| March 20, 2018

Women’s Basketball Preview: Redemption opportunity

The Vandals received a tough draw in their return to women’s NIT.

Idaho (19-13, BSC 13-5) will face off against UC Davis (25-6, BWC 14-2) in the first round of the NIT. It is the Vandals’ first trip to the WNIT since 1986.

“It’s great getting another chance to play in the postseason,” Idaho Head Coach Jon Newlee said in a news release. “It should be a great experience for all of us and hopefully a better ending for our seniors.”

Vandal fans may be unfamiliar with UC Davis and with good reason. The game will be the first meeting between the schools. The Aggies finished their season with a loss in the Big West tournament championship to CSU Northridge, who the Vandals beat earlier in November.

The Aggies rely on the leadership of junior forward Morgan Bertsch and senior forward Pele Gianotti.

Bertsch leads the team in points with 19.8 per game and is second in the Big West conference in per game production. Gianotti gives the Aggies an inside-out threat, averaging 11.2 points per game and shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor while also lofting 4.2 total 3-point attempts per game.

“They’re an extremely talented team that is very well coached,” Newlee said. “They execute extremely well and will be a good challenge for us.”

The contest figures to be a high-scoring affair, as the Aggies are averaging 72.4 points per game and Idaho is putting up 75.2. UC Davis focuses on creating good shots and pounding the ball inside to put together a 47 percent field goal percentage and a 39.4 3-point field goal percentage, both best in the Big West. The Vandals can’t beat either of those figures, but they can still make up for those deficiencies with volume. Idaho took nearly 300 more 3-point attempts, and a couple hot streaks could swing the game for the Vandals.

Unlike the NCAA tournament, teams with higher seeds get to play at home. This plays right into the Aggies’ hands. UC Davis lost one game at home all year and they won all eight of their home conference matchups. Idaho did play better on the road this year, finishing 9-5 away from Moscow and 7-6 at home.

The experiences we had last year playing in other teams’ gyms will be valuable this year,”  junior guard Mikayla Ferenz said in a news release. “Sometimes it feels like we play better on the road and last year’s experience in the Women’s Basketball Invitational should help us adjust.”

Idaho’s leaders will have to come up big, as usual. The trio of Ferenz, senior post Geraldine McCorkell and junior guard Taylor Pierce have accounted for 73 percent of Idaho’s points production this year. The Aggies limited their opponents to 61.7 points per game this year, which would be far and away the best in the Big Sky. Idaho will need a great shooting night from at least two of those players to have a chance.

The Vandals should benefit from a few days of rest after the Big Sky tournament. Idaho played three games in four days and ran out of gas against Northern Colorado, but getting five days to rest and reset could make the difference.

Idaho will play at UC Davis 6 p.m. Mar. 15 in Davis, California.

Jonah Baker can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @jonahpbaker

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