| March 20, 2018

MBB: ‘Now it’s time to play our best basketball’

Flu or no flu, Idaho coach Don Verlin expects his senior shooting guard Connor Hill to be on the court 10 a.m. Thursday, when the Vandals take on Eastern Washington in Missoula, Montana, for the first round of the Big Sky Tournament.

Connor Hill in the Jan. 31 game against Eastern Washington in Cheney.  Jay Anderson|Vandal Nation

Connor Hill in the Jan. 31 game against Eastern Washington in Cheney.
Jay Anderson|Vandal Nation

“He’s still not good,” Verlin said of Hill. “Just got a case of the flu. Probably a little bit being worn down, not coming back as fast as we had hoped. We’ll kind of see how it goes today. I would expect him to play on Thursday, but he’s not 100 percent, that’s for sure.”

Hill started to suffer from flu-like symptoms prior to last Thursday’s Weber State game. While he attempted to battle through it, the flu got the best of Hill as he played just 14 minutes and finished with four points.

However, two days later against Idaho State, Hill showed no signs of the flu and led the Vandals with 21 points on 6-of-15 shooting from behind the arc.

Verlin said Hill isn’t the only one trying to recover from the flu, though.

“A couple of coaches have got (the flu), we’ve got a couple of other guys with it,” he said. “It’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m not sure if it’s going around the department or not, but we’ve got some with the cold, flu-like symptoms.”

If the flu wasn’t enough to deal with, the Vandals will face Eastern Washington for the tournament’s first game — which also happens to be the earliest game of Verlin’s career.

“I don’t remember ever playing at 10 a.m. … but (Eastern has to) do the same thing,” he said. “At this time of year, it’s all about your energy … Usually we go shoot around the day of the game. We’re not going to do that. We’re just going to get up, eat breakfast and go to the arena and play.”

Despite being the No. 2 seed, Eastern Washington is arguably the conference’s best team. The Eagles finished with the same 14-4 conference record as the No. 1 seed Montana. Eastern also boast a better overall record at 23-8 compared to Montana’s 18-11 record.

All the wins came with the Eagles ability to score points — a lot of points. Eastern is the nation’s No. 6 ranked team in scoring, averaging 80.5 points per game. The Eagles also have the nation’s leading scorer in Tyler Harvey. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound sophomore shooting guard is averaging 22.9 points per game.

“I was a little shocked that Harvey wasn’t the player of the year in the conference with what he’s done,” Verlin said. “Like we did before, you gotta work like crazy on Harvey, gotta try to limit his touches, gotta make sure his shots are contested — he’s going to make some of those.”

Most of Harvey’s points come from 3-point range, as he’s made 112 shots from behind the arc, which is 10 more than Hill’s season-total of 102.

In the previous two games this season, Eastern Washington has gotten the better part of Idaho — barely.

The first game, which was back on Jan. 10 in Moscow, the Eagles trailed by one-point at halftime, but still managed to edge out the Vandals by three.

In the second game, however, it took a miracle comeback for EWU to win. Eastern trailed by as much

Perrion Callandret at EWU  Jay Anderson | Vandal Nation

Perrion Callandret at EWU
Jay Anderson | Vandal Nation

as 17 points about midway through the second half, but would eventually claw its way back. After a game-tying layup at the end of regulation, the Eagles outscored the Vandals 12-9 in overtime to win the game.

Eastern Washington made 17 3s in the second game against Idaho. Verlin said the Eagles always have the chance to make a huge comeback because of their ability to shoot from 3-point range.

“We didn’t execute down the stretch,” Verlin said of the Jan. 31 game in Cheney, Washington. “That’s the thing with Eastern is whether you’re up 10 or down 10, Eastern can come back on you in a hurry … What you gotta do with Eastern is you can’t ever let up. You have to sustain your intensity all game long if you expect to beat them.”

Despite the two losses last week, Verlin said it doesn’t matter which team they play in the tournament. He said the team is just excited for the opportunity to compete for a Big Sky Championship.

“You gotta beat them all anyway to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Verlin said. “We were fortunate we won enough before those last two to get in, so not really focusing on how we got here. Now it’s time to play our best basketball.”

Korbin McDonald can be reached at vandalnation@uidaho.edu

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