December ended well for the Idaho women’s basketball team and now the Vandals turn to conference play to start 2015. Idaho (6-5) starts the new year with a matchup against instate rival Idaho State (4-6) on New Year’s Day.
The Thursday game is the first conference game as a Big Sky Conference member since the Vandals left the conference in 1996. As Idaho enters Big Sky play, the team will be able to see how it stacks up against the new conference after the Vandals dominated the WAC the previous two seasons winning back-to-back conference titles.
Despite being instate foes, Idaho hasn’t played Idaho State since Dec. 10, 2005 — a high-scoring contest the Bengals won 99-89 in Pocatello, Idaho. That loss came back when Idaho coach Jon Newlee was the head coach with the Bengals. Newlee was with Idaho State for six seasons before taking over at Idaho in 2008.
Before the Vandals roll into the new year, conference play and a shot at their third-straight conference title, here’s a look at what the they did during the last half of December.
Breaking at the Glass City
Just three days after falling in Waco, Texas, to No. 8 Baylor, Idaho lost 80-67 Dec. 13 to Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. Sophomore post Brooke Reilly returned to the lineup for the Vandals after missing the previous three games with an injury, but it wasn’t enough to boost the Vandals over the Rockets.
Reilly and Idaho’s other starting post, junior Ali Forde, each got into foul trouble early before fouling out of the game in the second half.
“We are a different team when Ali is in the game,” assistant coach Christa Sanford said following the game. “Defensively, you cannot really go around her — she is a shot blocker and when she gets out of the game we have to find some other combinations. When we call on other players to fill that role they really need to take ownership in their play. Today was Brooke’s first game back, so we expected her to have to build a rhythm back.”
Reilly scored two points in her return while Forde had 13 points before fouling out in the final two minutes. Senior guard Stacey Barr led both teams with 28 points in the loss.
Following Reilly’s fifth foul midway through the first half, Newlee received a double technical and was ejected from the game. The Vandals came within seven points of the Rockets following Newlee’s ejection, but with Toledo’s bench outscoring Idaho’s 21-5, the Vandals didn’t have enough depth to keep up the momentum.
“We did not have the intensity,” Sanford said. “We did not come out and play the way we normally do and we have not really seen this since our first game at (Cal State-Northridge). Not showing up and not executing the game plan is what was disappointing from a coaching perspective.”
Rebounding in Toledo
Idaho’s second game in two days resulted in a 78-62 win over Southeast Missouri State Dec. 14. It was Idaho’s second game in the Glass City Classic and first win in December after back-to-back losses.
The Vandals got off to a fast start in the game scoring the first seven points and holding a 14-point lead midway through the first period. After fouling out in the previous game, Forde responded with a double-double totaling 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“I felt like we really had an advantage inside,” Newlee said following the win. “There are not many teams we will have a size advantage on, but we got that (against SMS). The game plan from the start was to jam it down their throat and get the ball to Ali and see what happens. They could not stop her in those first five minutes and really all day long.”
The surprise of the game came from the breakout of freshman post Geraldine McCorkell who led the team with 19 points in only 19 minutes of play. The Melbourne, Australia, native was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free-throw line and she also grabbed seven rebounds coming off the bench for the Vandals.
Barr finished with 17 points for Idaho and junior point guard Connie Ballestero led Idaho with eight assists.
“We are going to need that (balanced scoring),” Newlee said. “I loved the 24 assists. That tells you we are moving the ball and people are shooting from their comfort zones. I thought Connie in particular did a great job distributing the ball.”
The win not only got Idaho back on track as the team avoided the sweep on the road, but it was also Newlee’s 98th win, moving him into second all-time in program history.
Local LCSC no match for Idaho
The Vandals returned home to end the 2014 schedule against local Lewis-Clark State College. The Warriors made the trip up from Lewiston Dec. 20 to the Cowan Spectrum only to lose 74-48 to Idaho.
The Vandals had a good 3-point shooting game against the Warriors with seven different players hitting 3s on the day. Junior guard Christina Salvatore had three of them to move her into second all-time in program history. Only Barr has made more 3-pointers than Salvatore.
It was another balanced attack from Idaho with McCorkell again leading the Vandals with 18 points. Sophomore guard Karlee Wilson, a Lewiston native, had a good game against her hometown team totaling 11 points and five assists. No other Vandal was in double figures.
“Geri has all the potential in the world,” Salvatore said. “Sometimes she sells herself short, (but) lately she has been playing great. She great inside, she is a great shooter, a great rebounder and a great passer. She is awesome to play with.”
The Vandals’ balanced offense was matched by their defense that held LCSC to shooting 26.8 percent from the floor during the game. Idaho also outrebounded the Warriors 58 to 31.
The win means Idaho enters 2015 with a 6-5 record. The rest of Idaho’s schedule is conference opponents starting with Idaho State Thursday in Pocatello.
The Vandals’ first home conference game is Jan. 15 against Sacramento State in the Cowan Spectrum. The season wraps up with another matchup against Idaho State March 7.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com