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Idaho hoops: Top scorer out 3 to 7 weeks with broken hand

Don Verlin doesn't expect pity, and he doesn't want it anyways. 

The eighth-year Idaho coach announced Tuesday his team will have to make due without his top scorer for the next three to seven weeks, and second-leading scorer for at least another couple of weeks.  

Victor Sanders slipped and fell on the ice on Friday night in Bozeman and broke his right hand while breaking his fall. The diagnosis is three to seven weeks, the latter of which would have his return during the Big Sky Conference tournament in Reno. The sophomore was an a scoring onslaught the three games prior to his injury, scoring 89 points on 23-of-40 shooting.  

That was in the absence of starting point guard Perrion Callandret, who's missed the last four games with a mid-foot sprain to his right foot he suffered in a loss at Eastern Washington. Callandret is out of his boot and doing light activities to test how the foot responds and is about two weeks away from a return. 

The two guards combined to average 30.8 points per game this season. 

This is all on top of the left knee injury Arkadiy Mkrtychyan has been dealing with all season. The sophomore dislocated it and had surgery on it before the season. Idaho's leading returning scorer from last season hasn't been able to replicate his freshman success, averaging less minutes than last season and shooting 17-percent less from the field. 

"I think the whole thing when you have injuries is that you have to realize that nobody is going to feel sorry for you," Verlin said. "You feel awful for the players, no question about it, because they work so hard. Especially Perrion, Ark and Vic who have spent a ton of time getting better, but no one is going to feel sorry for your basketball team.

"Like I told our guys, after this press conference today I’m not talking injuries no more. We can’t control injuries but what we can control how we play, our effort, our attitude and our preparation and that’s going to be our focus," Verlin said.

Sanders' 27-point performance helped Idaho pull off a 63-58 upset in Missoula last Thurday against the defending regular season conference champions. Idaho couldn't complete the sweep without the presence of the Portland native, falling 70-68 at Montana State after holding a 10-point halftime lead. 

"I told our team you can’t worry about things you can’t control, we can control our effort, our preparation, our attitude," Verlin said. "At the end of the day, disappointed we didn’t win the game, but if you look at the trip as a whole, we competed our tails off."

True freshman Nick Blair helped offset some of the backcourt slack with a career-high 16 points on Saturday, 14 in the first half. The Las Vegas native is a small forward who will play the role of a guard. Blair could be in line to get a start on Thursday against Sacramento State, perhaps in place of last Saturday's starter at small forward, Jordan Scott.

"Getting a chance to see Nick Blair — we knew Nick was going to be a good player when we recruited him here — It’s always a little hard for freshmen," Verlin said. "The game is always fast, our system is a little complicated, he was a little slow to start but I think he’s done a good staying with what his practice habits and all of those things and I like what I’ve seen out of him.

"He’s going to play a little more like a guard than a small forward, which is a little unnatural for him but it’s where we’re at right now," Verlin said. 

The starting backcourt will mostly like be senior Chris Sarbaugh and sophomore walk-on Chad Sherwood. At forward it will depend on the health of Mkrtychyan's knee. The Russia native sat out on Thursday after he tweaked it on Monday. Nate Sherwood and Ty Egbert are likely to get the nod there. 

Egbert put in a career-high 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting on Saturday, becoming a go-to post scorer for the Vandals down the stretch. The junior walk-on from Coulee Dam is shooting 60 percent on the season. 

"Ty is very confident," Sarbaugh said. "Toward the end of the game he definitely carried us with back-to-back-to-back baskets, we need that. Ark hasn’t been the same, so Ty has stepped up and has really been aggressive and that was huge."

Junior college transfer Pat Ingram will likely be the first guard off the bench to play the point. He played significantly during the Montana road trip. 

"Pat played very limited minutes in the preseason. He's has stepped up and played really good minutes," Verlin said. "I knew Pat was a good player, taking that year off has slowed him a little bit. He’s got an ability to be an elite defender in this league, I’ve been happy with his effort."

The Vandals will have to cut down the turnovers if they're going to get an important home sweep over Sacramento State and Portland State. Ingram and Sarbaugh combined for 17 turnovers over the last two games. 

"With myself sometimes and Pat (Ingram) we make what we call habit passes where we’re just used to reversing the ball real quick and we’re not paying attention to the defender shooting the gap," Sarbaugh said. "We need to work on our habit passes and also feeding the post, that’s where we have a lot of turnovers.

"I think we have to realize we can use our dribble to get a better angle and not just lob it in there. If they have a hand out throw it to that hand. Mostly it’s habit passes and be more consistent and decisive feeding the post," Sarbaugh said. 

KenPom look

Sacramento State comes in with a 1-5 Big Sky record this season, having struggled to replace the prolific scoring of Player of the Year Mikh McKinney. The health status of third-leading scorer Cody Demps is in question for Thursday night. 

The Hornets defeated Arizona State in its opening game of the season but has struggled to 8-9 on the season. The Hornets rank No. 280 in KenPom. Idaho is given a 79-percent chance of victory. However, two important things to note with this projection is it does not take injuries into account and gives a heavy advantage for home court. 

Portland State is 3-3 in Big Sky play and ranked No. 248 nationally in KenPom, compared to Idaho's No. 210 ranking. Idaho is a 73-percent favorite in the Saturday-night tilt. 

Accounted for injuries, it's more likely that these games are much closer to coin-flip odds. 

 




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Sean Kramer
Sean Kramer is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.





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