LAS VEGAS—The University of Idaho women's basketball team is headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, after defeating No. 3 Seattle U, 75-67. Junior Stacey Barr was named the Western Athletic Conference Tournament's Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row. Barr finished with a game-high 28 points.
Idaho (25-8) completed its WAC title defense shooting 44.1 percent (23-of-49) from the field. Senior Alyssa Charlston posted 11 second-half points and 17 for the game on her way to All-Tournament team. It was her third straight All-Tournament honor.
"What a feeling and what a game," head coach Jon Newlee said following the win. "We got out to that quick early lead and were really rolling. I thought the foul trouble then hurt us. I knew they [Seattle U] were not going away. They are a tough team and Joan [Bonvicini] does a great job with them. I knew we were going to be in for a battle today."
The Silver and Gold jumped out to an 8-0 start right out of the gate on Saturday. Sophomore Connie Ballestero hit an open three to get Idaho going. Ali Forde and Christina Salvatore tacked on five more points before Seattle U would get on the board.
Idaho's biggest lead of 14 came at the 11:44 mark in the first half. With the shot clock expiring Barr threw up a shot from the Vegas Strip to put Idaho ahead 18-4. Seattle U began to chip away from there. The Redhawks would outscore Idaho 10-4 in the next four minutes and 23-11 the remainder of the half. Idaho held a slim 29-27 lead at the break.
"We felt like those last 20 minutes were going to be ours," Newlee added. "We talked about refusing to lose at halftime. We just kept battling. [Stacey and Alyssa] put us on their back and finished the deal."
Idaho and Seattle U traded baskets in the first two minutes of the second half. Forde started the scoring and Seattle U's Kacie Sowell answered right back. Idaho got up by five off a pair of Barr free-throws with 18:29 to play. Seattle U countered with an 8-3 run to take its first lead of the game, 37-36. Salvatore grabbed the lead right back for Idaho with her school-record setting 88th three-pointer of the season.
Barr put Idaho back up by five, 44-39, with 12:26 to play. Ashley Ward's layup cut Idaho's lead to three. Seattle U would tie the game back up at 46 with 10:57 on the clock and take the lead off a Ward inside layup.
"We have a lot of resiliency," Charlston said. "We do not freak out when we are in that kind of position. Our ball handlers did a great job of controlling the pace. Defensively after that run we started get stops and giving them one chance and out. That was really important for us."
Senior Addie Schivo broke the 48-48 tie with a pair of free-throws to give Idaho the lead back. The Vandals never trailed in the final 8:34, keeping Seattle U at bay.
Barr totaled 19 points in the second half, shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from the field. She earned nine of her second-half points by getting to the free-throw line 10 times in the half. Barr scored the Vandals' final 10 points in the last 2:48 of the game.
"The opportunity was there for me to score and I took it," Barr explained. "We are always trying to run our offense's and a few times was my open look and I tried to take it and help out my team."
Barr and Charlston were the only Vandals to reach double figures on Saturday. Salvatore finished with nine points and seven rebounds. Forde totaled six points and seven boards, before fouling out in the second half. In the place of Forde, junior Maren Austgulen totaled seven points and four rebounds in her 20 minutes. Ballestero finished 2-of-6 from three-point range, netting six points and four assists. Schivo played 14 minutes off the bench, finishing the game with two points.
The Vandals will learn their fate on Monday when the NCAA Women's Tournament field is announced. It will be Idaho's third trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Notes: Barr tied the WAC Tournament record with 21 made free-throws…the Vandals have made at least one three-point basket in 198 consecutive games…Barr has scored in double figures in 37 of the last 39 games and has made a three-point basket in 17 straight games...Salvatore set a new school-record with 89 three-point field goals this season, breaking her old record of 87…Idaho has won its last eight games and 17 of its last 18.