Vandal women sweep Hawaii; No. 4 seed

ON SENIOR DAY ON THE UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO CAMPUS this weekend, Idaho exploded in the last 11 minutes for the 69-50 win over Hawaii and the season sweep of the Rainbow Wahine. Idaho won six of their final nine games (after winning just five of the first 18 games) to recover the season and finish No.4 heading into the Western Athletic Conference tournament. "I love our seniors," Coach Newlee said.

A phenomenal 29-4 scoring barrage in the last 11 minutes of the first half – sparked by freshman Stacey Barr who came off the bench and poured in 14 points in a little over three minutes -- paced the Vandal women to a resounding 69-50 win over Hawaii on Senior Day Saturday afternoon in the Cowan Spectrum.

The Hawaii win, coupled with a shorthanded 70-65 win over San Jose State Thursday night (Alyssa Charlston was out with the flu and Jessica Graham was sidelined with an injury), gave the Vandals the fourth place seed for this week's WAC tournament. The Vandals take on fifth-seeded San Jose State in the first round.

"We knew how important these last two games here at home were going to be coming into it and what we had to get done," Vandal coach Jon Newlee said Saturday. "I'm so proud of our players for coming and bringing it and bringing the effort, and that's what we wanted. We wanted to bring the effort and see what happened. Let the chips fall where they may if we played as hard as we could for as long as we could, and I thought we really did that during the home stand for sure.

"We were continuing to get stops and I thought our transition game really ratcheted up," he continued. "I thought Krissy (Karr) did a fantastic job running our transition offense. She made great decisions off the ball screens coming down in transition, and then of course Stacey stepping in and getting in the game and then right in the flow immediately -- hitting a couple of threes, getting people going. But really it was our defense and our rebounding. There on the island we gave 'em 30 offensive rebounds for the game but only two in that first half (today) and that was the huge factor. I mean, that WAS the factor. It was one and done for them, and then for us to execute as well as we were offensively is where that lead just ballooned in the first half.

"We talked at halftime about coming out intense and continuing to do what we do, but we just kinda came out a little flat," the coach noted. "We were up so much and I think it's only natural. It's hard to get that fire going back when you're up 25 at halftime. At Utah State, (Hawaii) did the same thing – they were down 20 at halftime and cut it all the way to 12 and made a game of it down there in Logan on Thursday, and I told our guys that was gonna happen. We did the same there (at Hawaii). We were down 18 in the second half in Honolulu and came back and won the game. At this level you've got to play hard every minute, and I think we lost our focus. We lost our intensity during those runs, but I thought we were able to right the ship. We talked a little bit about it during a couple of those time outs that we had to get it together and we had to continue to play hard, and it was a long way from over. We hit a couple of threes I thought were good to kinda keep the run from going any bigger. We finally started getting our offense back in synch again, and then we started rolling again."

In retrospect, the Vandals are performing at the level Newlee had expected all season long, but the rebuilding process he knew would take time just took a bit longer than he had hoped. Idaho opened fall practice with 6 newcomers on the roster after graduating the leading rebounder in school history (All-American Yinka Olorunnife) and four talented seniors who were the backbone of the team last year. There were talented players coming back including the three seniors (Keri Arendse, Ganeaya Rogers, and Adrie Shields), plus juniors Graham, Anna Overgaard, and Adriana Schivo), and sophomores Charlston and Ashley Walters.

Idaho won only five of its first 18 games (three against NCAA Division I opponents), and the Vandals were in an eight-game losing streak including 0-5 to start conference play when they boarded a plane for a game at Hawaii Feb. 2. Trailing by 11 at the half and 18 with 7:20 left in the game, the Vandals suddenly put everything together to stun the Rainbow Wahine 69-61. Two nights later they snapped a two-game losing streak at San Jose State 67-63 and launched a drive that found them winning six of the final nine games of the season.

Newlee was asked to talk to the media about the maturation process of this year's team. "It's been great to see," he said. "At times I told you guys it's taken longer than I wanted it to take to get the freshmen assimilated, to get everybody in their roles and really people who hadn't done a lot of things for us last year and get all those major minutes and get comfortable with each other, but I think starting in that second half in Hawaii the light really came on for our basketball team. They really trust each other and know as a group that when they play together and trust each other they can do some pretty good things, and I think as the season went along they found that out.

