Lady Vandals edge Montana 59-58

Senior <b>Heather Thoelke</b> hit the key shot of the game, but Idaho's victory over visiting Montana was the result of a total team effort by the Vandals. Idaho spotted Montana a 13-point lead late in the first half and trailed for almost 34 minutes in the game before overcoming the taller, talented Lady Griz. Sophomore guard <b>Leilani Mitchell</b> led all scoring with 26 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.<br>

Senior wing Heather Thoelke opened the scoring for the Lady Vandals 33 seconds into last night's game against Montana taking a pass from Lelani Mitchell and hitting a 3 pointer from the left wing. About 39-1/2 minutes later she closed out the scoring in style completing a rare 4-point play off another pass from Mitchell and, for good measure, stole an inbounds lob pass as time expired to boost the Vandals over the Lady Griz 59-58 at Cowan Spectrum.

Senior wing Heather Thoelke looks to pass.
Thoelke hit the key shot of the game, but the victory was the result of a total team effort by the Vandals who spotted Montana a 13-point lead late in the first half and trailed for almost 34 minutes in the game before overcoming the taller, talented Lady Griz. Idaho shot 67% from 3-point range and 48% from inside the arc while outrebounding Montana 19-15 in the decisive second half. Mitchell led all scoring with 26 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Her pass to Thoelke on the wing for the decisive shot with 2.1 seconds left gave her 6 assists on the game. Thoelke finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 3 assists and 4 steals. Emily Faurholt had 11 points,10 rebounds, and 3 steals; Jessica Summers had 7 points, and Lauren Frazee had 2 points.

After the game Vandal coach Mike Divilbiss credited the win to hard work by the Vandals. "Good things happen when you work hard," he said. "I've always felt like teams shoot the ball better when they're more aggressive. I think when you're aggressive on both ends of the floor you're going to be more successful. ..I'm really proud of Heather because she took the shot. We talked about see a lot of kids shy away with the game on the line -- they don't want the ball at the end. Whether that shot went in or not, Heather's approach was outstanding. I was very, very pleased with her in her approach to the shot. I thought it was really good. Debbie (Vandal assistant coach Debbie Roueche) said it very well...right before Heather shot the free throw. She said, 'She deserves this.' She did. She deserved that play because of how hard she played, how aggressively she played, the decisions that she made the entire game, but I think she was kind of a microcosm of the whole group. The kids deserved that. Not the Montana kids, because I thought they played outstanding and very hard as well, but it's one of those games where somebody just steps up and makes a play when it needs to be made. That's called leadership. That's the best thing about that sequence -- her mentality."

The two teams swapped leads in the early going before the Lady Griz, paced by 6-3 seniors Hollie Tyler and Crystal Baird, took a 10-9 lead on a layup by Tyler with 13:46 remaining in the first half. They eventually built that lead to 13 with 1:24 left in the first half and continued to lead virtually the entire game (the score was tied once) until Mitchell took a great pass from freshman post Jessica Summers and hit a layup with 1:21 remaining to put Idaho on top 55-54. Tyler responded by sinking a pair of free throws after being fouled on a drive to the hoop and Montana was back on top 56-55 with 1:05 left. After the Vandals missed, Montana padded the lead on a jumper by Katie Edwards to make it 58-55, but Idaho inbounded the ball and ran a set play as time wound down.

Mitchell penetrated the key as she had done repeatedly against Montana's sticky zone defense throughout the game and dished off to Thoelke who was double teamed on the left side near the top of the key. Thoelke split the defenders and launched a her try for 3 with just over 3 seconds remaining. Before the ball hit the net a foul was called on Montana. The shot counted with 2.1 seconds remaining, and after a time out Thoelke calmly sank the decisive free throw giving the Vandals the 59-58 lead. Timeout was called to set the stage for the final play of the game, and as Juliann Keller lobbed the ball into the front court for Montana Thoelke stepped in and stole the pass as time expired to seal the victory.

Divilbiss said the last play of the game was designed to get the ball into Thoelke's hands, and the Vandals had run the same play earlier in the contest. "The first two times we ran (that play) in the second half she missed the shot. There was a time out, and I asked her if she wanted me to keep running it. I asked her, 'Have you got the next one or do you want me to go with something else?' I just wanted to know how she felt about it, and she said, 'No, I've got the next one'...and the next time we ran it, bang."

