MOSCOW, Idaho – Two seasons ago, when the postseason-starved Idaho men’s basketball team extended its season for the first time since 1990, Brandon Wiley remembers the feeling of elation.
This time Wiley gets to go home for the Vandals’ first-round game of the CollegeInsider.com tournament. And he’s doing so as the only player on UI roster who has tasted the postseason.
Idaho (18-13) plays at the University of San Francisco tonight at 7 to open the single-elimination event that has expanded from 16 to 24 teams.
Wiley, a Bay Area native, is the lone remaining player from Don Verlin’s first Idaho club in 2008-2009. With UI set to make a return to the CIT, the senior forward made sure to convey one thing to his teammates.
“Brandon talked to the team about how much fun he had playing in those games two years ago,” Verlin said. “I think the guys are looking forward to getting out and playing again.”
The Vandals went 1-1 in their first CIT trip, bowing out to Pacific after beating Drake at home. If they win at USF tonight, they could host a game – after the tourney is reseeded – on Monday or Tuesday.
The game would be at Memorial Gym with the Kibbie Dome closed for renovation.
The Dons (17-14) are making their first postseason appearance since 2005, thanks to a 12-4 stretch to close the regular season. They finished third in the West Coast Conference – behind St. Mary’s and Gonzaga – and are paced by Rashad Green and Michael Williams, two guards named to the All-WCC first team.
“I have a lot of respect for this team,” Wiley said. “They’re very dangerous.”
UI has been at its best this season when its focus has been on locking teams down defensively. But even before San Jose State made 57 percent of its 3s to upset the Vandals in the WAC tournament, opponents were scoring much easier on Idaho in the last few weeks of the regular season.
With that in mind, Verlin and his staff have used much of the prep time for San Francisco to fine-tune the team’s defensive approach.
“If there’s an area of our game that’s slipped a little bit here in the last three or four games for whatever reason,” Verlin said, “it’s been our (defense). We haven’t been able to hold teams down like we did early in the year and throughout a lot of our win streaks.”
“Defense and rebounding,” Wiley said. “Basically I think (those) are the keys going into this game.”