Idaho posted a couple of season firsts March 7 when, after trailing by as many as nine points and never posting a first-half lead, they came back from a 35-33 deficit against Utah State to defeat the Aggies 70-59 marking the Vandals' first neutral court win of the season and the first time they come back to win a game after trailing at the half.
Three Vandals scored in double figures, led by all-conference selection Leilani Mitchell who had 24 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. Senior Emily Faurholt added 19 points, five assists and two steals, and sophomore Jessica Summers had 12 points and 4 assists, three steals and two blocked shots.
Unfortunately, the Vandals paid a high price in expended energy defeating the much-improved Aggies and were eliminated in the quarterfinals by conference champion Louisiana Tech 80-57.
The Vandals wound up the season with a 10-19 record. In the process they rewrote the Idaho women's basketball record book with 6 new school records and 23 entries into the all-time statistical leader lists.
VANDALS 70, UTAH STATE 59
Idaho senior Emily Faurholt flips up an off balance shot against Utah State (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
"Every game with them since they reinstated their program, even the year we won 22, our games with them have been really close," Vandal coach Mike Divilbiss said. "They're a tough match up for us. I thought our kids had to really dig down. We started the game slowly. We looked like we didn't have our legs. We looked about a step and a half behind every play. We gave up four offensive rebounds…to start the game because they made four baskets on putbacks. You can't let them do that.
"They work very hard, and with their length it's really tough for us, but I was very pleased with how hard our kids fought and dug down," he continued. "Even when everything wasn't great for us, we didn't look real sharp and crisp, but as they game went along I thought that we cleaned up. We started moving a lot better offensively. Defensively I thought our intensity picked up, and we started dictating a little bit more on the defensive end of the floor. I thought that was a big difference."
Utah State's last lead was at the 17:55 mark, but from there the Vandals outscored the Aggies 29-17 leading by as many as 14 points before settling for the 11-point victory.
In the post-game media conference, Faurholt was asked her thoughts in the win. "We talked about the last game that we played against them. They really picked it up in the second and they were really aggressive, and we talked about being more aggressive than they are," she said. "I think we just came out and we played as a team. We played team defense, and we did a lot of things together. Five people really worked together to accomplish the second half, but I think it was the aggressiveness and really focusing on our rebounding and our defense…and Leilani was awesome.
Mitchell concurred. "Our team really came together. If you lose now you're done, and I don't think we're ready to be done yet; so we just tried playing with more effort defensively, and offensively people were more aggressive I thought. Like coach said we had a lot more movement and other people were aggressive," she said.
Divilbiss also lauded the play of Summers and freshmen McKenzie Flynn and Jordyn Bowen. "Jessica has really gone to another level this year," he said. "I'm very pleased with her. When we get four or five people scoring in double figures we go to another level. We start to see McKenzie Flynn and Jordyn Bowen both getting more confident offensively…When we get more people scoring in addition to these two then I think our team goes to another level. That's been our challenge all year. When we had the three injuries at the beginning of the year they were kids that were experienced kids. They understood how to play and could have given us a little bit more balance offensively and some toughness defensively just from an understanding of the system; so it's taken us a while for those kids to come along, and the freshmen are starting to do that and Jessica too. She's the only sophomore and she's going to another level also. As she gets confident around the basket we're hard to guard."
LADY TECHSTERS 80, VANDALS 57
Idaho true-freshman post Jordyn Bowen left, strips the ball from 17th ranked Louisiana Tech's Aarica Ray-Boyd during the first half of their Western Athletic Conference Women's basketball game in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
The Vandals dug down deep and made a second-half run closing the gap to 10 points with 7:48 left, but once again the Lady Techsters answered the challenge and extended to margin to the eventual 23-point final margin.
"I was proud of our kids," Divilbiss said after the season-ending loss. "I thought we showed a lot of courage in the second half, cut it to10, and I thought we played with a lot of effort the whole night. I don't think we quit. It's really tough for us anyway with limited numbers of kids that we're playing to play back-to-back nights let alone play somebody that didn't play the night before. It's a challenge. We put ourselves in that situation. I felt we showed a lot of courage. I was pleased with our effort."
Divilbiss said he felt reaching post-season play inspired the Lady Techsters. "I thought that La. Tech played at…another level than the first two times we played them. They shot the ball a lot better. You could tell in the warm-ups they had a lot more bounce in them. They looked a lot more excited to play than they did in the first two games we played. They were really good, and we weren't bad."
The Vandal coach was asked about competing in the WAC in the future. "We've got to get better," he said. "Well, I don't know if we've got to get better. We've got to get more depth. We've got to get some depth to help us. This is a league where you can't be short-handed."
