For the second time this year Idaho men’s basketball will head south in the gem state to re-ignite another rivalry that has been on the rocks for a few years.
Idaho heads to Pocatello Saturday to take on Idaho State in its annual Ramada BracketBuster match-up, taking a break from Western Athletic Conference play to face a future Big Sky conference opponent. Tip-off will be at 1 p.m. PST.
The Bengals and Vandals haven’t hooked up since a Dec. 29, 2008, game at Holt Arena in Pocatello, which was a 61-59 Idaho State victory.
The Bengals sit at 5-20 and 4-12 in the Big Sky during coach Bill Evans’ first year in Pocatello. The Bengals’ last two games were a dismantling of Montana State and playing Big Sky leading Montana to within seven points in a 61-54 loss.
“It shows to me they haven’t quit, they haven’t had a great season record-wise, but the little bit that I’ve watched, they’ve gotten better by the game,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said. “They’re hard to play, but what we got to do is go out and put a good, solid game together and play for 40 minutes.”
While Verlin thinks it will be fun to re-start the rivalry, he’s not a fan of doing it in the middle of conference play.
“We’re preparing for conference games right now and to add an out of conference game that really doesn’t mean a lot, it’s going to have no effect on our season one way or another,” Verlin said.
Idaho State will make the return trip to Moscow next year for Idaho’s final BracketBuster as a member of the WAC.
Verlin said he didn’t think this would provide all that much of an opportunity for his team to re-set from its four game conference losing streak, but that Idaho will certainly give the rivalry the intensity it deserves.
“It should be a fun game. It’s a rivalry game. It’s a rivalry that’s gone on for a long time. It hasn’t gone on since I’ve been here because they haven’t wanted to play,” he said. “What we’re going to do is treat it as an in-state rivalry and go down and play as hard as we can and see what happens.”
Starting in 2003-04, the two programs played for six consecutive seasons, renewing the rivalry that had been left behind when Idaho left the Big Sky for the Big West in 1996.
Idaho State has won the last five, with Idaho’s last victory in the series coming on Feb. 2, 2004, a 75-59 victory in Moscow.
Idaho State coach Bill Evans echoed Verlin’s sentiments on taking a break from conference play to play the BracketBuster.
“I haven’t been a big proponent of it, because it takes away from preparation from your league. It can be taxing for your travel,” Evans said. “I wasn’t a proponent of the BracketBuster game. If you can get on television then it might be worth your while.”
The trip will also be Idaho’s first trip to Idaho State’s Reed Gym since both were in the Big Sky. Idaho State formerly played its games inside Holt Arena before recently moving them back to Reed Gym.
Verlin said the last time he was at Reed Gym was 10 or 12 years ago.
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com