It’s back again — Broncos and Vandals set for basketball rivalry game Wednesday

No longer in the same conference, the Idaho Vandals and Boise State Broncos still have made it important to continue playing in at least one sport — men’s basketball.

The two teams have faced one another on neutral courts the past two seasons and will do so again Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena in Boise (7 p.m., ROOT). It will be the 88th all-time meeting. The Broncos lead the series 52-35.

“We felt like we’re the guardians of this thing and it needs to continue,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said of Idaho coach Don Verlin and the rivalry.

On Monday, Verlin called continuing the rivalry “important.” The two will meet again at CenturyLink next November, too.

“It predates all of us, and it’s important for both schools — I just wish we could play it at home sites,” Verlin said.

Even though there are some that would like to see it rotate between the Cowan Spectrum and Taco Bell Arena, the players have enjoyed playing in it regardless of where the venue is.

“The atmosphere is always the best part,” Idaho senior Stephen Madison said. “I’m not from Idaho, and I know most of the players aren’t, so you never expect it to be as big as it is. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best rivalry out there.”

Rice said he’s been impressed with how Idaho has executed on both sides of the ball, while his team has done the same with a 4-0 start, winning by 31 points per game.

However, two pretty different rosters will meet Wednesday. The Broncos return all five starters from last season, along with 92.4 percent of their scoring. The Vandals have 10 newcomers.

“It’s fun to see them grow, and at a place like Idaho, you need to find guys that you can develop,” Verlin said. “It’s frustrating at times because there are games we were capable of winning, but couldn’t close it out.”

Two of Idaho’s three losses have been by six points or less. Boise State, on the other hand, is No. 1 in the nation with 103.0 points per game and has won by at least 18 in every game.

“For lack of a better term, they’re kicking people’s butts,” Verlin said.

Even though the Broncos are on a roll, Rice is expecting another typical Boise State-Idaho game. The four in which he’s coached against the Vandals (he’s 4-0), the Broncos have won by 5.5 points per game.

“It really is the cliches about throw out the record, throw out the stats,” Rice said. “They’re just battles.”

Boise State junior Anthony Drmic is averaging 24.8 points per game, and he’s done it shooting below his average from 3-point range. Drmic has made 10-of-30 (33 percent). He came into this season a career 35.7 percent shooter, making 39.2 percent last season.

His 99 points in four games puts him on pace for 769 points in the regular season. The school record for points in a single season is 661 by Reggie Larry in 2007-08, when he played 34 games. Add any postseason games to Drmic’s year, and if he stays healthy, it’s well in reach.

Speaking of health, Drmic has not faced Idaho healthy in his career. Last season, he had the flu and scored only five points in 24 minutes. As a freshman, he still scored 26 points on an ankle that had caused him to miss the Broncos’ previous game at Iowa.

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