A strong run in the second half propelled the Idaho women’s basketball team to its third straight win when the Vandals beat Denver 70-64 Saturday in the Cowan Spectrum to complete the season sweep of the Pioneers.
It was a physical battle all the way through and freshman Ali Forde said it was hard to do anything in the paint.
“It was really a battle down there,” Forde said. “It was hard to just box out defensively even. They’re strong and they had a lot of people crashing the boards.”
With the win the Vandals keep doing what they need to do to stay near the top of the conference. Seattle and Utah State remain the only two teams ahead of Idaho in the WAC with tournament time coming up in a month.
Junior Alyssa Charlston said the team’s confidence keeps growing with every win and she’s looking forward to March.
“I think we have a really good opportunity to keep climbing from here and we’ve improved a lot this season, and that’s exciting to see because you want to be getting the best at the end of the season,” Charlston said. “You can’t shut down one player and expect to win.”
Charlston led the Vandals with 20 points while freshman Christina Salvatore was the only other Vandal in double-figures with 16. Charlston is now just three points away from hitting 1,000 in her career.
Idaho coach Jon Newlee said he was happy with the way his team rose to the challenge of the physicality in this one.
“It’s a different type of game than we’ve been involved in in a while,” Newlee said. “…It’s nice to win a game when you’re grinding and we haven’t won a lot of those when push comes to shove a lot of times.”
The two teams remained close in the first half with Denver taking a one-point lead into the locker room with the score 31-30. Midway through the half the Idaho’s shooting went cold, allowing the Pioneers to go on an 11-0 run to take a lead, but Idaho responded, going on a 12-0 run immediately after to tighten things up until the end of the period.
“The first half was pretty even. They had a pretty good game plane and we started out slower than we wanted to,” Charlston said.
After giving up the first basket of the half, the Vandals came alive and went on a 16-0 run to take a double-digit lead. The Pioneers chipped away at the deficit late and got it down to six with just seconds on the clock, but it was too little too late as Idaho went on to win a third straight game.
Newlee said fouls at the end of the game were a big part of Denver’s comeback.
“What happened was we started fouling them,” Newlee said. “We talked about not fouling them and making them earn their points and you saw those touch fouls out on the perimeter and inside, just not good decision making defensively from our players who were out on the floor.”
The Vandals will be back on the road next week, traveling to Texas-Arlington on Thursday and La. Tech on Saturday. Idaho beat UTA earlier in the season, but lost narrowly to La. Tech. There are just five more games remaining in the regular season.
Kevin Bingaman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org