There is no doubt in anyone's mind: Jon Newlee's Vandals have established themselves as one of the best teams in WAC women's basketball this season, taking down league-leading Fresno State for the second time this season on the heels of Idaho's 59-47 win over the Bulldogs Thursday in the Cowan Spectrum. The victory puts the Vandals into a three-way tie for second place with BSU and Nevada at 7-3, all one-half game behind Fresno which is now 8-3. Idaho now owns the tie-breaker with Fresno if it comes down to that at the end of the season.
The game featured as dominating a first half of basketball as the Idaho women have played in recent years. Fresno came in as the nation's leading 3-point field goal shooting team and one of the most efficient offenses in the country and the WAC. But the Bulldogs were held to lows in points (47), 3-point field goals made (4) and attempted (12), and field goal percentage (29.6%) by a smothering Vandal defense.
Idaho raced out to a quick 12-4 lead and led by as many as 17 while shooting 50% (15-for-30) from the floor and holding the Bulldogs to 5 of 32 (15.6%). Trailing 36-19 at intermission, Fresno came out in a collapsing 2-3 zone in the second half, taking the Vandals out of their offensive and transition-game rhythm. The Bulldogs made a push, outscoring Idaho 10-0 in the first 4:19 of the second half and sliced the lead to 40-35 with 11:01 remaining.
Showing they have learned how to handle adversity and win in the clutch, the Vandals refused to buckle. After the teams traded baskets, Derisa Taleni hit for two and sank a free throw, Yinka Olorunnife scored off a pass from Alana Curtis, and then Curtis hit a reverse layup off a baseline drive to boost the margin back to 12 for Idaho. Fresno never seriously threatened after that.
Taleni, a junior, led all scorers with 19 off the bench while teammates Shaena Kuehu (14 – the 11th consecutive double-digit scoring game for the true freshman) and Olorunnife (10) also hit double figures. Olorunnife, a sophomore, completely dominated the boards in the first half with 15 rebounds and finished with 20 for the game, a Cowan Spectrum record, a personal single-game best, and the most rebounds in one game since Ali Nieman had 21 against BSU in 1999. Olorunnife is now tied for second in single game rebounds with Denise Brose (vs. Central Washington in 1981). Nieman, Jean Hayman-Chamberlain and Patty O'Connor all had 21 to tie for single game record.
The Vandals will put their 7-3 WAC and 10-11 overall records on the line Sunday afternoon in the Cowan Spectrum in a 2 p.m. matinee game against San Jose State. The game will mark the final stop on the WAC's "Play Up" tour which has traveled to every member institution to promote the conference's message that all WAC schools continue to grow scholastically, competitively, and financially. The first 300 fans in attendance will receive a free WAC cinch sack backpack, and will have the opportunity to enter into a drawing for a WAC Tournament ticket package.
A season-high crowd of 610, many decked out in pink, was in attendance. The evening highlighted the WBCA Pink Zone/Think Pink night, as well as the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life and the ongoing battle against cancer.
VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS: Derisa Taleni 19 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals. Shaena Kuehu 14 points, 3 rebounds, 4 steals. Yinka Olorunnife 10 points, 20 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots. Charlotte Otero 6 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals. Alana Curtis 6 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist. Rachele Kloke 4 points, 3 rebounds.
FIELD GOALS: Idaho 24 of 55 for 43.6%; FSU 16 of 54 for 29.6%The Vandals will return to the Cowan Spectrum Sunday for a 2 p.m. WAC game against San Jose State. The game will mark the final start on the 2009 WAC "Play Up" Tour and the first 300 in attendance will receive free WAC/U of I cinch sack back pack.
THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 5 of 20 for 25%; FSU 4 of 12 for 33.3%
FREE THROWS: Idaho 6 of 10 for 60%; FSU 11 of 17 for 64.7%
REBOUNDS: Idaho 7 offensive, 29 defensive for 36 total; FSU 12 offensive, 28 defensive for 40 total
ASSISTS: Idaho 11, FSU 6
TURNOVERS: Idaho 17, FSU 18
BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 2, FSU 1
STEALS: Idaho 12, FSU 6
POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 28, FSU 20
POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 12, FSU 14
SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho 10, FSU 2
FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 10, FSU 8
BENCH POINTS: Idaho 19, FSU 4
SCORE TIED: Score was never tied
LEAD CHANGES: Zero
ATTENDANCE: 610 (season high)
Head Coach JON NEWLEE, post-game quotes
Q: In the first half you guys were shooting like crazy, shooting 50%. Walk us through what was going on in your mind.
