Women's Hoops Update: Idaho pounds Long Beach

Behind 3 assists, 4 steals, and 19 points by guard <b>Leilani Mitchell</b>, plus 26 points from post <b>Emily Faurholt</b>, Idaho built as much as a 21 point lead before rolling to a 70-55 victory over Long Beach State University in front of 1500 Vandal fans at the Cowan Spectrum. LBSU had been riding a 7-game win streak prior to their date in Moscow.

Two of the most talented women's basketball teams in the Big West Conference were separated by 1 point midway through the second half, but the depth, balance and defensive pressure of the Idaho Vandals shown through as the Vandals -- leading by as many as 21 points late in the game -- posted a 70-55 win over league-leading Long Beach State.

The win snapped a 7-game 49er win streak and boosted the Vandals into tie for 2nd place with Long Beach in the BWC standings at 6-2. Both trail UC Santa Barbara which edged Riverside 68-62 in Santa Barbara by one-half game. In other conference games Thursday Utah State improved to 5-3 with a hard-fought 71-68 win over UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton beat Cal Poly 64-57 at San Luis Obispo. The Vandals host Irvine Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Vandals saw a 9-point second half lead dwindle to 3 points at the 12:45 mark when 49er Jeannie Saunders drew a foul and made 1 of 2 free throws. Critical for the Vandals was the fact that the foul was senior Heather Thoelke's 4th, sending freshman Stephanie Sax into the game. A few seconds later Long Beach got a steal by Christina Mack and cashed it in on Jayme Conners' layup to make it 42-41 Idaho at the 12:41 mark.

With the 49ers threatening to seize momentum, the Vandals suddenly turned the game around for good in a critical sequence that took less than 30 seconds. Emily Faurholt was fouled in the act of shooting and made her first free throw to make it 43-41. Faurholt missed the second free throw, but Sax was in perfect position to grab the offensive rebound and fired a pinpoint pass back out on the perimeter to Faurholt who buried the shot to make it 46-41. At the other end of the floor Long Beach missed a jumper and point guard Lelanie Mitchell got inside position, rebounded and the Vandals sped down the floor where Sax canned a jumper to increase the lead to 48-41 just 24 seconds after Long Beach had cut the margin to 1.

That ignited the Vandals and seemed to deflate the 49ers. Idaho outscored Long Beach 28-14 in the last 12:!4 and lead by as many as 21 before clearing the bench at the end of the game.

Speaking about the crucial sequence after the game, 49er coach Mary Hegarty said, "There was a really critical point...at the 11:53 mark, a 1-point game, and we give up an offensive board on a free throw...then a 3-point shot, and they got the momentum from that. That's a breakdown that should never happen, and I think from there they ran away with it. They took the momentum and just kept going."

Vandal coach Mike Divilbiss agree. "Stephanie made a huge spark for us when we really needed it. Heather got into foul trouble. Stephanie came off the bench and really sparked us. She got that rebound, kicked it out to Emily, got an assist on a 3, made a driving layup, and (later) hit a 3. She made a defensive play - she locked up Crystal McCutcheon and did a great job on her defensively. We've been asking Stephanie to do a great job on her on-ball defense, and she is really stepping into her own. Crystal's a great player, and that was a really impressive play that Stephanie made. That little sequence...was huge. She was a big spark for us."

The Vandal defense was also a major factor, particularly against 6-6 senior Petra Glaser (who scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a win at Memorial Gym last year) and Aisha Holland, a 5-10 senior transfer from USC. Divilbiss gave a lot of credit to sophomore wing Karly Felton and freshman post Heather Summers. "On the defensive side of the ball tonight, I think we've got to talk about Carly Felton and Jessica Summers. Jessica did a great job for us the middle of the zone. She give us a tremendous 'space eater' who gets in front of the post, and she's really athletic. She went up and got some huge rebounds us, and that's been a real weakness for us, rebounding out of the zone. We haven't been able to play a lot of zone this year because of it, but I thought she really stepped up in that area." Glaser finished with 6 points and 8 rebounds.

"Carly was just unbelievable on Aisha," Divilbiss continued. "We gave up very, very few transition baskets to her, and when they had to play against 5 set defenders Carly did a great job. It was good team defense, but I think you have single Carly out and the effort she put on Aisha, because she's a tremendous talent. Long Beach is a tremendously talented basketball team, we feel very fortunate to win tonight...The neat thing about the 2 teams is I think we have so much respect for each other. You love the battle when you get to play against people that are that talented."

Offensively Faurholt and Mitchell both came up big for the Vandals with Faurholt scoring 26 and Mitchell 19 to go along with 6 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. Summers logged a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds to go along with her superb defense in the paint. Thoelke had 7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals, Sax had 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in a crucial 8-minute span in the second half, and Felton had 2 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.

"Our kids really had to play on an edge," Divilbiss said. "You didn't notice it so much, but Leilani was on an edge because Candice (Wilson) is such a great defender and Leilani played a great game taking great care of the basketball for us. We only had 21% loss of ball. That's outstanding against a team that pressures and creates so much offense with their defense. I'm really proud of our girls and how they did that...I thought it was going to be really, really close. I didn't think that we'd pull away like that. Even at the half I knew we'd played really hard in the first half. I thought we were capable of repeating that, but I didn't where they were. I thought our defensive pressure in the 2nd half really made a big difference."

Hegarty agreed. "Basically Idaho did what they do, and they do it very well. They got us into early foul trouble and they shot free throws for the last 12 minutes of the game. Then you throw in the fact we had some careless turnovers and missed some easy shots around the basket as well as giving up some critical offensive boards...they really took it to us...I haven't seen us play this way. We will miss shots and we'll turn the ball over, but I was just disappointed in how we responded at critical junctions."

Idaho was 50% from the floor (11 for 22 including 4 of 8 3-point attempts in the second half) and made 15 out of 18 free throws in the final period. Idaho reached the double bonus free throw situation with 9:30 left in the game.

This was only the second Vandal win in Moscow against the 49ers. Idaho last beat Long Beach at home in 1998 by a score 93-62 when they were coached by Julie Holt. Long Beach is now 11-3 against Idaho. Long Beach was the only team to sweep the Vandals last year.

The 15-point final margin was the largest margin of victory by a Long Beach opponent this year. The 49ers are now 11-5 on the season (tops in the Big West) and lost by 2 against Pittsburgh and 5 against USF, Cal, and UCSB in overtime at Santa Barbara. It was also the most points surrendered by the 49s and the fewest points they have scored this year.

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