Bengals, Vandals to renew basketball rivalry

Friday night’s game in Downtown Boise is a future Big Sky matchup.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comDecember 19, 2013 

The Idaho Vandals and Idaho State Bengals got reacquainted last year. On Friday, they meet again, which will become a common sight in the near future.

Next season, Idaho will rejoin the Big Sky in basketball. Both teams joined the league in 1963, but Idaho left in 1996. The two teams have played 101 times, with Idaho holding a 60-41 edge, but took a three-season break from 2009-12.

After resuming the rivalry last season, a 75-69 Idaho win in Pocatello on Feb. 23, the two will meet in Boise on Friday night at CenturyLink Arena.

“I think it’s really important to have this sort of game, and I’m glad we started it again and that it’s going to continue in conference,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said.

The game was initially slated for Moscow, but the Vandals (5-6) scheduled the game in Boise not knowing at the time they would play Boise State in the same building, which occurred Nov. 27.

Playing in challenging environments is nothing new to the Bengals (3-4), who have played five times on the road thus far, including games at Arizona State, Utah and Washington.

“It’s all part of the process to make our team better, preparing them to handle those tough situations,” Idaho State coach Bill Evans said. “I think we’ve improved some already, for sure.”

Both teams have been strong 3-point shooters — prior to Wednesday’s games, Idaho State was tied for 23rd, making 41.0 percent of 3s, and Idaho was tied for 43rd at 39.1 percent.

“We’ve been working hard on that aspect,” Verlin said. “We don’t have many great stats, but that’s one of them.”

The Bengals, who have seen opponents shoot 39 percent from 3-point range (316th nationally), will need to step up their perimeter defense against the Vandals. Senior Connor Hill (14.9 points per game) has made 17-of-34 (50 percent) of his 3-pointers since the loss to Boise State, while senior Glen Dean is making 45.1 percent of his shots from long distance.

“It’ll be a challenge for us, we’ve been pretty consistent in not guarding the 3-point line very well,” Evans said.

On the other end, the Bengals have been a strong rebounding team, pulling down 3.0 more rebounds per game than their opponents. Junior Jeffrey Solarin is averaging 8.0 rebounds and 12.7 points per game, while senior Andre Hatchett is averaging 7.0 rpg and 13.4 ppg.

“We have to get better at that,” said Verlin, whose team has been outrebounded 379-371 this season. “That’s another interesting matchup. There’ll be a few of those Friday.”

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