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SUNDAY, MARCH 15, 2009, 9:54 P.M.

Vandals end 19-year postseason drought

Idaho coach Don Verlin hinted at Idaho's postseason future at different times near the end of the season, saying it was possible the Vandals could sneak into a lower-tier tournament. But when that news became reality on Sunday, Verlin was downright giddy.

It's no wonder -- the Vandals lasted played a postseason game in 1990. That drought will end Wednesday when they host Drake on Wednesday in the tournament. The game will be at Memorial Gym.

Keep reading for my story that will appear in Monday's S-R.



MOSCOW, Idaho – What most thought unfathomable back in November began crystallizing by mid-January. Don Verlin's first season guiding the Idaho men's basketball team was shaping up to be a meaningful one.

The news Verlin and the Vandals received Sunday only cemented that reality.

After a 19-year postseason drought, Idaho was one of 16 mid-major teams selected to take part in the inaugural tournament. It will host Drake of the Missouri Valley Conference at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Gym.

“It's a fabulous opportunity for the University of Idaho,” Verlin said. “We haven't been in the postseason in 19 years here (and) to get in my first year really validates the season we had.”

The school ponied up $28,000 for the right to host the first-round game. Half the cost was covered by private fundraising and the other half by the UI president's office, according to athletic director Rob Spear.

Verlin said the fee was essentially to cover Drake's travel expenses.

“This is a huge accomplishment for our men's basketball program,” Spear said in a written statement. “(It) is a well-deserved honor based on the fantastic season for our team.”

If the Vandals (16-15) get past the Bulldogs (17-15), Verlin said they'll have a chance to play in Moscow in the quarterfinal round, which is slated for March 23.

The tournament's field consists mostly of schools in the Eastern half of the country and is set up for geographically friendly matchups to keep travel costs low. The only other West Coast schools in the single-elimination event – Pacific and Portland – will meet on Wednesday.

For the Vandals, an invitation to the CIT means they get to extend the program's finest season since 1998-99. They took third place in the Western Athletic Conference thanks to a season sweep of Boise State and a road win at second-place Nevada.

Those three victories, coupled with triumphs over NCAA tournament qualifiers North Dakota State and Cal State Northridge, helped raise Idaho's stock.

“They really were looking for teams that got hot late in the year,” said Verlin, whose squad has won six of its last eight games.

Drake, located in Des Moines, Iowa, reached the NCAA tournament last year as a No. 5 seed only to lose a memorable overtime affair to Western Kentucky in the first round. This year's team has wins over Iowa and Iowa State and is led by guard Josh Young, who averages 15.3 points per game.

The Bulldogs have lost three in a row and five of the last seven.

Verlin said he's slightly concerned about how many people will show up for Wednesday's contest since UI students will be gone on spring break. The game is taking place at cozy Memorial Gym because Idaho is prepping the Kibbie Dome for a renovation project.

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