| 03.18.2018

Long trip, longer odds

When it comes to the Connecticut Huskies, Idaho’s first round women’s NCAA Tournament opponent on Saturday, there isn’t much to say — aside from the seven national championships, five straight Final Four appearances and having not missed the tournament since 1987.
The Vandals will have their hands full as the No. 16 seed against the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport region, but the mentality of ‘nothing to lose’ hasn’t changed from Monday, when the pairing was announced.
“It’s all sinking in now,” said WAC Tournament MVP Stacey Barr. “(We’ll) get on the plane, and I think it’s the same mindset, going in knowing we have nothing to lose.”
The Huskies haven’t lost a first round game in the tournament since 1993 and a No. 16 seed hasn’t walked away from the opening round victorious since 1998 when Ivy League champion Harvard upset perennial powerhouse Stanford.
“We’ve been studying them on film, one of the top teams in the country if not they and Baylor that,” said Idaho coach Jon Newlee. “They have all the weapons, they’re huge inside, long on the perimeter, they can shoot the basketball. There’s going to be 14,000 people in that arena, it’s going to be an amazing experience for us.”
The Huskies are more than likely going to give Idaho fits with their size on the inside and along the perimeter. It all starts with Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn’s do-it-all forward who stands at 6-feet tall. She averages 17.4 points-per-game on a 52-percent from the field clip, 50 percent from 3-point.
Then the skyscrapers inside — Stefanie Dolson stands at 6-foot-5, averages 14.4 points-per-game and shoots 58-percent from the field. Next to her is Breenna Stewart, standing at 6-foot-4 and averaging 12.7 points-per-game.
Comparatively, Idaho’s tallest player is Ali Forde, the 6-foot-2 post from Woodinville, Wash.
“We just have to go in with the mindset that it’s going to be a battle out there and I think our main goal is to keep those big girls out of the key… just be as physical as we can,” said junior Alyssa Charlston.
Proficiency on the glass was a problem for Idaho in the WAC Tournament — the Vandals allowed Seattle to grab 25 offensive boards in the championship game. Second chance points and fast break opportunities created from those kept the Redhawks in the game.
“We’re just going to have to push back, it’s going to have to be a team rebounding effort, I feel like everyone is going to have to do their share on the glass,” Newlee said.
Every defensive rebound will be important, every thing that can get Idaho an open look will be important. After all, there is a reason that the No. 3 ranked Huskies have only lost four times and have lost to the two teams ranked above them in the coaches poll.
“We’re going to have to screen hard, we’re going to have to cut hard, we’re going to have to spread the floor and get those big kids out there on the perimeter kind of moving and use what we have,” Newlee said. “We have speed and quickness out there on the perimeter, we’re going to have to use that and try to get some open looks outside.”
The team flew out Thursday morning and will spend Friday practicing in the Eastern time zone. This is the first time Idaho has been in the Eastern time zone all season, and first trip east of Texas.
Newlee is worried it might be a factor, but said play on the court was a more important factor.
“It’s the NCAA Tournament, can’t worry about time zone, man. You have to worry about the opponent and how you play them,” he said.
When Idaho gets off the plane in Storrs, Conn., the 2013 WAC champions will be greeted to 14,000 rabid Huskies, likely the largest crowd Idaho has been a part of in recent history.
“We’re going in knowing that we’re not going to have very many fans there,” Charlston said. “It’s not going to be too intimidating, it’s going to be an incredible opportunity. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if they’re rooting against us.”
Sean Kramer can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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