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Eastern Washington, Idaho men one win away from Big Sky Tournament semifinal showdown

UPDATED: Wed., March 7, 2018, 5:11 p.m.

Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin looks to his bench for help against Eastern Washington on Jan. 12  in Cheney. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin looks to his bench for help against Eastern Washington on Jan. 12 in Cheney. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

RENO, Nev. – As Idaho and Eastern Washington step under the lights Thursday night, they can only hope their opponents don’t shoot them out.

As the second and third seeds, respectively, in this week’s Big Sky Conference tournament, the Vandals and Eagles are one step away from playing each other in the semifinals.

But to get there, both teams will need to take some quick steps to the perimeter against teams that like to shoot 3-pointers.

First up at Reno Events Center is an Idaho team that’s coming off a two-point home win against the same Southern Utah team it will face in the quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m..

The 10th-seeded Thunderbirds (12-18) are coming off a 76-68 upset of Idaho State in the first round.

Three days earlier, they took Idaho to the limit in Moscow, hitting 11 3-pointers before the Vandals (22-8) finally prevailed 78-76 on Brayon Blake’s jumper with 1 second left.

It was the same story in January, as SUU also hit 11 3-pointers in an 80-76 win by the Vandals. In two meetings, SUU is 22 for 47 (or 46 percent) from beyond the arc.

“We’ve got to do a lot better job than we did a week ago, or less than a week ago, in guarding the 3-point line,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said Wednesday during practice in Reno.

“What you have to do with Southern Utah is you have to make them shoot tough, contested shots and you have to grind it out,” Verlin said. “We have to sustain what we do.”

Eastern (18-13) faces a similar challenge against sixth seed Portland State, which forced 20 turnovers in the first meeting in Cheney on Jan. 4 but was just 3 for 20 from long range in a 81-74 EWU win.

PSU (20-12) turned the tables a month later, going 9 for 23 from beyond the arc as the Vikings won 94-81.

“Their pressure bothered us more (in the second game),” Eastern coach Shantay Legans said. “We rushed shots.

“Plus, they shot the ball pretty well – we have to do a better job of finding shooters.”