The Idaho women’s basketball team has forgotten how to lose over the past month, so it would be easy to say that pure momentum should produce a win against Idaho State Thursday.
The reality, of course, is a little more complicated than it may seem.
Idaho State will be one of the toughest challenges the Vandals face all year. The Bengals’ defense will be the immovable object to the unstoppable force of Idaho’s offense. Idaho State boasts the conference’s defense and point margin. They also claim the Big Sky’s best point margin, and they have four different players who are averaging at least 9.9 points per game.
In spite of those gaudy statistics, Idaho could have a favorable matchup on Thursday.
As always, it starts with junior guard Mikayla Ferenz. Everything that can be said has been said about Ferenz’s scoring prowess and it is reasonable to assume that Idaho State will try to limit her impact by double teaming her throughout the game. Ferenz has proven that she can be counted on in big games against any competition. Take the game against Northern Colorado for example. Against the best team in the league and on their court, Ferenz put up 33 points and managed to dish out five assists.
Even if Ferenz is impacted by Idaho State’s defense, this team has grown enough over the course of the season to the point that they can adjust in-game and find opportunities elsewhere. Senior posts Geraldine McCorkell and Nejra Solo have become even more productive as of late, and their ability to clog the lane and give no easy shots could be enough to frustrate the Bengals.
The formula for this game is simple. Idaho has to start strong and put the pressure on Idaho State early. In their losses against Weber State and Northern Colorado this season, the Bengals were liable to give up an early lead and dig a hole they could never quite climb out of. The one thing that this Idaho State team cannot really do is pull off a double-digit comeback and Idaho has the shooting and rebounding presence necessary to get an early lead.
Idaho jumped out to a 20-5 lead against Montana and a 25-17 lead against Eastern Washington in the first quarter of each game. That kind of performance would offset the Vandals’ tendency to turn the ball over and slow the game down a little bit to prevent turnovers.
Based purely off statistics, it would be easy to give the edge to Idaho State. Yes, they have an impressive defense and yes, they do rebound well and get high quality shots. However, Idaho has the right pieces to keep the streak alive. They haven’t lost in Moscow since 2017. The Vandals can go off for 90 points on any given night against any opponent. Their best players step up when the competition gets tougher. Idaho has proven that they are capable of knocking their opponents off balance early on and setting the tone for the rest of the game.
This team is more than capable of putting all those pieces together. The result should be another high-octane performance from the Vandals’ offense that Idaho State just won’t be able to match.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker