It’s an understatement to say this year’s series with the Vandals and Aggies has been close. All that separates the two in two games are three points – two in the Vandals’ lost at New Mexico State and just one at the Cowan Spectrum. In their most recent meeting – the Aggies’ 76-74 victory at Las Cruces, two Idaho attempts in the final 14 seconds wouldn’t drop and NMSU escaped with the decision. At Moscow, NMSU’s Daniel Mullings made the second of two free throw attempts with :03 showing to lift the Aggies.
As close as those two games were, the teams are a study in contrasts. Idaho is one of the top 3-point teams in the league, while the Aggies have relied on a strong inside presence. Idaho’s exception is senior center Kyle Barone, the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year after finishing second in points per game (17.1) and leading the league with 9.9 rebounds per game. He is the third best free throw shooter in the conference (.779). In conference-only games, Barone was the league leader in points (18.2) and rebounds (10.9).
The two teams have met just once in post-season play – a 73-53 Aggie victory in the 2007-08 WAC Tournament. Idaho last defeated NMSU 59-58 on Feb. 9, 2012. Idaho and NMSU first played in 1964 with the game on their schedules annually when both were in the Big West Conference (1996-97 until 1999-2000) and resuming with the 2005-06 season when the Vandals joined the Western Athletic Conference. While NMSU is ahead in the overall series, five of the last six games have been decided by eight or fewer points.
Idaho head coach Don Verlin
Don Verlin joined the University of Idaho family as head coach of the Vandal men’s basketball team in March 2008 and brought an immediate change to a struggling program.
Verlin has led the team to 82 wins, three top-three Western Athletic Conference finishes, three CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournaments, a 2-3 record against Associate Press Top-25 opponents, and a 48-26 (.649) record in home games. Additionally, Verlin’s players have earned one WAC Player of the Year (Kyle Barone), seven all-WAC honors and one NABC All-District honor, and five have gone on to play professionally.
Idaho’s 40 WAC wins in five seasons under Verlin are nearly as many as the team’s conference win total of the previous seven seasons combined. His 82 career victories are already sixth-most in school history and he is the first coach in Idaho history to win at least 15 games in each of his first four seasons. Before Verlin, Idaho hadn’t beaten a ranked opponent since 1982, but the Vandals have two ranked wins in the last three seasons. He’s also the first Idaho coach since Larry Eustachy (1990-93) to reach 50 victories in just three seasons.
Verlin graduated from Cal State Stanislaus with a degree in physical education in 1991. He earned a master’s degree in education from Colorado State in 1993.
WAC Player of the Year Kyle Barone
Kyle Barone became just the seventh player in school history and the first since Orlando Lightfoot in 1994 to be honored as the conference Player of the Year when he was voted the league’s best by the WAC’s10 head coaches.
Barone led the WAC in both scoring and rebounding with 18.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game in WAC games. He was second in the league with a 58.3 field goal percentage, fourth with an 80.9 free throw percentage, and eighth with 1.1 blocks per game.
A center from Garden Grove, Calif., Barone scored a career-high 27 points twice in 2012-13, racked up 16 double-doubles, scored 20 or more points nine times and had 20-point, 10-rebound efforts on eight occasions. His 59.0 field goal percentage for the season is the eighth-best single-season total in school history, and his 155 free throws made entering next week’s WAC tournament are the fourth-most.
Barone has never missed a game in his four-year career, and is Idaho’s career-leader with 125 games played. His 1,414 career points rank fourth in program history, his 864 career rebounds rank second – just 13 shy of all-time leader Deon Watson.
He was a second-team All-WAC selection in 2011-12 and an All-WAC honorable mention in 2010-11.