MOSCOW – The Idaho women's basketball team played one of its best games of the season in many respects, but it was all undone by 31 turnovers as Seattle U escaped with a 76-71 victory in the Western Athletic Conference opener for both teams on Saturday in the Cowan Spectrum.
Idaho shot season-highs 53 percent (27-of-51) from the field and 60 percent (9-of-15) from 3-point range, out rebounded the Redhawks 37-28 and forced them into 17 turnovers. But Idaho's 31 giveaways; the most for the team since it had 34 against Portland State on Dec. 20, 2006; led to 27 Seattle U points, and aided the Redhawks' 42-20 advantage in points in the paint and 20-4 advantage in fast break points.
"We knew the pressure was coming," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said after the game. "We've been working extensively against full court pressure. At times it's tough for us to simulate that type of athleticism, I don't have those kinds of athletes throughout my team. Full court press hasn't hurt us all year until tonight. I was kind of surprised that it did. We made poor decisions with the basketball tonight. Maybe it was the pressure of the first WAC game. We talked a lot about ‘this is it now' and maybe that backfired on me."
Idaho sophomore Stacey Barr came off the bench early in the first half and immediately caught fire. She knocked down her first four shots, all 3-pointers, and scored 14 of her 18 points before the break. The outburst put an abrupt end to her 0-for-13 long-range slump over the last two games, and she also finished with a team-high seven rebounds, two assists and one steal.
Freshmen Christina Salvatore and Connie Ballestero each added 15 points for the Vandals. After ending her streak of 10 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer in Idaho's last game, Salvatore went right back to work from deep, connecting on 4-of-6 3s. She added two rebounds, an assist and a steal in the game. Ballestero went 7-for-15 from the field and had two assists and two steals. Freshman Ali Forde and junior Alyssa Charlston each had nine points and seven rebounds .
"They brought good pressure, they came out breathing fire," said Charlston, who had nine turnovers in the game. "They're good at predicting where we're going. We've been practicing against that pressure all week but we clearly didn't handle it in the game."
Seattle U shot 46 percent (30-of-65) from the field and only 27 percent (4-of-15) from 3-point range in the game. Both teams had 11 offensive rebounds, and Idaho held a slim 10-7 edge in second-chance points.
Seattle U's Sylvia Shephard led all scorers with 23 points in the game, and Renee Dillard-Brown added 19 for the Redhawks. Seattle U hit 12-of-17 free throws in the game while Idaho converted just 8-of-16.
The Vandals built an eight-point lead midway through the first half and the lead was six with two and a half minutes to go in the half before the Redhawks used a 7-2 spurt to close the half trailing by just one, 36-35.
The lead changed seven times in the second half, and Idaho trailed by as many as seven, 65-58 with five and a half minutes to play before outscoring the Redhawks 13-4 over the next three minutes to pull ahead 71-69. A 3-point play by Seattle U's Daidra Brown with 38 seconds to play gave the Redhawks a 72-71 lead, and Idaho had two turnovers and a missed 3-pointer on its final three possessions while the Redhawks clinched the game from the free throw line.
The Vandals host San Jose State on Jan. 3 and Utah State on Jan. 5 to wrap up their three-game home stand.
"We're last right now," Newlee said of his team's standing after the first WAC game. "We have a shot to move up the standings on Thursday. Every game is going to be huge. There is a lot of parity in this league. I don't see anybody in the non-conference who has had huge wins or ran streaks together. It's there for the taking, that's why I think home games are so important. It's a big home stand for us and to give this one away like we did hurts a lot."