Idaho hit the hardwood in Reno to face Southern Utah in a game that resembled a rematch.
The Vandals pulled ahead of the Thunderbirds to win 83-68 and head on to quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said the team’s confidence is growing following the win against Southern Utah.
“It is extremely high,” Newlee said. “Our experience really pulled us through tonight. Huge props to Southern Utah. They played fantastic basketball. I thought Chris (Boettcher) did a fantastic job of getting them prepared. He had those guys ready to go.”
The game kicked off with an Idaho foul that resulted in two made free throws for the opponents. But Idaho quickly regained control, jumping out to take an early 20-7 lead following 3-point shots from junior post Brooke Reilly and senior point guard Karlee Wilson.
“(Wilson) said we have been in this kind of environment before,” Newlee said. “We are a tournament-tested team, and I think it showed tonight when we god down.”
Southern Utah rallied throughout the first half, even overtaking the Vandals with less than a minute to go. Another deep shot from Wilson was enough to push Idaho up 37-36 heading into the locker rooms.
Wilson said she thought the team fought tough even when the opponents stepped up their game.
“I definitely thought we battled hard,” Wilson said. “We were going back and forth for a while. (Southern Utah) pressure kind of rattled us a little bit, especially me at points. I think our guards stepped up really well, when I was not taking care of the ball like I should have. I give credit to the other guards. They were bringing the ball up the court and taking care of it way better than I was.”
The second half was another battle for the Vandals. The Thunderbirds took over the lead with seven minutes to play and held on to it for several minutes before sophomore guard Taylor Pierce stepped in with a 3-point score to return the lead to Idaho.
Idaho took over the remainder of the quarter with a 16-6 run. The Vandals held a 5-point advantage going into the final 10 minutes of play.
Idaho held the game in the final quarter. Southern Utah was able to get within five, but the gap quickly expanded back in Idaho’s favor. The fourth quarter push was fueled by 7-11 field goal shooting and a final 6-0 run in the closing minutes to put the Vandals up 83-68 to end the game.
Sophomore guard Mikayla Ferenz finished with the bulk of the Idaho offense with 25 points on the game. Reilly also put up top points with 18 and collected 10 rebounds.
Idaho moves on to the quarter finals to face No. 4 seed Eastern Washington 2:35 p.m. Wednesday in Reno.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org