The Idaho women’s basketball team entered Thursday’s matchup with Northern Colorado hoping to upset the Big Sky frontrunners and climb atop the conference standings.
But, the sharpshooting abilities of the Bears’ backcourt proved too much for the Vandals to overcome, as Northern Colorado claimed a 71-67 road victory at the Cowan Spectrum.
“From our standpoint, I know we can play better than we did tonight,” Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said. “They’re the top team in the league for a reason. They’re good, Kamie (Ethridge) does such a great job with that team, they play well together.”
Northern Colorado (18-4 overall, 10-1 Big Sky) opened the game with consecutive 3-pointers from junior Kianna Williams and freshman Krystal Leger-Walker to take an early lead.
Redshirt freshman Sue Winger gave Idaho (12-11 overall, 7-5 Big Sky) a boost of momentum with a lay-in at the first quarter buzzer to tie the game at 18-18. But the shot would mark the closest Idaho came to stealing the lead, as junior Savannah Scott and redshirt sophomore Savannah Smith countered with baskets to regain a five-point advantage for the Bears.
“They have really good players who were taking some good shots and making all of them,” sophomore guard Taylor Pierce said. “There’s nothing you can really do about that except for keep doing the game plan coaches are telling you.”
The second quarter appeared to be an Achilles heel for the Vandals, who went 4-for-14 from the floor. During the same period, the Bears shot 44 percent from the field to carry a 39-30 lead into the break.
“We had such a great shoot-around before the game,” Pierce said. “Sometimes it just happens. You’ve just got to keep shooting — you can’t stop shooting or you’re never going to improve.”
Smith led all scorers in the first half with 12 points and three rebounds, while Williams collected four boards for the Bears.
Sophomore guard Mikayla Ferenz provided the bulk of the Vandal offense with eight points and four rebounds.
“We’ve definitely made a habit of getting down in the first half,” Ferenz said. “We’re a second half team, but if we want to win games we have to come out from the start.”
The Bears continued a strong shooting performance in the third quarter, but redshirt junior post Brooke Reilly chipped away at the lead by drilling a deep 3-pointer with 2:46 left in the period. The basket sparked a 8-0 run which helped the Vandals cut the deficit to one point at the start of the fourth quarter.
“We were getting stops, so we could get rebounds and get out and run, which is more of our game,” Ferenz said. “It started on the defensive end for us.”
Northern Colorado regained control of the game by answering back with a 7-0 scoring spree buoyed by a pair of jumpers from Smith. The advantage was enough to carry the Bears to the win, despite a furious rally by the Vandals in the closing moments of the game.
“They got a couple of good looks off some breakdowns that we had been doing so well in the third quarter,” Newlee said. “They got to the rim and were able to finish there.”
Smith ended the night with 24 points for Northern Colorado during an 8-for-19 performance from the floor. Ferenz finished with 20 points and seven rebounds in the loss.
Idaho returns to the hardwood to take on North Dakota (16-7 overall, 11-1 Big Sky) in a 2 p.m. matchup Feb. 11 at the Cowan Spectrum.
“It’s going to be a very physical basketball game without a doubt,” Newlee said. “That’s the way they play … we’re going to have to rebound the basketball and stick to the game plan defensively.”
Josh Grissom can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GoshJrissom