The University of Idaho advanced the Western Athletic Conference Tournament’s championship game with a 75-65 come from behind win over No. 5 New Mexico State at The Orleans Arena on Friday. Junior Stacey Barr led the way for the Vandals with a career-high 35 points.
Idaho (24-8, 15-1 WAC) overcame a 2-for-14 start from the field to trail by six at the half, 41-35. Barr recorded 15 points in the opening half to pace Idaho. She was 9-of-10 from the free-throw line, matching her career-high.
The Vandals opened the second half on heater. Senior Alyssa Charlston recorded the first three points of the half to cut NMSU’s lead to three. Sophomore Ali Forde hit a pair of free-throws to get to within one at 41-40. Idaho gained its first lead of the game off a Barr three with 16:16 to play to complete the comeback.
“Our club was really resilient out there today,” head coach Jon Newlee stated. “We got in that hole quickly. [Sasha] Weber was on fire, we know they are prone to do that. We took their [NMSU] best shot in the first half. Everything was kind of conspiring against us in the first half. We went into the locker room only down six and I felt really good about that. I knew we would come out and play Vandal basketball in the second half.”
New Mexico State (11-20, 7-9 WAC) hit a Vegas cold-streak at the start of the second half. NMSU opened the first 8:10 on a 0-for-18 run from the floor. The Vandals took advantage of the Aggies’ mishaps and went on a 15-0 run to jump out to a 50-41 lead at the 12:31 mark. Both Barr and Charlston recorded five points in the opening run.
“To comeback the way we did and play with all that excitement and keep the foot on the pedal was awesome for our team,” Barr said. “It shows we have a lot of leadership and that our younger players can really work. Ali was huge on the boards, Christina [Salvatore] was massive on defense, getting the big stops when we really needed it. Connie [Ballestero] did a really good job running our offense and playing great defense on Danesia [Williamson].”
The Aggies jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the first four minutes of play. Sasha Weber would extend the lead to 10 points, hitting a three-point basket with 13:42 to go in the first half. Weber shot a perfect 5-for-5 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes. Williamson hit one of her three, three-pointers to give NMSU its largest lead of the game, 28-15, with 7:54 to go.
The Vandals outscored NMSU 17-13 in the final six minutes of the first half to cut the lead to six. Idaho shot 13-of-16 from the free-throw line in the first half to compensate for its lack of success from the floor.
“If we were not making free throws in the first half this game could have gotten out of control,” Newlee said. “I liked the way we knocked them down. I liked our aggressiveness of getting to the rim. We knew those guys foul a lot and we knew we could take it at them.”
A Christina Salvatore three gave the Silver and Gold a 62-56 lead with 5:23 to play. Forde would give Idaho a 12 point lead with 2:38 left on the clock, before New Mexico State could slim the lead to six with 58 seconds to go. A Barr layup with 39 seconds iced the win for Idaho.
Idaho only got scoring numbers from four players, including three double-doubles. To go along with Barr’s 35 points she added 10 rebounds to record her 17th career double-double. Charlston added 16 points and 12 boards giving her, her 25th double-double of her career. Forde snagged 11 on the glass to match her 11 points. The sophomore now has seven double-doubles in her brief career. Salvatore finished the day with 13 points and seven rebounds.
As a team Idaho was 13-of-31 (41.9 percent) from the field in the second half, finishing 37.7 percent for the game. Barr made eight of the Vandals’ 13 field goals in the final 20 minutes.
“In the second half my teammates were getting me open,” Barr noted. “Ali was huge on the boards, tipping it out to me and I got some easy baskets that way. Really the team working hard, got me open.”
The Aggies were led by Williamson and her 26 points. Idaho held New Mexico State to 28.6 percent (10-of-35) shooting in the second half. Weber and Abby Scott finished with 16 and 10 points, respectively.
Idaho will play either No. 2 Bakersfield or No. 3 Seattle U in Saturday’s championship game. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU at 1 p.m. PT.