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Travel-weary Vandals excited for CBI experience

Sean Kramer Correspondent

Perrion Callandret threw his jersey over his face to hide the tears as teammates consoled him, this following Idaho’s 80-71 Big Sky tournament semifinal loss to Montana.

Sure, Idaho lost to the higher seed, but don’t tell that to Idaho and its players. The expectations of the first 20-win season in over two decades was to end up in the NCAA tournament.

While that didn’t happen, the Vandals are still returning to the postseason for the first time since 2012.

Idaho travels to Seattle U tonight to play in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational, commonly known as the CBI.

“Really excited to get an opportunity to play,” Idaho coach Don Verlin told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Monday. “Obviously we’ve got some guys coming home to play in Seattle … We’re excited to have an opportunity to continue playing and continue the season.”

The Vandals were approached by both the CBI and the Tournament, which Idaho played in in 2012, but the opportunity to play more regional opponents made the CBI more attractive. Nevada, Montana and Eastern Washington are all also in the 16-team CBI field.

Idaho will travel to face the winner of Western Carolina or Vermont with a win. The four teams advancing to the semifinals will be re-seeded, meaning Idaho could potentially run into Montana in either the semis or final.

“For me, personally, I would love to be able to end their season after losing to them in the tournament,” senior Chris Sarbaugh said. “Of course we have a lot of work to do between now and then. One big game first, then another one. That would be sweet.”

The trip to the Connolly Center to face the Redhawks re-sparks a former conference clash, from when Idaho was in the Western Athletic Conference. The schools last played in 2014.

The Redhawks, sitting at 12-14 and finishing fourth in the Western Athletic Conference, are hosting by paying the $40,000 hosting fee in the tournament. They’ve been back home since losing to Cal State Bakersfield in the semifinal of the WAC tournament.

Idaho, meanwhile, will have to overcome the fatigue of travel after two flights departing Reno were cancelled, finally arriving in Seattle on Monday.

“Our flight got canceled on Saturday, then we went back to the airport on Sunday and it got canceled again to due weather or turbulence taking off,” Verlin said. “We were in Reno Saturday, all day Sunday and we just flew into Seattle (Monday) to practice. We haven’t even been home – we’re like an NBA team, we’ve been on the road seven days.”

The benefit of the postseason for Idaho is extra experience for a young roster that will return eight players next season with starting experience. That, and adding to the program’s already impressive 21-win mark.

“This team with 21 wins has the ninth-best single season win total in the 110-year history of Idaho basketball. We find a way to win four more, which is what we can do in this tournament, and we could tie for the second-most wins in Idaho basketball history,” Verlin said. “I think it’s nothing but positive.”

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