The Vandals had a chance to call time out to set up the climactic play but instead chose to take the ball out of bounds and go with it. "We usually don't (call time out at the end). I usually let them go because I trust the kids. We work on game situations, and we've talked about it. If somebody scores late to take the lead on us, we're going to go because I don't want to give people time to set a defense. We execute our stuff pretty well. I've always done it that way if I have a really good point guard."

Montana spent the entire game in its signature zone defense which helped limit Vandal Faurholt to 11 points. "We play a lot of zone," said Lady Grizz coach Robin Selvig, "and obviously in the first half it was pretty effective. It really helped us take care of Emily. It gives us a chance to have more help there. It was effective most of the time." Idaho was only 7 of 28 from the floor (and 2-7 from 3-point range) in the first 20 minutes.

Divilbiss agreed with Selvig but credited the Vandals with finding keys to solving the Montana defense. "Emily has a really good feel for the game," he said, "and she experiments and tries to find out how people are playing her. She has a lot of weapons. She can score in the box...against taller players, and she can bring taller players out away from the basket. She did a little bit of everything trying to get a feel for how they were going to play her, and she got some shots blocked, but I like her mentality, her approach. She kept coming at 'em and coming at coming at 'em, and eventually we started to find some other ways to score. Her presence on the box caused them some difficulties and we made just a couple of tiny little adjustments at halftime that I thought the kids executed really well in the second half...and they just executed some things we asked them to do. Still they made the shots -- the kids did. It's not any 'x and o' drawing or anything like that. They executed and stepped up and made the shots, made plays."

Summers, a freshman post, drew praise from Divilbiss for her contributions. "She had a tremendous game in the Cal game, 15 points and 11 rebounds. It was almost like it was too much success too quick, and since then I think she's felt some pressure and I think it rattled her a little bit, but tonight she really settled down, gave us a physical presence inside which helped us, and she made some really nice fan passes from inside to out tonight. She hit Lelani one time on top -- just outstanding. She made a couple of mistakes and turned it over a couple of times, but she had some great fan passes and made some really good decisions as well.

Guard Leilani Mitchell and post #4 Emily Faurholt on D.

"We're starting to come out of our shell a little bit here," he continued. "We're starting to be a lot more aggressive. We're going to shoot better each day. We're going to get better and better with that. We've got a little better balance. The kids will shoot it just fine. We'll get better and better as we get more and more confident, more and more aggressive when they know that we want them looking to score...We shot 47% from the floor in the second half. We shot very poorly in the first half...but we shot the ball extremely well in the second half. We made our free throws down the stretch, but I think that we were really aggressive offensively. We shot 67% -- 6-for-9 -- from 3-point range in the second half...It's a mentality. It's an aggressive attitude."

Divilbiss ended his post-game comments with accolades for Selvig and the Lady Grizz. "I think Montana has a very classy approach to the game. Rob does a tremendous job. He's been there 27 years with tremendous success. He's the dean of West Coast coaches. I have the utmost respect for him and his program, and I think they play the game with class."

Asked after the game about the winning shot, Thoelke said, "I just got the ball, looked up at the time, and saw like 5 seconds; so I knew I just had to kinda throw it up there. Two girls were right on me; so I just kinda double-pumped in the air and heard the foul called before I saw the shot go in so I knew I at least had 3 free throws coming, but luckily the shot went in." Asked if there was pressure on the subsequent free throw, she said, "There was some pressure, but I just try to think of it like practice, just another free throw."

Despite hitting the winning shots, Thoelke gave a lot of credit to Mitchell. "I thought she had an awesome game," she said. "She was creating everywhere. Hitting shots, jumpers in the key, driving. Her defense was amazing. She was putting so much pressure on those guards it helped out a lot. She had a great game."

Mitchell said she felt confident Thoelke would come through with the game on the line. "I had confidence in her. That was just an amazing shot, an amazing play, and then she stepped up and hit the free throw. It was just great. It was kind surreal. It was just so exciting because we've been struggling lately. This one was really big for us, especially against such a good team."

The Vandals will travel to Portland State Sunday for a 2 p.m. game and then take the week time off for final exams. They will travel to Spokane to face Gonzaga December 18 in a televised game and will open Big West Conference action at Utah State December 29.

EDITORS NOTE: Earlier this week writer GAYLEN WOOD provided a Women's Basketball updated which was not published due to time constraints. His article is printed below, in its entirety. Hat's off to the coaching staff for saying that this team would get past the Eastern loss, and hats off to the team for putting that plan into action. Outstanding effort across the board!

