WEDNESDAY WAS "BeLIEVE" NIGHT IN MOSCOW benefitting the Coaches Against Cancer Foundation. The night also proved to benefit the Vandals as well, as Idaho beat No.21 Utah State 64-56, breaking an 11-game losing streak to the Aggies. The Vandals now set their sights on taking down Boise State in Boise this Saturday (8:05pm PST) as the second game in a UI-BSU double-header (women tipoff at 5pm).
Wednesday night's matchup between Idaho and Utah State was a fund raiser for the Coaches Against Cancer foundation. Both teams – players and coaches alike – wore "BeLIEVE" gear; t-shirts for the players and polo shirts for the coaches. A large number of people in the crowd at the Cowan Spectrum on the University of Idaho campus (announced attendance 1,512) wore similar T-shirts with a colored representation of a memorial ribbon replacing the first "e" in BeLIEVE.
The Vandals seized on the theme to turn it into the Vandal mantra for their game against his former team Utah State Wednesday night at the Cowan Spectrum. The Aggies came in with a WAC record 25 consecutive conference wins and were ranked #17 nationally by ESPN/USA Today and #21 by AP.
"We did that for a reason," said senior Jeff Ledbetter (14 points, 1 assist, 3 steals and 4 rebounds). "We tied two things together. We've been good this year at forgetting the past. At one point someone said in the huddle, 'don't let this one slip away like we did against San Jose' and stuff, and I told 'em, 'Don't even mention that. That's the past. We're a different team now.' Like you said with these 'BeLIEVE' shirts. We wore 'em for a reason. We believe that we can play with the best in the conference, and we proved that tonight."
Deremy Geiger a junior who once played at Utah State before transferring to a junior college then to Idaho celebrated his birthday tonight. "I don't think I've ever felt like this right now, trying to hold in so much emotion," Geiger said. "Me going to Utah State, playing there for a year and them being ranked and such a good program and the record they have, for us to come in here and hold our home court down and the fans show us the amazing support, it’s and unbelievable feeling right now. Indescribable."
"We got lucky tonight," Vandal coach Don Verlin said. "That's what happened with that part of it." The coach once again pointed out the character of the Vandals, something he's been saying all season long. "We've had a number of chances to quit this year," the coach said "We had a chance to quit in Missoula, Montana early in the year. We had a chance to quit after San Jose, after they ripped heart out there in a game we should have won, but this team just keeps battling and that's the character of the guys in the locker room. It's kinda what I expect from 'em, and it's kinda what they expect of each other.
There were no secrets between the two teams. Verlin was an assistant under USU coach Stew Morrill for 15 years including 11 years at Utah State. "What a great win for our program, for our players," Verlin said. "I couldn't be happier for them and for the University of Idaho. "I told our coaches before the game 'the first one to 60 wins,' and we got there before they did. That's how we won tonight."
The defense definitely stepped up. Idaho held the Aggies to 34% from the floor and 18% on three's. At the line USU hit 53.8% (7/13). The Vandals were 43% from the floor, 18% on three's, and 74% at the charity line (17-23).
Ledbetter had 14 points tied for game high honors with Brockeith Pane for USU/ Geiger added 12 points and a career high 9 rebounds. Kyle Barone, playing what Verlin called "probably his best game as a Vandal) added 11 points and a game high 12 rebounds. Aggie stalwart Tai Wesley battled through the handicap of a broken nose and having to play with a face mask to rack up 11 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots before fouling out late in the game. Pane tied Ledbetter for game high scoring totals with 14 and Tyler Newbold had 12.
For Idaho Henderson had 9 points and 4 rebounds, Brandon Wiley had 8 points, 5 rebounds 4 blocks and a steal. Luiz Toledo also had 8 points and LandomTatum had 2 points and 2 assists. True freshman Stephen Madison did not score but played solid basketball during his 9 minutes of action.
It would be nice for the Vandals to be able to kick back and savor the win, but unfortunately they face a trip South for a return game against BSU Saturday as part of a UI-BSU double header starting with the women at 5 p.m. PST and the men at 8 p.m. Then, on February 19 Idaho will be at Montana State as part of the ESPN Bracket Buster series followed by meat grinder games at Nevada Feb. 24 and Utah State Feb. 26.