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Vandals enter tough stretch

Three games in the next week should tell us a lot about the Idaho basketball team. The challenging stretch starts Thursday night at Cal State Northridge, continues Sunday vs. No. 25 Portland (at Memorial Gym; tickets are limited) and finishes Wednesday at Washington State.

Keep reading for thoughts and comments from Don Verlin on the toughest part of the Vandals' nonconference schedule. And as always, you can follow my updates on Twitter at twitter.com/SR_JoshWright.

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If ever the Vandals (4-1) need to show big-time improvement in the turnover category, this would be the time. Northridge (3-3) has an up-tempo, in-your-face defense -- as Verlin said, they pressure "the holy heck out of you" -- so taking care of the ball will be important in Thursday's game (tipoff is 7:05).

A spike in turnovers has been perhaps the most noticeable trend this year compared to last year for the Vandals, who appear much improved on most fronts. "Well, it’s been horrible," Verlin said of ball handling. "You look at our stats, for our standards. We turned the ball over 12 times a game last year and this year it’s about 16. We’ve got to improve in that area. It’s just that we’ve got to continue to work, continue to emphasize. I’ve got to do a better job coaching it. The guys have to value the ball more. But we’ve got to get better in that area if we’re going to win some big road games and some big home games. Over the next 10 days, and especially on Thursday night, us taking care of the ball is going to a long way to us winning at Northridge."

Verlin attributed the increased turnovers to several things. For one, Idaho is playing faster this year. By creating more possessions, there's a greater likelihood for turnovers. The coach said point guard Mac Hopson has more turnovers than he would like to see and that Idaho's post players need to take care of the ball better.

Here are some other comments from Verlin on a variety of subjects:

On the next three games: "Well, it’s obviously a tough stretch but like I told our team, 'If you’re a competitor and you liked to be challenged, these next 10 days are going to challenge us as individuals and obviously challenge us as a team.' No matter what happens these next three games, it’s going to prepare us for the WAC conference race. I think all three of these teams are WAC conference-level opponents and two of the three being on the road.

"I think it has an opportunity to build confidence in our basketball team that we can play with good, good opponents on the road. There can be nothing but positives that come out of these games if we’re able to go out and compete every possession for 40 minutes these next three games. I think it’s a great opportunity for our basketball team and our program."

On facing Portland Sunday: "This Portland ballclub (is) a good ballclub. As I’ve have many of my coaching friends call me and ask in me, 'Why in the heck did you schedule them twice?' One of the reasons is because we couldn’t get nobody else and the other reason is to get us prepared for the upcoming WAC play. I feel like the WAC is as good as it’s been since we’ve been here, or since I’ve been in the WAC. So it’s going to really prepare us for the WAC but it should also be a lot of fun."

On the struggling with scheduling in general (The Vandals play Portland and Seattle University twice this season, and play Lewis-Clark State in an exhibition during the Christmas break): "It’s no one's fault but our one because I’m in charge of the schedule. The hard part is we were able to get a few wins last year and it became really hard to schedule. And we just couldn’t get opponents. That was the main deal is that we couldn’t get any series to start here. So we had to go on the road to start the series. Portland was a return game from last year. Then we started another series this year with them; they’ll come back here next here. Seattle U, I think that’s a good game. … I think for Idaho basketball, it’s a good place to play a game. We have a lot of Northwest kids and I promised a lot of them we’ll play in Seattle. … So the Seattle U game is a game I would like to play every year, whether it’s a home and home the same year or a home and home in different years, I think it’s a good game for our program.

Verlin continued: "So it’s just scheduling at the University of Idaho. It’s just the way it goes. We’ve got a little better and we’re kind off the beaten path, so no one’s really wanting to come play us, to be honest with ya. ... I’m really happy that we’re able to play WSU. We have a four-game series with WSU. This will be the second one. We played at home last year, two of them will be on the road and come back the fourth year here. I’m hopeful that series will continue. I’m sure it will, but that’s a great series for the University of Idaho."

On how the Vandals are playing: "Well, I think like all coaches, we’re never happy. There’s a few areas that I’ve been very pleased with; there’s a few areas that I haven’t been very happy with. One is I thought we’ve defended it very well. We’ve done a great job (on) field-goal percentage defense from the two-point range and the three-point range. Have rebounded the ball better, but I would like for us to rebound it even better. And we’ve scored the ball with relative great ease this year; we just haven’t taken care of the ball well enough."

On playing at Memorial Gym while the football team preps for a bowl game: "I think right now it’s looking like we won’t play in the Dome until after Jan. 1. And that’s great. If our football team can go to a bowl game, we’ll play in Memorial Gym every year. That’s awesome what Coach Akey’s done. It’s unbelievable and heck, I don’t care where we play. If our football team goes a bowl every year, shoot, I’ll play outside if we have to."

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One last note -- Portland, ranked for the first time in 50 years, lost 86-82 to rival Portland State on Wednesday night. The Pilots are believed to be the first non-conference ranked team to play in Moscow since the early 1960s.



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