Just three games stand between the Idaho women’s basketball team and the WAC Tournament, and those three games will be crucial as the top of the conference standings are close.
The Vandals had a tough road trip last week when they fell to Texas-Arlington and Louisiana Tech. Both games came down to the last possession and both times the result was not in Idaho’s favor. It’s the first time the Vandals have lost consecutive WAC games all season. Now the Vandals have a six-day break before they open their last home stand of the season, starting with Texas-San Antonio on Feb. 28.
The Vandals enter the week third place in the conference standings and are three games out of first place. Seattle U. and Utah State are in a dead heat for the top spot, while La. Tech and UTSA are just a half-game back of the Vandals.
In this year’s format for the WAC tournament, all ten teams get a bid with the lowest four seeds playing in an opening round for the right to play the No.1 and No. 2 seeds.
Depending on the results of this week’s action, La. Tech and UTSA could jump Idaho in the standings. While it’s still possible for Idaho to move up, it’s highly unlikely the Vandals will get any better than third and could fall to fifth before the tournament if things go wrong in the last three games. The next three games will either make or break Idaho’s seeding and could decide whether the Vandals play the sixth seed, fifth, or fourth seed in the first round of the tournament.
This Vandal team has shown it has powerful offensive firepower, but if the shooting goes cold it spells trouble for Idaho, which is what happened on the most recent road trip. The Vandals lead the WAC in 3-pointers and have set program records for 3s in a game twice this season already, but they need to find ways to win when the shots aren’t falling. Idaho went just 4-of-23 from the 3-point line against La. Tech last week, but still made it close. If that shooting percentage is just a little bit better, Idaho could maintain sole possession of third.
The young Vandal team has shown a lot of improvement this season, but will need to capture momentum heading into the tournament. Tournaments often come down to which teams are hot at the end of the season, so these last three games are important not just for seeding, but for momentum and morale. The Vandals will need to use this week off to shake off the two tough losses and bounce back, which this team has shown this season they can do.
The keys for Idaho these next three weeks will be to hit their shots, defend down low and spread the ball. When the Vandals shoot the ball well, it has spelled trouble for nearly all their opponents. The Vandals have also done a good job at spreading the ball around. Idaho often has four players or more in double figures, but against La. Tech, the Vandals had just two players in double-figures.
Idaho has either been on or off when it comes to physical play this year. In order to keep the wins coming, the Vandals have to defend tough in the post. The past two games the Vandals got outscored down low. Idaho coach Jon Newlee has often talked about his team’s need to be physical, and they’ll need to turn it up here in the final stretch of the season.
The WAC Tournament will begin March 12 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Kevin Bingaman can be reached at email@example.com