Lady Vandals face Montana Wednesday

After dropping a disappointing 64-59 decision to Eastern Washington in a very physical ball game in Richland, Washington Sunday afternoon, the Lady Vandals find themselves facing an even more physical opponent Wednesday as they host the Montana Lady Grizzlies. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Cowan Spectrum, and it will be the Lady Vandals' last home appearance of the calendar year.

Coaches Mike Divilbiss and Debbie Roueche talked about the Eastern and Montana games and the Lady Vandals' season Monday afternoon at the Latah County Vandal Booster luncheon in Moscow.

"We went home yesterday to my hometown and where I coached high school, played in front of 2,600 people again, and we did not play the type of game that we would like to have played," Roueche said. "We're a little disappointed. The girls are disappointed...It was not what you're used to seeing. We had two games in Hawaii I thought were really good - we beat Cal and Cal's a decent team in the Pac 10... and we played Utah very tough and Utah is a very, very good basketball team. Yesterday was a letdown...We need to play with a lot more effort than we did. I'm confident in the girls...The girls are not going to accept what happened."

Divilbiss concurred. "Obviously yesterday was a very disappointing basketball game for us. We went to the Hawaii tournament to improve and grow and stretch ourselves," he said. "I made the comment in the newspaper last week that if we were 7-1 or 8-1 when conference play opened it wouldn't be healthy for us, but I certainly didn't expect us to be 3-3 right now either, but that's where we're at. We put this schedule together to find out some of the weaknesses that we have, how are we going to get better, and some of those things are being exposed right now...We were 14-46 from the floor last night with 23 turnovers. We were up 5 with 3-1/2 minutes to go and we turned the ball over 6 out of the next 9 possessions. We couldn't even get a look at it. Debbie's right. That's not us. That's not how we play. We've got to find a way to bring some fire back to what we're doing. We will. I'm certain of it. I'm very confident in our ability to coach and I'm very confident in our kids' desire to be successful, and we'll find a way to do that.

"We've got some work ahead of us. Wednesday is going to be very difficult. Almost everybody that we've played on our schedule is picked to win their league with the exception of one or two teams - Cal wasn't picked to win the Pac 10 obviously. Gonzaga is picked to win their league, Montana is picked to win their league. Georgia is picked to win their league. Utah is picked to win their league; so we bit off a little bit here," the coach said.

Divilbiss said the Vandals are looking for players to step up offensively to take some of the intense pressure off low post Emily Faurholt who drew aggressive, physical, nonstop triple coverage throughout the Eastern game. "Everyone's collapsing on Emily," he said. "We saw a lot of this last year...It's getting more and more physical, and you guys are probably seeing more than the norm because of who Emily is and who we are as a team. They (Eastern) forced the officials to blow the whistle every time down the floor. We shot 35 free throws. Wednesday will be no different. Montana is big and strong, physical. It will be an absolute knock-down, drag-out physical war. They'll play a lot of 2-3 zone against us to start. If we can make some baskets and they play man to man you know that we've attacked the zone pretty well. If they play that zone the whole night you'll know we're not attacking very well, not shooting it well enough to strike fear in their hearts. They like to run that zone, and they play it and play it and play it. They' a really good team."

Both Divilbiss and Rouche voiced confidence that the Vandals have the ability to put Sunday's loss behind them and move forward as a team. "We've got some kids who need to step up and decide they want to play the game," Divilbiss said. "They have to know that we believe in them and that they're good players. They're here because we believe in them and they ARE good players. We have the players, we think, that we need to be successful. You can see some flashes of it. They're a great group of kids and we believe in them.

"There are a lot of expectations on them," he continued. "You know what? This is the stuff that helps kids later on in life. Learn how to deal with these struggles. This is what athletics is supposed to be doing - helping to prepare people for life. They're going to face a lot bigger struggles in their life than what they're going through right now. You think (Emily's) feeling pressure right now because she's being guarded by 3 people? She's going to face a lot more pressure than that in her life...these little adversities, these little steps, help people deal with things in life.

"We'll keep working, our kids will keep working, and we'll find a way," he concluded. "We'll give you our best shot."

After hosting Montana, the Vandals will travel to Portland State Sunday, Dec. 12 before taking a week off for fall semester final exams. They will be in Spokane Saturday, December 18 to face Gonzaga in a game that is scheduled to be televised live in the Spokane area. Conference action begins December 29 at Utah State.

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