Roller Coaster Ride

Last week's two games could not have been more radically different for Idaho's Lady Vandals, who trounced Utah Valley State 99-70 in a record-setting performance by Leilani Mitchell Wednesday, only to fall victim to a frantic Idaho State comeback that resulted in a 99-89 overtime loss Saturday.

"This season is all about learning to take the next step and play with expectations," coach Mike Divilbiss said Saturday. "For the last two seasons we have been jumping up on people and surprising them, but this year everyone is going to have our game circled and it's going to be a huge game for them. We have to be able to handle those expectations to be able to take the next step in our journey."

For Divilbiss, the goal of that journey is a strong showing – ideally resulting in a championship – in the WAC. The Vandals historically use the non-conference schedule as a learning experience, getting the players used to working and traveling together as a team. The Vandals have played six of their eight games on the road in four states including weekend tournaments in North Carolina and New Mexico.

Last week's two-state road trip started off with an offensive explosion as the Vandals canned a school record 14 3-pointers led by junior Leilani Mitchell's record-tying seven treys on her way to 30 points in the 29-point victory. Despite the lights-out shooting performance, Divilbiss said he was very pleased with the Vandals' defensive effort. "It may sound funny in a game where we scored 99 points, but I was most pleased with our defense. We've been talking for awhile about how we worry too much about our offense and forget to concentrate on our defense. I've been telling the players if we step it up defensively the offense will take care of itself, and that was the case in this game. Utah Valley State is a good team that transitions very well and we really got after them defensively."

Senior Emily Faurholt added 21 points and true freshman forward Jordyn Bowen also reached double figures with 12 points. "I was really impressed with Jordyn in the first half," Divilbiss said.

"She had 10 of her 12 points at half time and it forced them to get out and guard her, which stretched the defense and allowed us to get the ball inside for Emily. Everyone contributed in this game and it was awesome. When all of our players are contributing like they did tonight it makes it really difficult for other teams to guard us."

Saturday afternoon in Pocatello against the Idaho State Bengals, the Vandals seemed on their way to their second consecutive win with a 17-point lead 3 minutes into the second half. They continued to lead down the stretch posting a 9-point edge with 39 seconds remaining in the game. Remarkably, Idaho State then caught fire offensively and began to foul the Vandals, hoping to trade baskets for free-throws. The strategy paid off as the Vandals made only 3 of 5 free throws. The Bengals sank their final four field goal attempts including a desperation shot from deep in the corner with 0.01 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. The momentum carried over into the five minute overtime session as Idaho State hit 5 of 6 from the floor and 5 of 6 from the line while the Vandals went ice cold (1 of 5) and turned the ball over three times.

Mitchell led the Vandals offensively with 20 points and 9 assists, Karly Felton had 19 points and sophomore Jessica Summers had 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Faurholt also reached double figures with 13 points despite Idaho States "box-and-one" defense designed to deny Faurholt a chance to score.

"We had some players step up big offensively, but this team is all about defense," Divilbiss said. "If we play good defense we are a very good basketball team, but if we don't defend we are very average. We have to play on a very high level defensively if we want to have any success."

Having sophomores Ticey Westbrooks (guard) and Stephanie Sax on the shelf with injuries hasn't helped the Vandal cause. The Vandals hope to have Sax (a 5-11 post) back in action soon.

The Vandals have a 10-day hiatus from nonconference action for final exams and a bit of rest and recuperation. Their next game will be December 20 at Montana. After that they will be off until hosting Portland State December 28 at 7 p.m.

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