State Colleges

College of Idaho men’s basketball team reaches NAIA’s final four

College of Idaho center Aziz Leeks is averaging 12.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for the Yotes (27-6). He was co-player of the year in the Cascade Conference.
College of Idaho center Aziz Leeks is averaging 12.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for the Yotes (27-6). He was co-player of the year in the Cascade Conference. Inside the Lines Photography


This year’s College of Idaho men’s basketball team will go down as one of the best in school history. But it’s not done yet.

The Yotes ran past No. 24 Marian late Saturday night 75-47 in the NAIA Division II national quarterfinals, punching their ticket to the national semifinals for the first time since 1996.

The College of Idaho (30-6) will face No. 7 Saint Francis (28-8) of Indiana at 7 p.m. MT on Monday (99.1 FM ESPN) for a spot in the national championship, which follows on Tuesday.

The Yotes got off to a slow start Saturday but used a 32-5 run in the second half to blow away Marian. Four players reached double figures in scoring for C of I, including Aziz Leeks (18), Gibson Berryhill (15), Keun Palu-Thompson (13) and Nate Bruneel (12).

The College of Idaho held Marian to 27-percent shooting and 41 points below its season average.

The Yotes’ 30 wins are already the second most in program history, trailing only the 31 wins for C of I when it won the national title in 1996.

Live video of tournament games is available here.

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Instead of mustachioed Midwesterners, some rather tall young men from Caldwell got their turn curling Monday.

With a free evening, The College of Idaho men’s basketball team learned how to play the sport in which the United States men’s team won gold last month in South Korea.

The No. 3 Yotes (27-6) hope to take home some hardware from South Dakota this week, as they open the NAIA Division II National Championships in Sioux Falls at 3 p.m. Thursday.

“At first, the idea was to go ice fishing, but we pretty quickly figured out that might not be the best idea,” College of Idaho coach Scott Garson said. “Turns out, some of the guys were pretty good. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, so it was a special experience.”

This time last year, the team’s bonding experience came while huddled up in the basement of its hotel in Missouri, waiting out a tornado warning. After an 18-year run in southwest Missouri, the tournament moved to the new site this year.

Garson’s squad had played at the previous site three times in his first four seasons, reaching the quarterfinals in 2015. Last year, the Yotes won their first game before losing an 83-82 heartbreaker to eventual national champion Union (Ky.).

“There’s definitely a sense of motivation for our guys that were on that team, having come so close to making a run,” Garson said.

At a new site, with three new starters and a big change in style, Garson feels his squad could be poised to make some noise at the Pentagon.

The Yotes were picking up too many fouls early in the season, so Garson, a disciple of man-to-man defense, made a shift to a matchup zone. The team is 26-3 since, and ranked No. 2 in the country in scoring defense (65.2 points) and No. 7 in rebounding margin (plus-9.7).

Senior center Aziz Leeks, the Cascade Conference co-player of the year, also was the CCC defensive player of the year.

“We have to win five games in six days here, and when you’re a man-to-man team, there’s a whole lot to cover in a short amount of time,” Garson said. “You don’t really have enough time to study it and practice it, so I think this will help our ability to advance further.”

First in the way for the Yotes is Mayville (N.D.) State (18-10), a team that Garson said is “the hardest-playing team we’ve faced,” albeit one that lacks the size the Yotes have. If they win, they will face Governors State (Ill.) or Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) at 6 p.m. Friday.

“We’re excited. Defense is so important in the postseason, and we have some really good depth,” Garson said. “I can’t wait to see what these guys can do.”

NAIA Division II National Championships

▪  College of Idaho (27-6) vs. Mayville State (18-10)

▪  3 p.m. Thursday

▪  Radio: 99.1 FM