Divilbiss refused to use early-season injuries to key players as an excuse for the Vandals' season record. "I would like to have played this year with the team we recruited, and I haven't made any excuses all year long for our team or our kids. We never sat here and felt sorry for ourselves because we lost three kids basically before the year started that were three of our top seven players," Divilbiss said. "I would love to have gone through this year with Ticey Westbrooks healthy and Stephanie Sax and Emily Halliday healthy. Halliday tried to play this year, but you have no idea how sore she is and what she's trying to deal with. She's tough. She's not close to where she was before she got hurt. I would like to have gone through the league with our team, but we were in it, I think, every game we played. I think it's a much better league than the one we were in."
The media asked Faurholt to comment on her senior season and her career at Idaho. "This season, if you look at wins and losses, has not been successful," she said, "but this year to me has been such a growing process. I've struggled and I've gotten better. He (Divilbiss) pushed me, and I've had to work…It's been such a growing time for me, and I can't thank him enough for just the opportunity. Today is my last college game, and it's great because I've learned so much from him and from people in this program. I love the opportunity that I've had."
The Vandals put four players into double figures led by Mitchell with 21 points, seven assists and three steals. Faurholt added 14 points, and Summers and Karly Felton with 10 each. Summers also had five steals. However, a key to the game was the Lady Techsters' ability to dominate on the boards outrebounding the Vandals 39-17.
In the final WAC individual basketball statistics posted this week, the Vandals were well represented among the conference leaders in several statistical categories (all games played were used to calculate the WAC statistical leaders).
INDIVIDUAL SCORING: Based on her 45 points in the final two conference games, Mitchell moved into a tie for first play in individual scoring upping her average to 17.6 per game, the same average posted by Amber Jackson of San Jose State. Mitchell outscored Jackson 510-475. Faurholt also outscored Jackson with 504 points but averaged 17.4 per game, the same average posted by Lamisha Augustine of San Jose State.
REBOUNDING: Summers tied for third averaging 7.5 rebounds per game (218 boards in 29 games).
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE: Mitchell wound up third shooting at a .439 clip and Faurholt finished fourth at .425.
ASSIST/TURNOVER RATIO (minimum 3 assists per game): Mitchell was second in the conference with 162 steals while committing 103 turnovers, a ration of 1.57.
DEFENSIVE REBOUNDS: Summers averaged 5.69 per game to finish third in the conference. Mitchell, a 5-5 point guard, placed tenth in the conference with 4.03 defensive rebounds per game. Her total of 117 was eighth in the conference.
ASSISTS: Mitchell led the WAC in assists posting 162 in 29 games for a 5.59 per game average for the season, a full 1.14 per game higher than her closest pursuer.
FREE THROW PERCENTAGE: Faurholt finished third in the conference averaging .814 with Mitchell fifth at .783.
STEALS: Mitchell dominated this category with 115 steals in 29 games for an average of 3.97, a new WAC single-season record erasing the old mark of 3.79. Her 115 steals tied the conference record set during the 1997-98 season. In conference action she posted 62 steals ranking fifth on the all-time single-season steal list and she is now ranked third all-time in steals per game averaging 3.875 in WAC action.
3-POINT FIELD GOAL SHOOTING: Mitchell finished second with a .380 average. Faurholt finished fifth at .354.
3-POINT FIELD GOALS MADE: Mitchell averaged 2.17 per game to place third. Faurholt averaged 1.38 per game to place ninth.
MINUTES PLAYED: The Vandals placed 1-2-6-9 of the 10 players averaging the most minutes played per game. Mitchell led the conference averaging 38.76 minutes per game; Faurholt was second at 37.97; Karly Felton sixth at 35.79; and Summers ninth at 31.66.
VANDAL TEAM RECORDS: During the 2005-06 season the Vandals set new records for 3-point field goals in a single game (14 vs. Utah Valley State 12/8/05), 3-point field goal percentage in a single game (.714, 10/14 versus Boise State 3/3/06); and 3-point field goal attempts in a single game (40 vs. Oklahoma State 11/25/05). The latter mark is also a WAC record. Also, the 1,850 fans in attendance for the Vandals' game against Gonzaga was the 10th largest crowd to witness a Lady Vandal home game.
FAURHOLT'S NEW VANDAL RECORDS: Scoring average (22 per game). She ranks second in career points (1,938) and free throws made (455); fourth for field goals made (677) and free throw percentage (455/580, .784); fifth for 3-point field goals made (129); and sixth for 3-point field goal percentage (129/352, .366).
MITCHELL'S NEW VANDAL RECORDS: Career steals (323) and 3-point field goals made in a single game (7 vs. Utah Valley State). On the single-season leader boards she now ranks second in 3-point field goals made in a season (69) and steals (115); seventh in assists (162); and eighth for free throws made (123). Career-wise she is second in assists (504); third in free throws made (433) and 3-point field goals made (164); fifth in points (1,471) and ninth in field goals made (441).