COMMENTARY: Every team has games on its schedule that people call "land mine games." They're the games you're supposed to win, but every once in a while if you're not careful the game "blows up" on you and you're saddled with an unexpected loss.
The Vandal women had one of those games Sunday afternoon in the Cowan Spectrum against San Jose State. The Spartans have struggled this year and came into the game with a 1-10 record in conference play and only 2 wins in 24 games. Idaho brought in back-to-back wins including a convincing victory over league-leading Fresno Thursday and a 7-3 conference log.
Yinka Olorunnife opened the scoring for the Vandals hitting a free throw 25 seconds into the game. Derisa Taleni sank a jumper for Idaho at the 17:22 mark to make it 3-0. Olorunnife hit a free throw at 14:47 to expand the lead to 4-0. And that's where the score stood until Shaena Kuehu hit a 3-pointer for Idaho to make it 7-0 with 12:34 left in the half. The shutout ended when Myesha Broaden hit a short jumper with 12:34 left in the half to make it 7-4.
From there the tempo picked up and the Vandals posted a 27-20 halftime lead. In the second half the Vandals awoke to shoot 57% from the floor, held the Spartans to 31% field goal shooting, kicked the transition game into high gear, and the result was a 64-41 Idaho win. Coupled with Fresno's win over BSU and Louisiana Tech's win over Nevada, the WAC standings were clarified a bit with Fresno emerging alone in first at 9-3 followed by the Vandals at 8-3 and a three-way tie among BSU, La Tech and Nevada for third at 7-4.
After the game Newlee said he had some concerns going to the game but added that is pretty much an every-game occurrence for him. "Yeah. I always have concerns with anybody," Newlee said. "I've seen San Jose play some great halves. They were ahead of Boise at halftime on Friday. They have some kids who can shoot it and light it. From a defensive standpoint I had some concerns. I felt like we could score on them, though. You never know. You just never know how a team that's slumping like they are is going to come out. Is it going to be a game where they come out and light everything up and everything goes right for them, or is it going to continue the skid?"
While Newlee described the first portion of the game as "painful" to watch for him and the fans, he did see some reassuring signs while the Vandals struggled to gain their footing against the Spartans: "We were getting good looks…they just weren't going down; so I didn't feel bad. Our execution was good. We just weren't putting the ball in the basket. I thought if we continued to get those kinds of looks they were going to eventually start going down. I was happy with our defensive effort which I thought was really good. I knew if we could just continue to hold them down sooner or later we were going to start scoring."
Idaho posted a season-high 15 assists partly as a result of 50% shooting (21 of 42) from the field. "That was great," he said when asked about the 15 assists. "A lot of times we score off the bounce when teams play us man; so I think that's why our assist totals are down. Once they played zone the majority of the game I thought we shared the ball well and made that extra pass. That's what we need to do."
A special highlight late in the game involved Anna Sandman, a reserve junior post who is best known as a goal keeper for the Vandal soccer team. Sandman and fellow goal keeper Liz Boyden joined the program at the conclusion of soccer season to help fill out the practice squad. Sandman came in late in the first half but did not figure in the statistics. Late in the game Sandman returned along with Boyden, Emily Doran and Amy Eisses. After a few trips up and down the floor Sandman broke open in the lane and Boyden hit her with a pass. Sandman shot, drew a foul and headed to the free throw line. The first shot was off the mark but she canned the second and the crowd –which included her family – and the Vandal bench erupted in a standing ovation.
Defensively the 41 points from the Spartans was the fewest allowed by the Vandals in conference play since joining the WAC.
The Vandals face a big road trip this week traveling to Reno, Nevada Friday to face the tough Nevada Wolf Pack followed by a trip to Logan, Utah for a return game with Utah State. The last home game of the season for the Vandals will be against Nevada March 4.
VANDAL INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS:
Shaena Kuehu 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals. Derisa Taleni 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists. Alana Curtis 11 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal. Yinka Olorunnife 9 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 1 steal. Rachele Kloke 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals. Charlotte Otero 8 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals. Anna Sandman 1 point, 1 rebound. Amy Eisses 1 rebound. Emily Doran and Liz Boyden also saw playing time.
• FIELD GOALS: Idaho 21 of 42 for 50%; SJSU 17 of 51 for 33.3%The Vandals will be at Nevada Friday and Utah State Sunday.
• THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS: Idaho 8 of 19 for 42.1%, SJSU 5 of 19 for 26.3%
• FREE THROWS: Idaho 14 of 22 for 63.6%; SJSU 2 of 5 for 40%
• REBOUNDS: Idaho 11 offensive, 22 defensive for 33 total; SJSU 13 offensive, 15 defensive for 28 total
• ASSISTS: Idaho 15, SJSU 9
• TURNOVERS: Idaho 14, SJSU 18
• BLOCKED SHOTS: Idaho 5, SJSU 3
• STEALS: Idaho 10, SJSU 5
• POINTS IN THE PAINT: Idaho 16, SJSU 20
• POINTS OFF TURNOVERS: Idaho 16, SJSU 6
• SECOND CHANCE POINTS: Idaho7, SJSU 7
• FAST BREAK POINTS: Idaho 4, SJSU 0
• BENCH POINTS: Idaho 10, SJSU 12
• SCORE TIED : Zero
• LEAD CHANGES: Zero
• ATTENDANCE: 375
Idaho Head Coach Jon Newlee post-game quotes
Q: Good sweep. I believe that's a first for Idaho (in the WAC). I don't know if you knew that or not.