JN: "I thought we were running our early offense well, doing a good job of getting to the rim. I thought we were taking great shots, really executing great. Yinka (Olorunnife) was just awesome on the defensive boards and was really triggering what we were doing offensively down at the other end. That was definitely I think by far our best half of the year offensively and defensively, especially against a great team like Fresno. They're a fantastic team. They're extremely talented, and to get the big lead like that was nice, but I knew they'd be coming back."
Q: Did you think that…not that they'd be coming back that strong but you guys might go so cold?
JN: "Well, you know, yeah. It scared me because I told our guys at halftime, ‘We can't play not to lose. We've got to come out and keep playing like we played in the first half." That's easier said than done when you're ahead of the first place team by so much and it's never happened before. Everything's going through their minds. You could just see it on some of their faces. I said, ‘Look. There's a lot of time, but there's not enough time for you guys to just panic out and do this. Let's play ball. Let's go after it and keep attacking.' I thought once we made a couple of shots you could feel them relax a little bit and then it came down to execution."
Q: The two that really stood out getting you back in the game were Shaena (Kuehu) and Alana (Curtis). They hit the big layups and just did the little things.
JN: "Both those layups were huge. I felt like that really relaxed everybody. Shaena's layup was huge. We went like four minutes without scoring to start the half and I was like, ‘Oh man.' Finally we made it. Alana attacked and she did a good job all night of attacking, and once that happened I could almost feel us relax and start playing our game again."
Q: We talked to Yinka about her great rebounding night. From a coach's standpoint, why is she such a good rebounder?
JN: "She's such a good rebounder because she's fearless. She also has a good nose for where the ball's gonna come off. She's an athletic kid. You've got to be athletic to be a good rebounder I think for the most part, but you've got to be fearless. She will go after the ball in a crowd. She jumps through the ball, and that's what we keep telling some of these guys we have: ‘You've got to jump through the ball. You can't just go with the arms and try to go wimpy. You've got to go strong.' Yinka goes strong after the ball. There's no question."
Q: This team comes in averaging over 70 points a game in WAC games; we're pretty sure that 47 is at least their WAC season low, maybe their overall season low (it was a season low for Fresno). Talk about the overall team defensive effort to get that."
JN: "I thought it was good tonight. We did a pretty good job in Fresno as well. We held them to 52, but we did a good job of getting to their shooters and playing the way we wanted to. Now we started giving up a lot of layups there in the second half. Some were off steals, some were in transition, but I thought out of their offense they got it to the rim. With the great three-point shooting team that they have we needed to get out and at least attempt to make them rush or do something else with that."
Q: You said before the game that that was going to be one of the keys, shutting down their threes. They only took 12 three-point shots the whole night.
JN: "Yeah. They were 4 for 12, and I think that probably might be a season low for them from three. It's funny. I was talking to a friend of mine who coaches Iowa State, Bill Fennelly, and they did the same thing to Oklahoma yesterday and almost beat ‘em by shutting down their threes. I called to see what they were doing with that which didn't help me because they were playing man, but we still talked about the importance of getting out to teams like that – teams that rely on the three. It was definitely a focus for us and I thought we executed that well tonight."
GAYLEN WOOD: Did you think it helped you guys in the second half when Fresno, instead of dropping back into the 2-3 zone, all of a sudden decided to start putting pressure on?
JN: "Yes. I was glad to see it, because they had lulled us into just doing nothing offensively. I was happy to see some pressure. It kinda got us jump started a little bit and we were able to kinda get going a little more."
Q: Talk about what this win does, not just the aspect of sweep over Fresno but in the overall standings what that does for you.
JN: "Well, I heard Nevada lost tonight. I know we have three losses. They have three losses now. Fresno's got three. Boise has three. There you go. Here we all are. Literally we've got to just go one at a time and try to continue to win. I told them before the game if we can continue to win it's in our hands. As soon as we don't win then it's in somebody else's hands and you never want to be in that position. We'll see how it goes."
GAYLEN WOOD: At this point, how's your program looking?
