Just a week remains in the college basketball regular season, and before the Idaho Vandals come home for two last games in Moscow they have a big-time challenge on their hands: a rematch with Utah State, ranked No. 23 in the coaches poll and a team that lost to UI at Cowan Spectrum just a few weeks ago.
We have a preview below.
On tap: Idaho at Utah State, 6 p.m.
Records: Idaho 16-11, 8-6 WAC; Utah State 25-3, 12-1 WAC
At stake: The Aggies have already clinched a fourth straight WAC crown but this is their final game of the regular season at the Dee Glen Spectrum in Logan, and they'll be honoring six seniors about 15 minutes before the game. ... The Vandals are coming off an important road win over Nevada, and they're trying to lock down a first-round bye in the WAC tournament with a top-four finish. One more win -- they play Fresno State next week in Moscow -- and one more Nevada loss will give them at least the fourth seed.
Aside from Utah State, the WAC standings are jumbled at the top. Boise State, also 16-11 and 8-6, has a solid shot at the No. 2 seed given that it's beat Idaho twice and New Mexico State plays at Hawaii and home against Utah State and Nevada. NMSU has lost two straight, and BSU has won four in a row.
The Vandals, meanwhile, have won four of five games after a four-game losing streak. They've been a bit sporadic at times -- losses to San Jose State and at Louisiana Tech were particularly befuddling -- but when they take care of the ball, they've always been competitive.
But this will be the most challenging environment Idaho has played in this year. Utah State has won 31 straight at home over conference foes; its last loss was to Fresno State in March 2007.
What makes this game even more difficult is that Utah State no doubt wants retribution after playing poorly in Moscow, and the Aggies are always more amped-up on senior night.
"(It will be a) tough, tough game there," coach Don Verlin said earlier this week. "What we’ve got to do keep our compusure, keep it close and maybe find a way down the stretch."
The Vandals caught USU off guard earlier this month with a box-and-one defense. They'll probably try the gimmicky defense again, but Stew Morrill should be more prepared. And the Aggies are unlikely to struggle shooting from 3-point range like they did in Moscow when they went 5 of 28.
Finally, a couple notes on UI guard Jeff Ledbetter: He's averaging 15.4 points and 1.9 steals in conference games -- fifth and third best in the WAC, respectively. He's shooting 47 percent from long range for the season. But this is the truly remarkable stat: Of Ledbetter's 222 field-goal attempts, 172 have been from the 3-point line. That's 77 percent.
Against USU the first time, Ledbetter was 3 of 14 from the field and didn't make noise until sinking two 3s in the second half to help the Vandals spring the upset.