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Idaho storms into WAC tourney as No. 3 seed

Sun., March 4, 2012, midnight

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Idaho men’s basketball team narrowly missed out on the second seed for next week’s WAC tournament. Just about everything else, though, is going the Vandals’ way.

Idaho held on Saturday night for a 70-64 win at San Jose State – its seventh victory in eight games since early February.

The Vandals, picked to finish fifth by WAC coaches in the preseason, wrapped up the regular season at 18-12 and 9-5 in conference play. They’ll be the third seed in the WAC tournament and face Hawaii at noon Thursday in Las Vegas.

“What a great thing for our basketball program, for our players and for our fans,” coach Don Verlin said. “I’m just extremely excited.”

Idaho would have snatched the No. 2 spot if New Mexico State had lost at Fresno State. But the Bulldogs blew a 19-point lead and fell 83-78 in overtime.

The Vandals have consecutive 18-win seasons for the first time since 1992-94 under Larry Eustachy and Joe Cravens. Their 9-5 conference mark is the best for the program since joining the WAC prior to the 2005-06 season.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll get to play after the (WAC) tournament somewhere,” Verlin said. “Like I told our guys, let’s make sure it’s the NCAA tournament.”

As the second seed, NMSU (23-9, 10-4) will play Fresno State again in Thursday’s quarterfinals while conference champion Nevada will play eighth-seeded San Jose State.

The Spartans (9-21, 1-13) hung around Saturday with a steady dose of 3-pointers from guard James Kinney. He buried five long-range shots and finished with a game-high 19 points.

But the Vandals held SJSU to 40 percent shooting from the field and were balanced again. UI had six players register at least eight points, led by Deremy Geiger’s 16 points.

Idaho hit 53.5 percent of its shots and led by 14 in the second half, thanks to a 3-point barrage from Connor Hill and Geiger. Hill made three consecutive 3-pointers after halftime – part of a streak of seven straight over two games for the freshman from Post Falls.

San Jose State drew within four points on two occasions in the final few minutes.

“We never lost our focus,” Verlin said. “We never got frustrated. We just kept grinding along.”

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