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No. 1 Yotes welcome Westcliff to Caldwell for NAIA Championship opener

The No. 1 College of Idaho men's basketball team begins its NAIA National Championship journey at 7 p.m. Tuesday against No. 16 seed Westcliff in Caldwell.

CALDWELL, Idaho — The No. 1 College of Idaho men's basketball team is gearing up for its run in the big dance, fresh off Cascade Collegiate Conference regular-season and tournament titles. 

The red-hot Yotes' incredible 2022-2023 performance thus far earned them the right to host the first round of the NAIA National Championship in Caldwell. The second round of the bracket's 'Naismith Quadrant' will also be played at the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

On Tuesday at 7 p.m., C of I (30-1, 22-0 CCC) hosts Pacific Conference Conference champion and No. 16 seed Westcliff (18-8, 14-6 CPC) for a first-round matchup. This is the Warriors' first NAIA National Championship berth in program history.

College of Idaho enters the post-season journey on a 30-game winning streak. The Yotes have rarely struggled, winning all three of their CCC tournament games by at least 16 points. 

C of I has not lost since its season opener back on Nov. 4, 2022, but there has always been a little bit of leeway. They could have afforded a few losses throughout the season, and still been in this position.

However, from here on out, the Yotes need to go perfect to win the national title. 

Head coach Colby Blaine told KTVB he has a metaphor the Yotes use to describe their mentality; 'taking the ropes off.'

"All year long we've had a rope on. If we slip, that rope will catch us, but we're gonna climb this mountain right now – these next six games – without a rope," Blaine said. "Our guys are ready for that. We've already climbed 90% of this mountain without making a mistake and so it's okay to take that rope off and make this last ascent to the top."

Late last month, Blaine was named Cascade Collegiate Conference Men's Basketball Coach of the Year. He is the first C of I leader to win the award three times.

2023 NAIA National Championship bracket:

Credit: NAIA

Additionally, C of I's Jake O'Neil, Johnny Radford and Drew Wyman earned three of five spots on the all-Cascade Collegiate Conference Team. Tyler Robinett also picked up all-conference honorable mention honors. 

In case you needed more information on just how deep the Yotes' squad is, Charles Elzie also brought home hardware as CCC Defensive Player of the Year. The junior guard out of Tacoma is the seventh Yote to win the award, according to College of Idaho Athletics

When speaking with KTVB about the NAIA National Championship journey ahead, Elzie's grind-it-out, willing attitude is obvious. After a nearly perfect regular season and CCC tournament performance, the Yotes are ready to climb the final mountain.

"You know, it's one-and-done, fighting for your life on the line, time to bring your soul out and just play as hard as you can," Elzie said. "Do everything you can in your power to really make this thing come true."

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