IDAHO INSIGHT: Big week of big tests for UI

Kyle Barone with 15 pts, 5 rebounds at MSU

THE IDAHO VANDALS TROUNCED Montana State 65-50 Saturday in Bozeman (Mont.) in an ESPN Bracket Busters matchup, improving their record to 15-11, 7-6 WAC on the season, led by sophomore center KYLE BARONE and his 15 points in the game. Now the Vandals set their sights on improving their rank in the WAC with a road swing at Nevada (11-15, 7-5 WAC) Thursday then Utah State (25-3, 12-1 WAC) Saturday.

GETTING INSIDE

Idaho's BracketBuster game didn't provide the stiffest of competition, but the Vandals are hoping to use their winning effort -- especially on defense -- to finish well in the WAC. Idaho won at Montana State 65-50 on Feb. 19, holding the Bobcats to 35.8 percent shooting. Montana State was just 2 of 17 from 3-point range.

"I thought the game was won tonight with our defensive intensity," Idaho coach Don Verlin said. "Holding them to 50 points, 35 percent from the field, 11 percent from three, that was a pretty good defensive performance."

Defense has been one the team's strengths this season, as Idaho enters the week allowing 65.4 points per game (the second-best mark in the WAC) and 41.0 percent shooting (the third-best mark in the league).

That defense will get a severe test this week as Idaho goes on the roads to play two of the most dangerous offensive teams in the WAC -- Utah State and Nevada.

Idaho, after predictions of finishing near the bottom of the league, is 7-6 in the WAC, tied for fourth place with Boise State. That is an important spot, as the fourth-place team gets an opening-round bye in the WAC tournament.


NOTES, QUOTES

--Idaho has won three consecutive non-conference road games, the best such stretch for the Vandals since 1990.
--Idaho held Montana State to 16 first-half points in a 65-50 victory in Bozeman on Feb. 19. "We really played well in the first half," coach Don Verlin said. "I thought we dominated every facet of the game; guys came out with an unbelievable amount of energy."
--Idaho's streak of making a 3-point basket reached 400 games in the Feb. 19 win at Montana State. The last time the Vandals were held without a 3-point shot was Feb. 27, 1997, against Long Beach State.


BY THE NUMBERS:

37.6 -- Idaho's 3-point shooting in conference games, through Feb. 19, which was the best mark in the WAC.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's very efficient. He's got a great set of hands and he's an excellent passer. He's got a very good feel for the game. If his jump shot continues to improve, he should be one of the better players in our conference, and that's always been my expectation." -- Idaho coach Don Verlin, in the Idaho Statesman, on sophomore C Kyle Barone.


STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Nevada, Feb. 24
KEY MATCHUPS: At 6-10, sophomore C Kyle Barone will be a key figure off the bench for Idaho as the Vandals try to deal with Nevada post Dario Hunt. He had nine rebounds in the first meeting between the team, but Idaho held him to five points before he fouled out. Nevada freshman PG Deonte Burton had 23 points and his athleticism will be trouble for Idaho PG Deremy Geiger.

--at Utah State, Feb. 26
KEY MATCHUPS: The Aggies will be in full revenge mode after Idaho upset Utah State 64-56 in Moscow on Feb. 9. The Vandals did it with defense that night, holding the Aggies to 33.8 percent shooting. It's hard to imagine the efficient Aggies shooting that poorly again, so Idaho is going to have to unleash some scoring and shoot better than 3 of 17 from 3-point range, as it did the first time around. Offensive balance has been a hallmark of this Idaho team, but it could use something big from G Jeff Ledbetter, who entered the week averaging 11.8 points and shooting 45.8 percent from 3-point range.


FUTURES MARKET: Stephen Madison is the only freshman seeing significant time for the Vandals. The 6-5 forward from Portland entered the week having played in every game, averaging 11.2 minutes. He was also averaging 3.1 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He provides Idaho with a shooter off the bench for a team that doesn't rely much on the outside shot, having hit 15 of 42 attempts from 3-point range.


PLAYER NOTES

--Sophomore C Kyle Barone scored a team-high 15 points off the bench in Idaho's 65-50 victory at Montana State on Feb. 19.

--Junior PF Luiz Toledo had made 61.3 percent of his shots in conference games (46 of 75), which ranked second in the league through games of Feb. 19. The leader was Idaho sophomore C Kyle Barone (65.2 percent).



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