The Vandals secured their fifth straight win in peculiar fashion on Thursday.
Idaho ground out 61-60 win against Portland State thanks to strong defense and just enough scoring. It was a far cry from the previous meeting between the two teams, when both teams put up more than 90 points. The Vandals also had a peculiar night with fouls, making zero trips to the free throw line for the first time in the 21st century.
“We were only shooting well in stretches, but we really brought it defensively tonight,” head coach Jon Newlee said. “We got all the necessary stops at the end without fouling, which was a big adjustment we focused on this week.”
Junior guard Taylor Pierce came into the game on a cold streak, but her slump did not last long into the game. She shot only 1-8 from three over the past two games, but she finished with 22 points and 6-14 shooting from beyond the arc on Thursday. For the ninth time this season, she played the whole 40 minutes.
“We were doing a great job of finding those empty spots in their zone and I was lucky enough to knock down the shots,” Pierce said. “They had some more energy in the second half, but we still managed to get our looks and it could’ve been a completely different game if we kept knocking them down.”
Idaho ended the first half on a 9-0 run with the Vandals making each of their final five shots to go up by 16. The team as a whole shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the half and had 13 assists to Portland State’s five.
The second half was an entirely different story.
Idaho managed only seven points in the third quarter and 18 in the second half as a whole. Portland State put together a 16-2 run at the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth to take the lead as Idaho struggled to put up points. The Vandals ended the game on a three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought and yet they were still able to hold on for the win.
The Vikings had a chance to steal the victory with the last possession and 15 seconds on the clock, but Idaho was able to stand tough for one more defensive stop.
“They had run the same play before,” senior post Geraldine McCorkell said. “We knew what they were looking for and we were able to execute our game plan and stay straight up and not foul.”
McCorkell had a typical performance with 13 points and five rebounds, but she took some extraordinary strides in the Vandal records. McCorkell is now tenth all time for rebounds and tied for ninth in made 3-pointers.
“We know that we can play a lot better than this, but it is still a good learning experience and we know that we can play strong defense when the shots aren’t falling,” McCorkell said.
Idaho’s final total of 61 was their least in any conference game and by far their lowest of the year in a victory. The defense allowed the Vandals to coast to victory in spite of a less stellar second half, as Portland State could only manage 60 for their second lowest output of the season.
“We’ve really managed to play some good defense and it shows what this team is capable of,” Newlee said. “This team is really talking and moving well and our rebounding has improved, so we have really attacked those things that we were missing at the beginning of the year.”
The Vandals will finish the home stand against Sacramento State 2 p.m. Feb. 3 in the Cowan Spectrum.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonahpbaker