Idaho hit the courts in the Memorial Gym to face Utah State in the opening round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational. The Vandals sealed the programs first post-season win since 1986, defeating Utah State 64-57.
Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said he and his team are excited about the win and the games to come.
“It is great,” Newlee said. “Anytime you can keep winning and keep going, whether it is the NCAA Tournament, WNIT or WBI…We are still one of a bunch of teams that are still playing. Anytime you can keep playing in March, extend your season and get a win especially at home…for Rob Spear to step up like he did and get this home game for us meant so much to me and the program. I really felt like we had to reward that effort. That meant a lot to us. We wanted to really take advantage of situation. If you get to play at home in the postseason you need to take advantage of that. We did tonight.”
Idaho got off to a slow start as USU jumped out with an early 7-0 lead over the home team. A triple from redshirt junior post Brooke Reilly put up the first points for the Vandals several minutes into the game. Idaho caught up to the Aggies and with a pair of freebies from sophomore guard Taylor Pierce to give the Vandals the lead.
The beginning of the second quarter started slower for both sides. Idaho hit just 1-8 in the first minutes while Utah State went ahead 25-19. The silver and gold closed out the half with an 8-0 run to catch up and reclaim the lead. A good 3-point shot from Pierce in the final seconds gave the home team a 27-25 advantage at the break.
Pierce led the way on offense after the opening 20 minutes with 10 points and two boards.
Sophomore guard Mikayla Ferenz kicked off a 10-0 Idaho run with a 3-pointer in the opening minutes of play to extend the Vandal lead to 37-25. With another 3-point shot from Ferenz late in the third quarter, Idaho pushed the lead to 16 points, the home teams largest lead of the game.
Utah State started the fourth quarter with a run of its own to bring the score within five, 52-47. But the Vandals held on to finish the game for the 64-57 win.
Newlee said the team won the game by picking up the scoring and stepping up the defense to limit the opponents.
“I think it really came down to us heating up and making some shots,” Newlee said. “I think defensively we wanted to keep them in the low 50s. I thought if we kept them in the 50s in general we would win the game. I think ultimately it came down to our defensive effort and really keeping them off the foul line. We did not want to give them easy buckets. It was a game of runs. Ultimately we had the better runs and we kept our composure and finished it out.”
Idaho advances to the second round where it will face the winner of Eastern Washington at Texas State Saturday.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org