The Idaho Vandals women’s basketball team accomplished a feat that has not been met in 29 years. Idaho defeated the Seattle University Redhawks, 60-57, on Saturday to win the Western Athletic Conference regular season title and claim its first 20-win season since 2003-04 in front of the home crowd of 1,054 at Memorial Gym.
Fans got their money’s worth on Saturday, as it took all 40 minutes to put away the rival Redhawks. Trailing 57-56 with 34 second left on the clock, junior Stacey Barr drove through the paint on her way to a crowded layup. Barr got the basket and drew the foul from Seattle U’s Alexis Montgomery. Barr completed the three-point play to give Idaho the 59-57 lead.
“We were trying to get the ball to Alyssa [Charlston] there on the block,” head coach Jon Newlee said. “At the end it broke down and Seattle U did a good job. Stacey got it on top and I knew she was going to go. I told her if it breaks down, ‘you get it you have to attack the rim.’ We had them in the bonus and that is Stacey’s game. She made an absolutely great play to finish and get the and-1.”
Idaho (20-8, 13-1 WAC) was not out of the woods. Seattle U called a timeout with 31 seconds to play. With 19 ticks remaining, Barr stole the ball away from Ashley Ward. Ward fouled sophomore Christina Salvatore, sending her to the line. Salvatore made her first and missed the second, giving Idaho a 60-57 lead. With seven seconds to play Seattle U had the ball with a chance to tie and force overtime. The Vandals forced the ball into Masha Shtikel’s hands and she missed an elbow jumper. Salvatore collected the rebound and called a timeout, icing the victory and the No. 1 seed in the WAC Tournament.
“It was a really close one,” senior Alyssa Charlston said. “You have to give credit to Seattle U, they played some great defense the entire game. I think the fact that we stuck together and had energy the whole game, helped us get the stops and rebounds in the end. That is what you have to do to win basketball games. It is a great feeling.”
The Vandals trailed 31-27 going into halftime. Idaho was held to just 28.6 percent (10-of-35) in the first 20 minutes. Connie Ballestero and Salvatore led the way with six points each at the break.
Idaho opened the second half on a 7-3 run to tie the game at 34. Sophomore Ali Forde started the half strong, scoring the Vandals’ first four points. Seattle U gained the lead back off a Kacie Sowell lay in. Charlston immediately answered with a three to give Idaho the advantage at 37-36.
Seattle U (13-14, 8-6 WAC) would not go away without a fight. With 8:57 to play Seattle U brought the game to its ninth tie off a Ward basket. They would then take a 48-47 lead with 7:44 to play. The Redhawks held the lead for the next four minutes, before Barr would hit a shot from beyond the arc to tie things up at 52. Sylvia Shephard would answer for the Redhawks, giving them a 54-52 lead with 4:05 to play.
Idaho would outscore Seattle U 6-3 in the final three minutes to hold on for the win.
“It is really nice to get it done today,” Charlston exclaimed. “Especially since Seattle U did it to us last year. You want to win every game. This does not take any of the focus away from finishing the season off strong. We still have Chicago State and UMKC.”
Barr finished with a team-high 14 points, adding seven boards. Forde and Salvatore each finished with 13 points on the day. Charlston contributed nine points and four rebounds.
The Vandals overcame a sub-par shooting performance in the first half to finish 21-of-66 (31.8 percent) for the game. They shot 29 percent (9-of-31) on the dot from downtown. Idaho forced Seattle U to turn the ball over 17 time, leading to 23 points off of turnovers.
Idaho will be back in the Cowan Spectrum for its final two games of the season. They will host Chicago State on Thursday and close out the season on Saturday with UMKC, before heading off to Las Vegas for the WAC Tournament.