Vandal women throttle Hawaii, claim 500th win

THE VANDAL WOMEN GOT OFF TO A SLOW START, THEN EXPLODED OUT OF THE GATES TO START THE SECOND HALF as they built a 30-point lead over Hawaii before clearing the bench and cruising to a 72-48 Western Athletic Conference victory. Senior DERISA TALENI helped lead the effort after halftime, and the Vandal women won Idaho's 500th game as a program, a stretch which includes a WNIT National Championship.

Leading the Hawaii Wahine 30-21 after a very sluggish first half, the Idaho Vandal women exploded on a 14-0 scoring run in the first five minutes of the second half, making an eye-popping four-of-six three pointers (including three by Bianca Cheever in four attempts), to take a commanding 44-21 lead.

The lead eventually blew up to as many as 30 points before coach Jon Newlee cleared the bench and Idaho cruised to an historic 72-48 win. In this case it wasn't the margin of victory or the team they beat that was historic, it was the fact that the victory marked the Vandal's 500th win in women's basketball. Idaho began the sport in the 1974-75 season, and is 500-497 all-time, including a momentous WNIT National Championship in 1985-86.

The first 20 minutes of the game was played at a very slow pace as the Wahine dictated the tempo, taking the Vandals out of their favored up-tempo transition game. Newlee noticed in the first half that Hawai'i tended to play off his outside shooters; so he instructed the Vandals to step up and take open shots from the perimeter.

Against a man-to-man defense Cheever started the blitz by sinking a three just eight seconds into the half. A few seconds later Derisa Taleni stole the ball and dished off to Keri Arendse who hit another three. The tempo slowed slightly with two Vandal outside misses, but Cheever again hit from outside the arc at the 17:31 mark. Hawai'i then switched to a zone defense, but 40 seconds later the Vandals planted Cheever in the corner. The Hawai'I defense didn't adjust, and the senior guard from Australia buried another three to blow the game open.

"They were playing off us so much that the threes were there in the second half and we just needed to take advantage of it," Newlee commented after the win. Cheever, an outstanding outside shooter, took it to heart as Newlee designed a play to get her open for the first shot of the second half. "In the first half I might have gotten one shot up, but in the second half, coming out, we knew that we had to jump 'em; so if I had an open shot I was going to take it," Cheever explained. "I think he might have set a play up for me.

"To be honest with you in the first half I wanted a shot, and that's when their coach said, 'shooter,'" Cheever said after the game. "I don't know if they knew I was a shooter or not; so I was actually surprised to be wide open, especially on the fourth one."

Senior post Yinka Olorunnife admitted the Vandals felt the urgency to kick up the tempo after the lethargic first half. "We never come out not wanting to go hard and not wanting to try, but it was a little edgy on both sides," she said. "It was a matter of who wanted it more in the first half. It was a little sloppy, but the second half came and we'd had our meeting with coach. He said we needed more energy. We didn't seem like we wanted it. We came out (in the second half) ready to just play."

The game got physical with a lot of the action taking place inside, where Wahine Kamilah Jackson, the leading rebounder in the WAC, locked up with Olorunnife who came into the game #2 in conference rebounds. Olorunnife played only nine minutes in the first half and drew two fouls. Olorunnife, a slender but muscular 6-0 senior, was asked about the physical play. "I'm getting used to it," she said, "but there are…some players that you just want to retaliate against so bad…there are teams when they start grabbing and playing dirty you just want to throw a 'bow so bad, but you can't.

"You've got to keep your composure…I'm getting better at it," she continued, "but now and then there are a few players in the league that when they do it to me it takes a lot for me to not do anything…but not tonight," she hastened to add. "I like Hawaii."

Newlee acknowledged Olorunnife often becomes a target of Vandal opponents. "Teams like to go at Yinka," he admitted. "They know that she's our leader defensively; so they're gonna come after her, and she was much smarter in the second half."

Statistically the balanced Vandals overcame a huge game from Jackson, a 5-11 freshman, who had 16 points and 17 rebounds (including 11 offensively). Idaho was topped by Arendse with 13 points, Cheever with 12, Olorunnife and Taleni with 11 each and Alyssa Charlston with 10 off the bench. Rachele Kloke was right behind with 8 points. Olorunnife just missed another double-double picking up 9 rebounds in only 24 minutes of action. She was followed by Charlston with eight. Emily Doran, Jessica Graham and Ganeaya Rogers had two points each, and Adrie Shields had one. Ashley Walters had 2 blocked shots and a rebound and Ana Overgaard also saw action as every available player was in the game for at least 3 minutes.

The Vandals (9-6, 2-1 in the WAC) will travel to San Jose State next Thursday for a 7 p.m. game, and then will be home Jan. 22 for a 4 p.m. PST encounter with BSU.

The media broached the subject of the upcoming rivalry game for the Vandals. Asked if he thought his players were looking forward to the BSU game, Newlee quipped, "I assume so…I think so, but we can't look past San Jose," the veteran coach cautioned. "The last time we did that we lost at San Jose, and that's what the message is going to be. Some of these guys weren't around for that and they understand the importance...I mean, New Mexico State probably went in with that same mind set and almost lost at San Jose (last week).

"They (NMSU) are a team that beat Hawai'I at Hawai'I and then they get to San Jose and almost lose. They were losing the whole game and they ended up pulling out at the end. We're not a good enough team to overlook anybody in the WAC," he added. "We've got to keep getting after 'em, winning games and keeping pace with the leaders."

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