Vandal women fall to Portland

The Vandal women's basketball team kept pace with a tough Portland team Friday night, never trailing by more than 11 in the game. But in the end the Pilots proved to be too much, finishing with a 67-56 victory over the host Vandals Saturday night in Memorial Gym. "I was happy with the way [we] played. We got to the end and had to foul, and they're a great free throw shooting team," Newlee said.

When Jon Newlee was putting together the nonconference schedule for the 2009-10 Vandal women's basketball team, he wanted to schedule quality opponents to prepare his team for the challenges they would face every game in the highly-competitive Western Athletic Conference.

He probably did not forsee just how good his opponents would turn out to be.

Last night the Vandals dropped a 67-56 non-conference decision to the visiting Portland Pilots to drop to 1-8 on the season. As the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. Of the eight games the Vandals have lost, six have come against teams that are ranked either first or second in their respective conferences this season. A seventh – Baylor – is fourth in the Big 12, but also happens to be ranked #6 in the country. The only two losses which could have been considered lopsided were against Baylor (82-37) and Gonzaga (80-57).

Last night the Vandals once again stood toe-to-toe against their more experienced opponents and were leading by 5 points midway through the first half. They never trailed by more than 11 (after Idaho pulled to within six, but were forced to foul to try to get the ball back).

After the game Newlee was asked to reflect on the fact that his Vandals lost by 11, the same margin of victory Portland posted against BSU earlier this month. "Portland is a good team. They went to the NIT last year with that same group. They're a solid, solid basketball team," he said. "I don't see a weakness. They're good inside. They've got shooters. They can handle it. Leadership. Seniors who really come to play. You look at the quality of competition that we've played so far this year…It can only help us and only make us better when WAC play rolls around in January."

The coach also thought the fact the Vandals had had five days off after having played 6 games in 10 days was beneficial. "We were totally worn down... going into the Wyoming game," he said. "The rest definitely helped. I thought you did see a rejuvenated team. Fresher legs for sure. We haven't gone as long in practice, just did the things we need to do, and it did really help. There's no question about that. We needed that break.

"I really feel like we did a good job of making the extra pass, of rebounding defensively. We were intense and did a good job on the glass. I was happy with the way they played. We got to the end and had to foul. They're a great free throw shooting team," Newlee said.

Freshman Jessica Graham had a breakout game for the Vandals with 18 points 2 rebounds, 3 blocked shots, a steal and one turnover. Rachele Kloke finished with 11 points, 4 rebounds, a block and a steal. Natasha Helsham had 9 points, Shaene Kuehu 8, Bianca Cheever 7, and Kanish Bello 3 as Idaho continued to show balanced scoring despite playing the game without senior point guard Charlotte Otero and junior post Yinka Olorunnife who are serving an indefinite suspension for "conduct detrimental to the team."

"Once again I thought we played really well. We had a lot of energy, intensity," Newlee said. "I thought we really brought it tonight. We missed some easy shots again. We've got to start finishing. We had a couple of key defensive breakdowns on their 3-point shooters that really hurt us at crucial points. We get right there. We're within a two and we need plays being made either offensively or defensively, and we just didn't have anybody really make that play for us tonight. I thought that was the key. (Portland) made the big plays when they needed to and we didn't.

"I like the way Jess (Jessica Graham) played tonight. She had her best practice of the year yesterday, and I told her that….and it translated tonight," the coach continued. "I really thought she played without fear and did a great job. I think Bianca (Cheever) had a solid game. That was the most complete game we've had out of "B." Shaena (Kuehu) is flying around, she's playing well. We've just got to get some shots to fall like they did for her last year. I thought as a group they really played well together and really hung together well.

"There were no long stretches where we would go bad. We had a couple of ups and downs. We had a good run in the first half when we went up. They made a couple of shots, then they went up, but we came battling back. I like the way we battled back when we got down in the second half and brought it all the way back. We're right there. It's just a question of some young kids that need to learn how to finish at this level. It's points on the floor. We're playing freshmen and sophomores. That's what happens sometimes.

The Vandals will be back on the road Sunday for a 1 p.m. non-conference game against Montana, then will take a week off for final exams before heading to California for a non-conference game against Long Beach State Dec. 20. Following the Christmas break Idaho hosts former Big West rival UC Santa Barbara Dec. 28 in the Cowan Spectrum, their final tuneup before WAC play begins Jan. 9 against Fresno State.

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