Senior point guard Karlee Wilson affirmed her role as a team leader Saturday afternoon, when the Vandals turned a tight game into a convincing win over Montana 75-50.
Wilson led the Vandals with 18 points, going 6-11 from the field and 3-5 from the perimeter. She came one point shy of a new career high.
Guard McKenzie Johnston led in points for the Grizzlies with 11, going 5-9 from the field and 1-2 from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Idaho’s leading scorer, Mikayla Ferenz went the whole game without a 3-pointer, but had help from the rest of the team. Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said he was impressed with the depth his team displayed.
“We really spread it around tonight, with people stepping up,” Newlee said. That’s what we need. We need people to really step up and not depend on one or two people to have monster nights.”
The Vandals kept the Grizzlies off the free throw line and committed minimal fouls.
Despite the large margin of victory, the game went back and forth during the first half. Seven lead changes in the first quarter led to a one-point lead by Montana at the end of the half.
The Grizzlies extended the lead in the second quarter. Guard Madi Schoening knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Grizzlies up by four, their longest lead of the game.
Idaho regained the lead after a 3-pointer from Mikayla Ferenz midway through the second quarter.
Idaho held onto the lead for the rest of the half. At the end of the second quarter, the Vandals led 35-31.
During halftime, Newlee said he wanted his team to play with higher intensity.
“We talked at half time about picking our energy up and not wasting an opportunity and defending our home floor and they did a great job of taking that to heart,” Newlee said.
Idaho never surrendered the lead after the half. A pair of free throws by junior post Geraldine McCorkell extended the Vandals’ lead to 13, the largest of the fourth quarter.
Once the fourth quarter rolled around, Idaho began sending out the bench players, who did not slow the offense’s pace. Idaho gained a 25-point advantage by the time the final buzzer sounded.
Coming off a tough loss to Montana State on Thursday, the Vandals needed a win against a Big Sky opponent.
“The mentality in this game was way different after. We were really excited. It is great to come off a loss, at home especially, and beat Montana the way we did,” Wilson said.
Wilson also played fierce defense. She contributed to five out of the Vandals eight steals, a career high.
“I think I’ve always had a nose for the ball. I’m not afraid to go through their biggest person to try and get it,” Wilson said.
After splitting two home games, Idaho goes back on the road to face Portland State. The Vandals tip off against the Vikings 7 p.m. Feb. 2 in Oregon.
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill