Vandal women fall 76-70 to Nevada

REPLACING ALL-AMERICAN YINKA OLORUNNIFE and last year's senior laden team is proving to be a major rebuilding process. This season Idaho is turning to a team loaded with freshmen -- a strategy that will likely pay dividends in the long run, but is a baptism by fire right now. Today Idaho battled back from a 17 point second half deficit before falling 76-70 to Nevada in the Cowan Spectrum.

Vandal women's coach Jon Newlee knew that he was facing a major rebuilding project this season having graduated an All-American (all-time UI leading rebounder Yinka Olorunnife) and a host of solid players including Rachele Kloke, Derisa Taleni and Bianca Cheever off last year's team.

That still doesn't make it any easier to deal with the process. The Vandals hosted Nevada Monday night in a battle of teams looking for their first WAC win and the visiting Wolf Pack built a big second half lead and held off a late Vandal charge for a 76-70 win before 207 spectators.

Asked to comment on seeing Nevada gaining confidence as the game progressed the word "frustrating" came up. "Yeah it is," Newlee said. "I mean, that's the word I would use as well. Frustrating. This team frustrates me with the ups and downs even during a game, much less game to game…but you know when you have people who haven't been in these positions before and they're young, you've got a freshman point guard and you've got freshmen out there playing and doing their thing in the WAC the very first time…you've always gotta remember Alyssa (Charlston) is just a sophomore, and Jess Graham hasn't played very many minutes for us here…it's baptism by fire, and that's what's happening right now. We've just got to endure that and weather that and continue to stay positive and continue to improve."

The Vandals were ice cold, shooting 39% from the field and 16% from three-point range while not making a trey until a little over seven minutes remained in the game. Nevada pulled out to a 17-point lead at 68-51 with 5:16 remaining before the Vandals suddenly started clicking on offense and defense. Nevada sank 8 free throws but Idaho put on a 19-point scoring outburst and whittled the margin to 5 with 25.8 seconds left, but the rally fizzled from there.

"We did a better job in the second half when we picked it up and kind of got in desperation mode, kinda got things going," Newlee said, "but like I told them they shouldn't have to be in desperation mode to do that. I'm disappointed that we missed an opportunity to get a WAC win at home in a game I feel like we should win."

Newlee did see some key improvements from his squad following a dismal performance Saturday against Fresno, specifically playing more physically aggressive basketball and working hard in the key and fighting for rebounds. Idaho had 12 offensive rebounds and 13 second chance points outscoring Nevada 38-26 in the paint.

"I think we boxed out better tonight, and we went to the glass better tonight," he said. "I think that's a positive we can take away from this game. I think on both ends rebounding, obviously an emphasis after the Fresno game that we talked about Sunday and today before the game. I thought we responded on the glass better. I think we had some people that were blocking out and trying to block out. The effort was much better on the glass tonight, and that's certainly a positive I think we take out of this game.

About the Vandals being more physical, Newlee said, "I think they took to heart what we talked about after the game Saturday. People are tying to manhandle us. You get that reputation and then all of a sudden that's what happens, and you've got to fight back. You've gotta stick up for yourself. I always tell our teams that, and I thought we took a step in that direction tonight for sure…

"(We) tell 'em to stay positive, that we got better in areas tonight that we needed to improve on, and you've got to continue to shoot the basketball and you've got to shoot it with confidence or you're never going to make it," Newlee added. "I always tell 'em that. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. They've got to know it's their shot and they've got to step into it and they've just got to shoot it. You've got to stay positive with a young group like this. They need to continue to have a work ethic that they want to get better, and they do, and we will continue to improve."

Charlston posted yet another double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds to go with two assists. Ganeaya Rogers came through with 13 points, Tayler Weiks had 12 and Graham had a season high 10 with 6 rebounds. Keri Arendse had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.

Graham, who has been with the program longer than any other player, said she feels it is important for her to step up on the court. "I've been here the longest out of everyone and I definitely have a sense of what goes on in this program," she said after the game. "I think I need to step up a lot more. I think that's a major, key point with me…I'm feeling a lot more confident with my knee…when that happens I feel like I can do a lot more, be more aggressive."

Still, she echoed Newlee's frustration with the season. "You know, we're just a really young team. A lot of people are still getting into this even though we're halfway through the season…We just have to have heart, like encouragement. We've tried everything it almost seems like but we definitely need to step it up."

The Vandals will host Utah State Saturday 5:30 as part of a double header in the Cowan Spectrum.


