The Idaho women hit the court in Houston to face Rice in what would turn out to be their final game of the 2016-2017 season. Although the Vandals fought hard, Rice pulled through to seal the 86-80 win and end Idaho’s year.
Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said the difference in the game was a slow defense and trouble early on.
“I thought we gave up too many drives to the hoop,” Newlee said. “Especially in that first half. We really were not getting over and cutting off driving lanes. We got in some early foul trouble that certainly did not help us either. I think defensively just giving up the drive…You have to give credit to Rice. They certainly came out and shot the lights out. That is the advantage of playing at home.”
Both teams battled throughout the opening quarter but Rice jumped ahead, fueled by a 9-0 run. A good jump shot by sophomore guard Mikayla Ferenz with 50 seconds left in the quarter brought the gap down to seven points but the opponents held a 25-18 lead heading into the second quarter.
Newlee said he was proud of the way his team played after a disappointing finish in Reno.
“Our kids fought so hard,” Newlee said. “I could not be more proud of a team in my life. What a great experience this WBI run has been for all of them. We talked about not wanting to go out like we did in Reno. This was a completely different team in the postseason. I loved their effort and attitude and everything that they showed during this run. It was a fantastic experience.”
Sophomore guard Taylor Pierce came out on top for the offense after the opening 20 minutes with 16 points. Ferenz was close behind with 11 points.
Idaho played a contested second quarter. The Owls jumped out with an 11-point advantage but the Vandals closed the margin with a 13-3 spurt to bring the game within one at 39-38 with 2:38 left until the half. A jumper from freshman post Isabelle Hadden put Idaho up 40-38. The Vandals continued to keep it close but went into the break down 44-43.
The opponents quickly expanded their lead back to seven points by landing 11-15 shots in the third quarter. A bucket from Ferenz tied it up at 57 with 3:40 left in the quarter, but the Vandals weren’t able to get any closer heading into the final 10 minutes of play down 71-63.
The final quarter looked similar to the one before it. Rice held the lead for the duration of the game but Idaho kept the score within reach. A layup from Ferenz made it a one possession game at 83-80 with 1:43 left to play but that would be it for the Vandals. Rice went on to score three more points before finishing the game 86-80.
Ferenz topped out for Idaho with 26 points and four assists. Pierce was right behind with 23 points. Junior guard Geraldine McCorkell finished the night with 14 points and nine boards. On her last game of the season she passed the 1,000-point mark.
Newlee said his bench really stepped up in the WBI Tournament and looks forward to the future with this team.
“Guys who did not get their chance during the season really stepped up in this WBI tournament,” Newlee said. “Isabelle (Hadden), (Nejra) Solo and Jenae (Lewallen) all came in and contributed when they could. I will go to war with these eight. I can tell you that. They are fantastic kids with great attitudes and that is what I want to coach.”
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org