"We've come from being I think the softest team in America to a team that's ready to get in and battle and not be afraid to get in there and get physical with teams," he continued. "Teams aren't pushing us around any more, and I think we're pushing back and running our offense and shooting the ball with confidence and defending like we want to. On all levels we've gotten better every day, and that's what as a coach I'm looking for, and we have continued to do that and it's been going the right way. I think tonight was a culmination of a regular season where you just saw us getting better as the year went along. Certainly we had steps where we took some steps backward to go forward, but at this point obviously tonight was a great job by our basketball team."

Senior Kerri Arendse concurred. "We've had the talent and the skill. It's just putting it all together," she said. "We had so many new people this year. I think it all started at Hawai'i with that win in WAC. Ever since then we've had confidence and played more as a team, and I think that really got us started."

Commenting on the Hawai'I game and Barr's performance, Arendse said, "Amazing. The whole team came tonight and played their hearts out. It was awesome…Stacey definitely does a good job coming off the bench and giving us a spark. She's always aggressive and diving all over the place every day. It carries throughout the whole team. We have other players who step up. It's good that we're physical and not getting pushed around."

The soft-spoken Barr said, "Coach (Christa) Sanford just said 'Go out and shoot the ball. Don't think about.' I guess that advice really helped."

Newlee also praised Barr. "That's why I call her 'the microwave,'" he said. "She came in and 'the microwave' was on tonight. We've seen her do that in practice a bunch of times, and to see her come out and light it up like that gets everybody jacked up. She plays hard, and that's what I love about her. She just plays hard at both ends. I tell my little girl if you don't have bruises and you're not cut up you're not playing hard. You're not having any fun. Stacey kinda takes that to heart. If she's not beat up and cut up and bruised up she's not having any fun. Everybody kinda feeds off that. Yeah. A great performance by Stacey tonight."

The coach admitted he feels the team as a whole is playing its best basketball of the season. "I would say so. That half certainly was the best half we've played all year. Confidence-wise we're feeling very good. We've got to stay away from that flu bug. That bug is killing us right now, and I hope it doesn't go any further than Tayler Wicks. I hope it ends right there and we're healthy. It was great to see Jess (Summers) come off that ankle and come out and play as hard as she did tonight and Alyssa (Charlston) sucking it up again because she was bad at shoot around. I wasn't sure she was gonna go again. She was sick again this morning, but as long as we're healthy I like where we're at."

Asked how the Vandals got to this point, particularly the outstanding outside shooting, Newlee said, "I don't think its luck. I think its work. We instituted something probably a month ago of extra shooting. A few times a week we've been bringing them in in the mornings as groups and shooting the ball extra -- we practice in the afternoons – and it's been a huge difference I think in our perimeter game," he said. "There's no substitute for hard work when you're shooting the basketball, and…probably maybe a month and a half now with the shooting groups an extra couple of hours every week, you can see how it's paid off.

"Our inside game has helped out the three because we're finishing inside," he added. "Early in the year we weren't finishing inside. We were missing layups and wide open shots and missing in the paint, and I think teams were then sticking out to us on the perimeter and trying to take that away from us, and now with Alyssa scoring inside and Jess and Ashley (Walters) and Adrie (Shiels) doing a better job inside it's opened up the game a little bit for the guys on the perimeter."

Newlee also did a bit of "looking back" and "looking ahead." Asked to comment on the graduating seniors (Arendse, Shiels and Ganeaya Rogers who all entered the program as transfers) the coach said, "They've put in so much hard work and sweat and tears and everything into this program for their two years that to see them win on their night and send them out on a great note, any time you can win on senior night as a coach it makes you feel great because I'm happy for them. It's great for them to know that their last memory out here in Cowan is going to be a win, a big win over Hawaii. That's something they'll have with them the rest of their lives."

Newlee is also excited about the future: "It's a great feeling to know that they're all going to be back. I love our seniors and what they've done in the two years they've all been here. It's kind of a different class since they're all junior college players who came in, but knowing that the freshmen have gotten so much better and the sophomores have gotten so much better, and then put 'em with what I think is our most talented recruiting class we've recruited here who are coming in it makes me smile at night, I can tell you that, thinking about next year, but we've got unfinished business right now… We're gonna have to bring it defensively with (San Jose State). Both games were extremely close; so we're looking for a big battle, no doubt, in Vegas."




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