JL: (chuckles) "It's looking good. There's no question we're a work in progress, but right now we're playing some good ball and hopefully we can continue, because there's still such a long way to go in the league. I think with the long road trips we have still to go – out to Hawaii and down to Utah State, and Nevada, we haven't even seen Nevada yet due to the WAC scheduling. There's just so much uncertainty left to go. We've just got to keep fighting."
Derisa Taleni, post-game quotes
Q: Let's talk about the first half because there were two completely different halves. Coming off the bench – how's that for you? Is that a big deal?
DT: "I don't really mind. Coming off the bench, starting; it really doesn't matter to me. As long as I come in and do what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm fine with that."
Q: That first half, you guys were on fire: 50% from the field. Were you just like. "Wow. Look at us shoot?
DT: "Coach and the coaching staff…told us that we need to take better shots. We've been taking really poor shots for the past games. I think today we took our time and we found our open spots and we knocked ‘em down."
Q: In the second half you guys came out taking the same shots but nothing was going in. What was going through your head then?
DT: "A lot of us were panicking a little bit. We kinda got away from what we were supposed to be doing, but we got it back on defense, and that was our main focus. I think for the first four minutes of the second half was kinda shaky for us, but we pulled it through."
Q: You did, and it was really nice to see you guys be able to pull through, because that hasn't always happened in the past. Do you feel like that means you guys are kinda progressing to where you want to be?
DT: "Yeah. New Mexico State was our biggest game, and that was the game where we needed to find our heart. Our coaches really stressed heart to us, and from that game we kinda brought it into this game. We knew we had to get Fresno, and it was a good win for us."
GAYLEN WOOD: Can you pinpoint anything in the second half that turned the tide? It looked like you were having trouble against the 2-3 zone. What turned it around?
DT: "The coaches really called a time out and they told us, ‘Don't panic. We've been through this situation before. It's a 2-3. We've practiced it. The shots WILL fall anytime soon.' We really just sank it in. Mainly our focus was defense. The defense was the key to bringing us back."
Q: Fresno's a real big team on the outside. What did it mean to you guys to shut ‘em down?
DT: "It was a major win for us. We gave them their loss. We beat ‘em twice in the season, and now we're just waiting to see if we can take number one."
Yinka Olorunnife, post-game quotes
Q: Is there ever a point where you think, "Wow. I think I'm rebounding a lot?"
YO: "You know what? First half I rebounded a lot (15). I was like, ‘(Wow). That's a lot in the first half." It was hard. It slowed down a little second half, but I'd done a lot in the first half so I felt it then. I don't know how many I got but I felt it then."
Q: I think you got 20 total.
YO: "Damn! That is a lot."
Q: Did you feel it not just grabbing the boards, but all of a sudden were you getting a little bit tired thinking you were really fighting in there or was it just a normal game for you?
YO: "It was just a normal game. The ball came to me. I don't know why. I think I'm a ball magnet or something. The ball came to me. I was able to just get it. I see the open ball and, yeah. It's my ball. That's just the mentality I have when I'm rebounding."
GAYLEN WOOD: Some of these games you're mixing it up on the inside and when you turn around there's a big smile on your face like you're just having a blast mixing it up and grabbing rebounds.
YO: (smiling) "You can tell if I'm happy, upset, anything. You can see my emotions. If I'm playing well, if my team's playing well there's always a big smile on my face the whole game. If someone scores there's a smile on my face."
GAYLEN WOOD: Were you nervous at any point in the game tonight?
YO: "No. I'm not going to say I was nervous. We had a little down side in the second half, but I knew we were gonna pick it back up and I wasn't nervous at all."
Q: What did your coach say to you when he called that time out about four minutes into the second half when you guys were a little shaky?
YO: "Just pick it up, because we were playing their game. We should be playing our game; just encouraged us."
Q: You really dominated them on the inside, yet usually Fresno's a pretty big outside shooting team and you still managed to keep them pretty cold. Talk about that.
YO: "Everybody did their job. We scouted them well. They're a very good three-point shooting team; so we all tried to do our job and they do their job and I go do my job. It's everyone doing their part led to victory."
Q: The other thing that really stood out: Obviously your defense was just superior tonight. Was that your mentality coming in, as a team, to just really focus on defense and let the offense happen?
YO: "Yeah. Defense wins games. Offense sells tickets. Defense wins games. If we can play well on defense and get a steal, that's offense right there. Fast break immediately. We really concentrated on our defense, and if we do well there then offense will definitely come after it."