Idaho ventured into a hostile environment in Montana on Saturday, but the noise was not enough to stop the Vandals.
Idaho defeated Montana 67-56 for their ninth straight win. The win was Idaho’s 11th conference win of the season, matching their total from last season with four games left to play.
The Vandals (15-10, BSC 11-3) relied heavily on the usual contributors. Junior guards Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce combined with senior post Geraldine McCorkell for all but four of Idaho’s points on the night.
Montana (12-14, BSC 8-7) was without top scorer and conference assists leader McKenzie Johnston for most of the first half due to foul trouble.
“We held our composure. That is what I told them in the locker room,” Idaho Head Coach Jon Newlee said. “In this type of environment – it got ugly for us.”
That composure paid off in spades at the start of the game.
The Vandals started the game on a 10-0 run and stymied the Grizzlies on defense. Idaho had as many 3-point field goals (five) in the first quarter as Montana had points in the same time period.
“We got out to a great start. Defensively, we were doing what we wanted to do,” Newlee said. “We kept them out of the paint and off the free-throw line. We got out in transition and ran.”
Montana picked up the pace in the second quarter, but Idaho was able to maintain a double-digit lead and ended the half leading 41-22. Pierce poured in 17 points with 5-7 shooting from beyond the arc, and the team as a whole shot 52.6 percent from 3-point range in the half.
The script was almost flipped in the second half.
Idaho went 3-15 from deep in the second half right as Montana’s shooters started heating up. The Grizzlies shot 20 percent better from the field in the second half and outscored Idaho 16-6 in the third quarter to bring the deficit to nine.
McCorkell and Ferenz did just enough to keep Montana at bay.
The pair combined for 23 of Idaho’s 26 points in the second half. Ferenz finished with 24 points and six assists, while McCorkell tallied 20 points and seven rebounds.
Montana came within four points with over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Ferenz answered back immediately. She nailed back-to-back threes to get the Vandals back up by 10, and Idaho coasted to victory. All of Ferenz’s 15 second half points came in the fourth quarter.
“They got a lot more physical with us in the second half and it was working,” Newlee said. “We really bowed up in the last five minutes and had some great stops.”
Idaho allowed only 56 points in the game, good for their second best defensive performance of the season. As has been their emphasis, the Vandals also dominated the glass and outrebounded Montana, 42-35. Senior post Nejra Solo came down with 11 boards to lead the team and match her career best.
Idaho has now won nine games in a row and defeated both Montana schools for the first time since the 1984-85 season. The team will come home for their final home stand of the season starting with Idaho State 6 p.m. Feb 22 in Memorial Gym.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker