THIS IS IT. THE ENTIRE SEASON comes down to this week of Vandal basketball. With a victory…
Vandals prepare for WAC's toughest road test
The Vandals face the ultimate challenge on Feb. 26: taking on first-place Utah State at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Winning on the Aggies' home court has been next to impossible for WAC opponents, and it likely will be harder for Idaho than for most teams.
Why? Because Idaho handed the Aggies their only conference loss of the season earlier this month in Moscow. Coach Don Verlin's team probably can expect the Aggies' "A" game.
The game holds a lot of significance in terms of the conference race. The Vandals (16-11, 8-6 WAC) still are in contention for a bye in next month's conference tournament. The top four seeds in the eight-team field get at least one bye in the event.
After a win over Nevada on Feb. 24, Idaho is tied for third place with Boise State, but the Broncos have the tiebreaker based on two wins over the Vandals.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: Idaho entered the Feb. 24 game at Nevada as the WAC's top 3-point shooting team at 37.7 percent. The Vandals put that shooting on display, sinking 10 of 15 from behind the arc in a 67-59 win over the Wolf Pack that gave coach Don Verlin's team a season sweep of Nevada. It was Idaho's first sweep of the Wolf Pack since joining the WAC in 2005. Balance again was the key, as Idaho had all eight players who saw action score, and three Vandals reached double figures.
--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
--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: Stephon 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.
--Senior G Jeff Ledbetter scored a career-high 25 points in the Feb. 24 win at Nevada. He made seven of 11 shots from the floor, including five of six 3-point attempts.
--Senior F Shawn Henderson scored 10 points in the win over Nevada. It was his first double-digit game since he scored 11 points in a loss to Boise State on Jan. 22.
--Junior G Deremy Geiger had six rebounds -- the second-best total of his career -- at Nevada on Feb. 24. He had been averaging 2.8 boards per game.
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