Moscow, ID - In the most frantic of finishes, the Idaho women's basketball team got a buzzer-beating steal and layup to escape with a 68-66 win over Eastern Washington on Tuesday night.
Idaho (1-4) trailed by three, 66-63, with less than 40 seconds to play when freshman Christina Salvatore hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 66-all. With just a four-second differential between the shot clock and game clock, EWU (2-4) had the ball with a chance for the last shot, but Lexie Nelson was stripped by Connie Ballestero. Salvatore picked up the loose ball, outletted it to Krissy Karr, who immediately found a wide-open Alyssa Charlston under the basket for the buzzer-beating, game-winning layup.
"We knew we had a foul to give, so I told them to hack Nelson when she was coming off of the screen," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said, describing the final seconds of the game. "What happened was they went after her aggressively and she lost it. So we got the turnover, kicked it down and I thought Krissy might pull up and take a pretty deep three, but she saw Alyssa and made a fantastic pass and a great finish by Alyssa. That's how it unfolded."
Charlston scored 29 points, one shy of her career-high, going 11-for-18 from the field and 6-for-9 from the free-throw line. She added six rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. Salvatore was the only other Vandal to reach double figures in points, adding 11 on 4-of-9 shooting including 3-of-6 from 3-point distance. Freshman Ali Forde had a game-high 12 rebounds, seven points, six blocks, three assists and two steals for Idaho.
The Vandals, who entered the game shooting just 29.8 percent from the field on the season, shot 40 percent, 24-of-60, on Tuesday. Idaho also out-rebounded EWU 42-20 and out-scored the Eagles 32-30 in the paint.
"The effort was great," Newlee said. "We'd talked extensively about effort the last nine days in practice, we kind of had a mini boot camp over the last nine days, and it paid off tonight."
Despite shooting just 61 percent from the free-throw line, the Vandals had a big advantage from the stripe. Idaho went 14-of-23 from the line, while Eastern Washington went 4-of-4. The Eagles shot 40.8 percent from the field, 29-of-71, and hit 4-of-16 3-pointers.
"The effort from the beginning was so much better than it has been for us," Charlston said. "Everyone was hustling around, flying for o-boards, getting the d-boards, not letting them get too many chances on offense. Just seeing all the energy from every other player makes you want to try even harder. How we started the game set the tone for the rest of it."
Eastern Washington needed quite a comeback to make the final minutes of the game meaningful. The Vandals led by as many as 16 points in the game, and took a 12-point lead into halftime. The Eagles made it a five point game almost as soon as the second half began, going on a 9-2 run to start the period. Over the course of the half the Eagles chipped away, getting it to a one-point game with 8:34 left, when it was 54-53.
Idaho maintained the lead for the next few minutes, but EWU took the advantage with four and a half minutes to play, 59-57. The lead then changed five more times, ending with Idaho's game-winner as time expired.
"Defensively Nelson started to take over on us," Newlee said of EWU's second-half push. "The second half we lost her defensively, and she got hot. And their big kids started to punish us inside, and their inside-out combination had us on our heels a little bit."
Nelson finished with 19 points, while Laura Hughes, a 6-foot-2 center, had 20 for EWU.
The Vandals will have a travel day on Wednesday before facing Montana and Tennessee State at the Lady Griz Classic on Thursday and Friday. Montana beat Idaho 71-50 in Moscow on Nov. 18.
"Hopefully we're going to learn that lesson, and a few lessons from the first time we played Montana," Newlee said. "It is huge for our momentum to go on the road now with a win under our belt, and the way we've played. They know they will be rewarded for that effort with some wins if they continue to play for 40 minutes like they did tonight."