Courtesy: Loren Orr
Connor Hill
Idaho opens WAC play at home
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 12/30/2013
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MOSCOW, Idaho – The Idaho men’s basketball team opens up Western Athletic Conference play at home against Kansas City on Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. in the Cowan Spectrum.

“It’s a new season,” Idaho coach Don Verlin said of entering WAC play. “You play the preseason to get ready for the league season and you play the league season to get ready for the postseason. We’ve got our team ready to go. I’ve figured out how I want to play and who I want to play and those kinds of things. Now what we have to do is just tighten some things up. We’ve got to execute a little better both offensively and defensively.”

The Vandals enter the game at 6-8 on the season after the team’s second-consecutive one-point defeat on its home court. Idaho senior Stephen Madison, who earned WAC Player of the Week honors on Monday, leads the team with 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a 47.7 field goal percentage on the season. Junior Connor Hill, the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.6 points per game, is just two 3-pointers shy of tying and three shy of breaking Idaho’s 20-year old career 3-pointers made record held by Orlando Lightfoot.

After leading the WAC with a 74.3 free throw percentage last season and shooting 73.6 percent at the line the first nine games of 2013-14, the Vandals have shot just 59.0 percent at the foul line in their last five games, an area Verlin wants to clean up sooner rather than later.

“For whatever reason over the last little bit we haven’t made our free throws,” he said. “That’s an area we’ve got to improve in. We’ve always been a good free throw shooting team. That’s a huge part of the game especially the way they’re calling the game this year.”

Kansas City is 3-9 entering Thursday’s game after back-to-back losses at Wright State and at home against South Dakota State. The Kangaroos average 68.1 points per game but give up 80.3 points. UMKC is coached by first-year head coach Kareem Richardson. Martez Harrison leads the team with 15.5 points per game, Nelson Kirksey adds 12.6 points and Trinity Hall, the only player to start all 12 games for the ‘Roos in 2013-14, adds 12.0 points and a team-best 7.2 rebounds. Ten different UMKC players have started at least two games this season. UMKC leads the WAC with 9.42 steals per game.

“I’ve never been in a league that’s in a down year,” Verlin said. “There are some good teams and some good coaches in our league. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen. In every league it’s going to be a battle and that’s exactly what we expect, a battle.”

Thursday’s game will be the first ever meeting between Idaho and Kansas City. The Vandals will make a return trip to face the ‘Roos in the regular season finale on March 8. Kansas City is in its first season of WAC play after moving to the WAC from the Summit League on July 1, 2013.

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