Idaho's ineptitude in the WAC tournament? It's history. Senior Stephen Madison put in a masterful performance and his teammates stepped up in the final minutes as the Vandals vanquished the University of Missouri-Kansas City, 73-70, in the quarterfinals of the WAC tourney in Las Vegas.
This was Don Verlin's first win in the WAC tournament after going 0-5 to start his tenure at Idaho. And it was only Idaho's second win in this event since joining the WAC before the 2005-2006 season. It came at the right moment, too -- the Vandals will depart for the Big Sky Conference this summer.
“It feels awfully good, and Stephen and I enjoyed a special moment because we hadn’t gotten one yet,” Verlin said.
Fifth-seeded Idaho (15-17) moves on to the semifinal tomorrow night, when it will face No. 1 seed Utah Valley at 6 p.m. The Vandals lost both regular-season matchups against UVU, but the games were decided by a total of six points.
Keep reading for more.
Madison carried the Vandals at times in the second half, going off for 26 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. He made all 11 of his free-throw attempts and forced three charges, none bigger than one in the final minute that stemmed a 7-0 UMKC run. After drawing the offensive foul, Madison converted a layup on the other end.
Glen Dean and Sekou Wiggs polished off the Kangaroos by sinking 3 of 4 free throws.
“It means a lot because we’ve put a lot of hours in over the last four years,” Madison added. “It feels good to get one and we’ll keep going forward and show what this group can do.”
Idaho has pocketed wins in five of its last six games and won three in a row. It looked like it would be a second straight lost season for the Vandals -- they were 10-16 in mid-February -- but Verlin implored his team in late January to start running the open floor on offense. After the shift to an up-tempo offense, things finally clicked.
“We’ve been playing pretty well the last four or five weeks,” Verlin said. “The second half of the league we’ve played pretty good basketball, and I thought tonight we were ourselves. I like where this team is going, I like how they’ve matured.”
As for Idaho's meeting with Utah Valley, Madison said they have something to prove.
“When you lose to a team, you always owe them one, so we’re going to be ready."