaging a team-high 14.9 points and who scored 21 points in a West Coast Conference tournament loss to Gonzaga. Idaho's defense has been good this season, allowing teams to shoot 41.7 percent from the field and only 32.5 percent from 3-point range.

SCOUTING REPORT: Idaho has balanced scoring, with six players averaging at least 7.8 points. Senior G Jeff Ledbetter tops the list, entering the CIT with an average of 12.5 points per game, and Boise State will look to set him up for 3-pointers. He had made 46.1 percent (94 of 204) through the WAC tournament. C Kyle Barone and PF Luiz Toledo are excellent finishers around the basket.


--Junior F Luiz Toledo, who hadn't scored in double figures since a 19-point outburst against San Jose State on Feb. 3, finished with 12 points in the WAC tournament loss to San Jose State.

--Senior F Brandon Wiley made all five of his shots in the loss to San Jose State in the WAC tournament, finishing with 10 points. He enters the tournament having made eight shots in a row.

--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter made five 3-pointers in the WAC tournament loss to San Jose State. It was the seventh time this season that he made at least five treys in a game. His career high is six.

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