The last time the women’s basketball team faced off against Portland State and Sacramento State, the team was coming off of a 2-4 stretch that included a loss to Seattle University.
It is fair to say that things are quite different now.
Idaho (10-10, BSC 6-3) just finished a two-game road trip in which they knocked off Northern Colorado and North Dakota, teams that were 6-1 and 8-1 at home, respectively. These Vandals are nothing like the team that finished the preseason at 4-7.
Their home match-ups with Portland State and Sacramento State are prime opportunities to keep their four-game win streak going.
For the most part, Portland’s trip to Idaho will be a tough one. The Vikings are one of only two Big Sky teams that are scoring more often than the Vandals and they are averaging almost the same quantity of rebounds per game.
However, Portland State does not defend the 3-point shot particularly well, giving up an average of more than nine made threes per game on 36.2 percent shooting. If there is one truth about this Idaho team, it is that they can put up threes in a hurry to widen a lead or crush a deficit. The Vandals put up 101 points on Portland State during their last meeting and fans could see another offensive outburst if the threes keep falling.
“Portland State was a shootout last time, and they’re a great team having a great year,” Vandal head coach Jon Newlee said. “We have to be ready to go and defend our own ground here. Both teams are very capable of coming in here and surprising us.”
The Sacramento State contest will pose a different sort of challenge.
The Vandals have improved as a rebounding team and will probably grab more than 24 boards like they did in their first meeting. Idaho is averaging more than 32 boards per game over the past four games and creating a possession deficit plays right into Idaho’s hand. The team will be able to drown the Hornets with quality shots off extra possessions if the team can keep up their emphasis on rebounding.
If Idaho’s big players keep stepping up to lead the team like they have been, the results will rarely be in doubt.
Junior guards Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce and senior post Geraldine McCorkell just keep on contributing to lead the Vandals to victories. Ferenz fought through double teams to post the first triple double for the program since 1984. McCorkell torched North Dakota for a season-high 34 points. Pierce has settled into a secondary role as of late, but she has been on the floor for no less than 35 minutes in each conference game so far.
“We can’t rely on one person, and luckily we’re not a one-person team,” Newlee said. “Our post guys had a great week and we’re getting good play off the bench. We have full confidence in anyone on this team to knock down shots.”
With a remarkably close conference race more than halfway through the conference games, every matchup carries an extra importance. Six different schools are within two games of first place with about a month left before the Big Sky Tournament.
“This is the tightest race I’ve seen in the Big Sky in a long time,” Newlee said. “It forces us to focus that much more and give it our best every game because two losses could be enough to drop you out of the race.”
If they can keep up their hot shooting and consistent rebounding, Idaho is primed to continue their win streak against Portland State and Sacramento State. They will need such a performance to stay on pace for the high seed they desire.
Portland State is up first for the Vandals 6 p.m. Thursday in the Cowan Spectrum.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonahpbaker