The weeklong buildup has been unlike any game this season. Idaho vs. Boise State. Two men's basketball teams better than most anticipated (the Vandals, on a six-game winning streak, much better). The last season of their rivalry with both as members of the WAC. Easily the biggest crowd of the season expected at Cowan Spectrum. Lots of intrigue for sure.
Read on for more on the game, which tips at 7:07 tonight after the UI-BSU women's game.
To start, here's the game at a glance:
RECORD: 12-6, 5-1 WAC
COMING UP: Saturday vs. Boise State, 7 p.m.
OUTLOOK: With the rival Broncos in town, the Vandals will go for their seventh consecutive win, a feat they haven’t achieved since 1992-93 when Larry Eustachy was coach. Idaho is in second place in the WAC, followed by New Mexico State and BSU (11-7, 4-2). The Broncos started 6-0 under new coach Leon Rice and won their first four WAC games before losing to Utah State and Nevada last week. Forward Reggie Arnold leads BSU in scoring with 15.5 points per game.
The status of Idaho forward Luiz Toledo is still up in the air. He's missed the last two games with what coach Don Verlin termed a “fatigue thing.”
“Hopefully we’ll have him for Boise State,” Verlin said on Wednesday, noting that Toledo could have played against Fresno State -- but "he just didn’t seem to be himself at practice."
Here are some other quotes from Verlin on, among other things, the status of the rivalry with Boise State headed to the Mountain West next season.
On the rivalry: "I think it’s great for the state of Idaho and basketball, and I hope it continues. We’ve extended the invitation for the rivalry to continue and I hope that Leon (Rice) and Mr. (Gene) Blaymaier accommodate us and we continue to play this rivalry."
"Before the season we talked to them and Coach Rice said we could visit it after the season, and I think that’s probably what will happen."
On what's at stake with the Vandals' a game behind first-place Utah State: "Every WAC game is important, especially when you’ve put yourself in the position we’ve put ourselves in — which is a half-game out of first (before USU beat LaTech on Thursday). We’re chasing Utah State like crazy, and every game is important in the league standings."
On the strength of the Vandals this season: "They’ve played together and they’ve fought together all season. One thing we haven’t done is we haven’t unraveled. We’ve been able to keep our composure … in all those games. And probably most importantly is we’ve done a great job sharing the ball and executing our offense and defensive game plans. Probably what I’ve like the best is this team has continued to get better. We had some setbacks early — and one big one at Montana — but we’ve kind of come back and got consistently better throughout the year."
On Jeff Ledbetter, UI's senior guard: "The one thing Jeff does is he brings it every game. He plays really hard. He’s a smart player, and recently he’s been knocking down his shots."
Some stats of note:
- Boise State leads the WAC in scoring (75.4 ppg); Idaho is seventh (66.9 ppg).
- BSU is second in scoring margin (+8.8) in the WAC; the Vandals (+2.6) are third.
- Idaho is second in free-throw percentage in the WAC; BSU is third
- UI is third in field goal percentage defense in the WAC; BSU is last.
- BSU is second in 3-pointers made (6.4 per game); Idaho is last (5.7).
But here's perhaps the key stat: Boise State entered the week ranked sixth in the NCAA in turnover margin (+5.6) and 15th in the nation in steals per game (9.4). Idaho is averaging 15.1 turnovers per game -- and unforced errors have been its biggest problem this season. If it's a close game -- and the last few in this series have been -- the game could hinge on a late turnover.
You can follow in-game Twitter updates at @SR_JoshWright.