JN: "I didn't know that…we're just trying to win, you know? That's what we're trying to do"
Q: Talk about that opening five or ten minutes of the first half. It seemed both teams were really off synch.
JN: "It was painful. Painful I'm sure for the fans to watch, painful for me to watch. We were getting good looks, though, and they just weren't going down; so I didn't feel bad. Our execution was good. We just weren't putting the ball in the basket. I thought if we continued to get those kinds of looks they were going to eventually start going down. I was happy with our defensive effort which I thought was really good. I knew if we could just continue to hold them down sooner or later we were going to start scoring."
GAYLEN WOOD: Coming in, did you have any real concerns about this ball game?
JN: "Yeah. I always have concerns with anybody. I've seen San Jose play some great halves. They were ahead of Boise at halfime on Friday. They have some kids who can shoot it and light it. From a defensive standpoint I had some concerns. I felt like we could score on them, though. You never know. You just never know how a team that's slumping like they are is going to come out. Is it going to be a game where they come out and light everything up and everything goes right for them, or is it going to continue the skid?"
Q: Early on we noticed that Shaena (Kuehu) and Char (Otero) each hit some big threes that really started things moving for you. Do you kinda feel that way?
JN: "Yeah. Definitely. Once you hit a couple of threes I think your team gains confidence. Our defense was going fine. I think if they see the ball go through the hoop…I had to get on Char to shoot it, though. It was like, ‘Char. Shoot the ball. You're open. They're not guarding you.' She can shoot it. She's a good shooter. She's just too unselfish sometimes, and that's the way she started tonight. When she got a little more aggressive it was better."
GAYLEN WOOD: We know the WAC is a physical conference, but it looked underneath like they were just beating up on Yinka.
JN: "They were. They were, and I knew that was their game plan going in. I think they were going to try to get her into foul trouble like they did in San Jose, Yinka and D (Derisa Taleni). We knew that was the game plan. I said, ‘Yinka, just keep going straight up.' They lowered their shoulders and they were beating her up and she was getting it and they were hacking her. I told her she just has to make people pay from the free-throw line if they're just going to grab you and hack you, and that's what she needed to do."
Q: A season high 15 assists. Do you want to talk about sharing the ball?
JN: "That was great. A lot of times we score off the bounce when teams play us man; so I think that's why our assist totals are down. Once they played zone the majority of the game I thought we shared the ball well and made that extra pass. That's what we need to do."
Q: Second in the WAC now. Talk about getting the sweep on the last big home stand before you go on the road for four out of the last five games.
JN: "It was big. We've got to get some momentum going into a huge road trip at Nevada and Utah State, both very hard places to play as every place is on the road in the WAC. It's a great momentum builder and hopefully we'll carry it over and do some good things on the road."
Anna Sandman, post-game quote
Q: How does it feel to score your first point?
AS: "It was really cool. I don't know…just being able to play it was really awesome and I didn't think that I'd really ever get the chance to score. It was really awesome because it wasn't just me. If Liz (Boyden) hadn't thrown me the ball then there would have been no foul or anything. It was really cool."
Q: When you missed that first throw were you upset?
AS: "Actually I was just really glad that it didn't air ball because I was really nervous."
GAYLEN WOOD: You got into the game in the first half. Has that happened before this year?
AS: "No, it hasn't. I used to be on the scout team but now they've moved me onto the Gold Team. Yeah. I've just been working really hard at practice and during games and stuff, and coach decided to give me a chance."
GAYLEN WOOD: Any chance you'll change sports?
AS: "Um, well, if they ask me again I'd love to come back, but soccer's my main squeeze. It's my favorite."
Q: Did you see your teammates jumping up and down?
AS: "That's the first thing I saw. Everyone was just going crazy. It was really exciting."
Alana Curtis, post-game quote
Q: It looks sometimes like you … do all these really cool things and we don't realize it until we look at the stats…Do you feel yourself contributing all that or are you just doing your thing?
AC: "I don't know. I don't feel like I'm being all that aggressive sometimes. I just take my opportunities when I see them. Sometimes I seem them and it's almost like, ‘Oh. There it is.'"
GAYLEN WOOD: Have you changed the arc on your shot? It looked like you were putting a lot more arc on it today.
AC: "No, not really. The difference is when I'm feeling it and I'm in the flow that's when my shot looks good. When I'm rushing it or I'm shooting as a second thought that's when I kinda bullet it."
Q: What did coach talk about at halftime?
AC: "At halftime? It was positive. We were doing fine. We just needed to do our thing. That's pretty much all there was to it."
Q: What was the overall key for you guys finally to break away and take control?
AC: "We just needed to relax. We were being kinda passive. We weren't confident with our shot selection. Finally in the second half we just started knocking our shots down and that's what we needed to do to get our confidence going, just to loosen up and play."
Q: When did you feel "Here we are. Let's just roll?"
AC: "Oh, I don't know. Probably about halfway through the second half. It was just like we were good to go. Let's just do it, finish it."