For some of the athletes on the Idaho men’s basketball squad, the Thursday contest at Portland State is a chance to seek revenge after a close loss earlier in the season. For another large portion of the team, it is a trip home.
Of the 15 men on the Idaho squad, five are from Oregon, three of whom are from Portland. Both senior guard Victor Sanders and freshman guard Geno West came out of Jefferson High School and senior forward Arkadiy Mkrtychyan played out his high school years at Columbia Christian High School in Portland.
There are plenty of cities and high schools teaming with athletes looking to make the jump from high school athletics to collegiate, yet time and time again Idaho has turned to Portland and found handfuls of success.
“We have had a lot of success in Portland and around the surrounding areas,” Idaho Head Coach Don Verlin said. “I mean the Sherwood’s are from Albany and Joe Kammerer is from Salem and you could go on and on with all the guys we’ve had from the Portland area or the surrounding areas so it is a big recruiting area for us.”
The latest road trip is more than just another game off the home court, but a chance to connect with former Vandals and show their skills in front of a “home” crowd.
“I know our guys, especially our Portland guys will be ready to play, we’ve got quite a few of them, if you save Geno and Sherwood’s and Ark and Vic, we got a lot of guys from right in that area,” Verlin said. “Stephen Madison (Jefferson High school alumni and Idaho athlete from 2010-2013) actually called me the other day and he is going to be at the game so it means a lot to those Vandals who live in that area.”
Mkrtychyan will have no shortage of fans on his trip home. The senior has connections to friends and family members around the area vying for a chance to see him hit the court.
“I have a lot of people who want to come,” Mkrtychyan said. “They’re all asking me for tickets but unfortunately, I can only give two tickets, but hopefully going to see a lot of friends, a lot of people who supported me back in high school.”
The Vikings got the best of the Vandals the last time around, overpowering the home team 73-72 in a heartbreaking loss for Idaho. Idaho travels to Portland coming off of a big win over North Dakota heading into February, the month Verlin said he considers the “dog days” of the basketball season.
“There is nine games left in this league season and it is what I call the ‘dog days,’ are here,” Verlin said. “It’s the teams that play well in February usually play well in March and that is going to be the emphasis this week moving forward.”
Now it’s time for Idaho to prove they will be the team to beat the rest of the season.
Heading into the rematch, Portland State and Idaho are closely contested in many statistical regards.
The Vandals currently rank No. 1 in the conference for rebounding defense, holding the competition to just 30.9 rebounds a game. On the other side, the Vikings come into the game as the No. 1 offensive rebounding team, grabbing an average 38 boards a game.
Idaho finds pride in its ability to protect the ball and get the boards, but based on the stats, the Vikings love to slow down teams in that category.
In order to limit Portland State’s scoring, Idaho will focus on guarding the glass and keeping the Vikings away from any second or third chance points.
Anyone who has watched this Vandal team knows they have an affinity for the 3-pointer. While Idaho consistently knocks in a selection of deep balls, the team knows how to stop opponents from doing the same. Idaho is No. 1 in the Big Sky in 3-point percentage defense while Portland is at the same spot on the conference leader board in number of 3-pointers made, averaging nearly 10 shots from beyond the arc in a game.
“What we gotta do against Portland State is we got to do a lot better job of taking care of our basketball, we have to do a lot better job of being tougher,” Verlin said. “We got some rebounds in there, we will take some of those rebounds away and turn them into layups. We just got to be strong and strong with the basketball and got to do a really nice job of guarding their personnel.”
Regardless of what happened in previous matchups, location or supporting crowd, for the athletes it is just another game.
“We definitely got to get ready for this game but it’s just every other game,” Mkrtychyan said. “It is very important for us, we got to get ready just like a normal game we are not going to do anything special, just going to play our game and we are going to see what happens.”
Idaho tips off against Portland State at 8 p.m. Jan. 31 in Portland, Oregon.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at email@example.com