POST-GAME COMMENTS

General thoughts?

JON NEWLEE: "Well, my general thoughts are we waited too long to get going. From an offensive standpoint we were impatient in the first half and took bad shots, didn't run our stuff. The second half we talked about it – not that we didn't talk about it before the game – about how patience was needed against a team like this. We thought we could get some points scored. We did a better job in the second half when we picked it up and kind of got in desperation mode, kinda got things going, but like I told them they shouldn't have to be in desperation mode to do that. I'm disappointed that we missed an opportunity to get a WAC win at home in a game I feel like we should win."

It seems like you guys were right them in nearly every stat category except for three-point shooting. Do you feel that was the big glaring difference in the game?

"Uh, the free throws, (Nevada) made 'em down the stretch. Give them credit. They made pretty much. They only go 60%, but…their three-point shooting I thought was good tonight. I think it was a difference. I thought they made some big shots when they needed to and finished at the rim, and I think they made their big shots and we didn't make ours, and definitely from three we were ice cold. I thought we had some good looks and they weren't going in."

You had 13 second chance points and you picked up 12 O boards. It looked like they were going to the glass a little bit better tonight.

"Yeah. I think we boxed out better tonight, and we went to the glass better tonight. I think that's a positive we can take away from this game. I think on both ends rebounding, obviously an emphasis after the Fresno game that we talked about Sunday and today before the game I thought we responded on the glass better. I think we had some people that were blocking out and trying to block out. The effort was much better on the glass tonight, and that's certainly a positive I think we take out of this game."

In the second half Nevada stayed ahead and they started to get a lot of confidence and it was frustrating.

"Yeah it is. I mean, that's the word I would use as well. Frustrating. This team frustrates me with the up and down even during a game, much less game to game but during a game, but you know when you have people who haven't been in these positions before and they're young, you've got a freshman point guard and you've got freshmen out there playing and doing their thing in the WAC the very first time…you've always gotta remember Alyssa (Charlston) is just a sophomore, and Jess Graham hasn't played very many minutes for us here…they are baptism by fire, and that's what's happening right now. We've just got to endure that and weather that and continue to stay positive and continue to improve. Today was a big improvement from Saturday from a rebounding standpoint. Defensively I think we could have done a little bitter job on (Kate) Kevorken and certainly on (Danika Sharp), but to her credit she came out and had a big game and we need other people just like that for us, to come out and have bigger games."

What do you say to this team knowing you're riding a seven-game losing streak and losing a heart breaker like this?

"Well, tell 'em to stay positive, that we got better in areas tonight that we needed to improve on, and you've got to continue to shoot the basketball and you've got to shoot it with confidence or you're never going to make it. I always tell 'em that. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. They've got to know it's their shot and they've got to step into it and they've just got to shoot it. You've got to stay positive with a young group like this. They need to continue to have a work ethic that they want to get better, and they do, and we will continue to improve."

It looked like a little more physical game. Do you think you guys stepped up and brought it a little more and getting physical and banging bodies a little bit?

"Yeah, I think we did for sure. I think they took to heart what we talked about after the game Saturday. People are tying to manhandle us. You get that reputation and then all of a sudden that's what happens, and you've got to fight back. You've gotta stick up for yourself. I always tell our teams that, and I thought we took a step in that direction tonight for sure."


How did it feel for you, a season high 10 points. Do you feel pressured to step up and get more?

JESSICA GRAHAM: "Definitely. I've been here the longest out of everyone and I definitely have a sense of what goes on in this program. I think I need to step up a lot more. I think that's a major, key point with me."

Lots of effort flying at the offensive glass, especially in the first half. You were crashing.

"Yeah. I'm feeling a lot more confident with my knee; so when that happens I feel like I can do a lot more, be more aggressive."

Did you feel like you were playing more physical, you and the team?

"Yeah. I think we really stepped up from how we have been playing. We used to be soft as coach would say, and we've really been working on that lately."

What's the overall feeling in the locker room right now?

"Disappointment. That should have been our game, 100%."

What has to happen for you guys to light a fire under yourselves?

"You know, we're just a really young team. A lot of people are still getting into this even though we're halfway through the season and they should be, but I mean we just have to have heart, like encouragement. We've tried everything it almost seems like but we definitely need to step it up."

Do you feel like you're close to breaking through?

"Maybe. Hopefully in these next couple of games we'll get some wins. I mean we should definitely get some wins in these next couple of games. Hopefully that will progress into more wins."




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