The upset-minded Idaho women’s basketball team got a rude awakening almost as soon as its NCAA tournament first-round game against top-seeded and No. 3 ranked UConn tipped off. The Huskies scored just two seconds into the game and went on a 12-0 run before Idaho got on the board, and UConn never looked back in a 105-37 win over the Vandals on Saturday afternoon.
Idaho, which earned an NCAA tournament berth for the first time in 28 years, ends its season with a 17-16 record, while UConn improves to 30-4 on the season and will advance to the round of 32 to face eighth-seeded Vanderbilt on Monday.
“You think about coming in and playing UConn, then seeing them up close and in person, we certainly got the full show,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “I thought they shot the ball extremely well; their pressure certainly took us out of our game. Defensively, they were so long and quick getting after us; it was something that we hadn’t seen this year, without a doubt. We can’t replicate that in practice, we can’t replicate that in the Western Athletic Conference, I don’t think there are many teams that can replicate that.”
The Western-Athletic-Conference-champion Vandals shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half and gave up 17 turnovers while the Huskies hit 56 percent of their shots and went 6-of-12 from 3-point range to take a 58-17 lead into the break.
“They are so long at every position, three or four inches taller, and they are so strong,” Idaho junior Alyssa Charlston said. “The speed of the game wasn’t quite as surprising as we went in thinking. Even halfway through warm-ups, we started to thinking that this is really happening, this is a normal game. Obviously, the first basket and everything was very quick; we had to get used to that quickly.”
Things didn’t get much better for the Vandals in the second half. Idaho ended an eleven and a half minute scoring drought with a free throw from senior Jessica Graham with 12:31 left in the game, but by then UConn had used a 20-0 run to open the second half the lead was 78-18.
Sophomore Stacey Barr led Idaho with 14 points on 4-of-9 3-point shooting, and senior Jessica Graham scored eight points in her final game at Idaho. Charlston had six points, two rebounds, two assists, three blocks and a steal for Idaho, freshman Connie Ballestero finished with five points and sophomore Krissy Karr had four assists.
“I want them to remember the joy that they felt winning the Western Athletic Conference Championship and all of the excitement they felt coming into the NCAA tournament, building up to this. I want them to experience all of this. These press conferences, the charter flight; it was all-new for us. They understand what their hard work got on that charter flight and they have the chance to be nationally recognized. I want them to take away from that and realize that their hard work paid off for them. The game itself, as I talked about in the locker room, is that they go hard every single play.
UConn dominated in essentially every facet of the game. The Huskies shot 60.9 percent from the field and 50.0 percent (11-of-22) from 3-point range, while Idaho hit just 26.4 percent of its shot and 8-of-26 3s. The Huskies forced Idaho into 21 turnovers, while committing only six. UConn out-rebounded Idaho 45-23, including 12-6 on the offensive end, and the Huskies blocked eight shots, compared to Idaho’s three, all from Charlston.
“We’ve learned so much throughout the season,” Charlston said. “We have had heart-breaking losses, we’ve had ups and downs, luckily at the end of the WAC we came out on top and that was extremely exciting. Coming out here we had a great experience with what top of the nation basketball looks like. That gives us something to look at next season and going into the summer we need to start looking like that. Coach was talking about how hard we need to go every single play and UConn does that every single play.”