In perhaps its best defensive effort of the season, the Idaho women’s basketball team blocked 13 shots, allowed just 45 points, held UTSA to 27 percent shooting and grabbed 22 more rebounds than the Roadrunners in a dominating 64-45 Western Athletic Conference win Saturday night.
The win is Idaho’s third straight and fourth WAC road win in as many tries, and the Vandals improve to 9-11 overall and 6-3 in the WAC. UTSA falls to 11-9 on the year and 5-4 in the WAC.
Four Idaho players scored in double figures, including 13 apiece from Christina Salvatore, Connie Ballestero and Jessica Graham. Salvatore and Graham each made three 3-pointers, and Ballestero added two. Alyssa Charlston had 11 points, six rebounds and five of Idaho’s blocks, and she went 5-of-10 from the field. Ali Forde had five blocks as well and added 12 rebounds and four points.
“This was nothing but a total team effort, defensively and offensively, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “UTSA has been playing pretty good lately, four wins in a row heading into tonight including knocking off (first-place) Seattle U.”
Idaho shot 42.3 percent from the field in the game, and 50 percent, 10-for-20, from long range. On the other end, UTSA made only 16 of its 59 shots, and went 5-of-19 (26.3 percent) from 3-point range. The 45 points scored by UTSA are the fewest for a Vandal opponent this season and its field goal percentage was the second lowest, while Idaho’s 13 blocks are the most for the team this year. Idaho owned a 49-27 rebounding advantage, and outscored UTSA 9-4 in second-chance points.
“Our posts did a great job of defending without fouling,” Newlee said. “We did a great job of interior defense tonight, and it was huge for us.”
Graham, who had made just two 3-pointers all season entering Saturday, went 3-for-4 from long range. Ballestero’s 2-for-2 3-point performance gives her five consecutive made 3s in Idaho’s last two games, as she went 3-for-3 on Thursday at Texas State.
“I guess their theory was leave Ali and Jess alone, and Jess made them pay tonight,” Newlee said of Graham. “She’s confident out there for sure, and she if knows she is she’s wide open out there she’s got the green light.”
Idaho scored the first five points of the game and didn’t trail until UTSA pulled ahead 16-15 with 9:17 left in the first half. That lead was short lived, and turned out to be the sole Roadrunner advantage of the game. On the very next possession Ballestero made her first 3-pointer to put Idaho back on top. The teams were tied at 20-20 for more than three minutes when Idaho went on a 9-0 run towards the end of the half. UTSA got the last bucket of the period to go into the break trailing 29-22.
The Roadrunners cut Idaho’s lead to as little as five points early in the second half, but a Graham free throw with 13:30 to play gave Idaho a 10 point lead, and the Vandals led by double figures the rest of the way. That lead grew for the remainder of the game, and got to as many as 21 with just more than a minute left.
“It was going to be a war, that’s what UTSA wants it to be,” Newlee said. “Our kids did a great job of keeping their composure as our lead grew. We buckled down defensively and did what we needed to do. We defended and rebounded extremely well.”
Idaho is on the road again next week as it visits Utah State on Jan. 31 and San Jose State on Feb. 1 before returning home to host New Mexico State on Nov. 7 and Denver on Nov. 9.