Vandal women topple Nevada

Was it going to be "déjà-vu all over again" for the Vandal women's basketball team Wednesday night? Three games in a row the Vandals had been in a position to pull out a WAC win in the second half only to fall by five points at San Jose, two points at home against Utah State, and last week by two in overtime at Louisiana Tech. This time, however, Idaho prevailed and hung on to beat Nevada 61-53.

Wednesday night in the Cowan spectrum the Vandals played probably as dominating a second half as they had all season against second place Nevada. The Vandals had a 57-49 lead over the Wolf Pack with 2:32 left following four consecutive made free throws. But 20 seconds later at the other end of the floor Nevada's Tahnee Robinson banked home a three-pointer and Nicole Williams sank a free throw to make it a two possession game with 1:53 left, and suddenly Vandal players and coaches were starting to look over their shoulders a bit.

With time out of the floor, Idaho coach Jon Newlee stepped into the huddle and delivered a strong, positive pep talk to his team. The Vandals responded by keeping the pressure on the Wolf Pack, and when Charlotte Otero canned a layup and a free throw, followed by free throw by teammate Kanisha Bello, the Vandals had weathered the storm for a 61-53 victory.

This was the first time the Vandals have beaten Nevada since 2006. No current Vandal had been in a win against Nevada. Now the only team in the WAC Idaho has not beaten is Louisiana Tech. The Vandals will have another shot at the Lady Techseters at home March 3 in a game that will nationally telecast on ESPNU.

"When (Robinson) banked in the three I thought, ‘Well, here were go again,' because that's what happened in San Jose," Newlee said. "The kid rifled in a banked three from the top and there you go. Sometimes you feel like that black cloud's over your head, but I told our guys that you make your own luck, too. You've gotta make your own luck with effort and playing smart, and I thought we did that tonight."

The media asked Newlee to describe what took place in the critical time out late in the game. "What was going through my head was we've been in this position so many times it seems like already this year, especially even in the league," said Newlee. "When I got ‘em together I said, ‘Look. This is the same position we've been in, the same position we were in at La. Tech. We are closing this one out. That's just the way it's gonna be. We're gonna get out to three-point shooters. We're gonna rebound, and we are gonna knock down free throws and we're winning this ball game. We are not giving this one away.' I thought our kids did a great job of not giving it away, of taking the victory and playing to win and not breaking down. I was proud of ‘em the way we finally finished the close one out."

Rachele Kloke, who paced the Vandals with 17 points, said the Vandals did not want to experience the devastation of another close loss. "La Tech was the same situation and Utah was a heartbreaker too; so we all learned from that," she said. "In the huddle coach was like. ‘You've been in this situation before. You've prepared for it; so let's finish.' It was about time we finished. Percentage wise we should have won.

"Our coaches did a really great job of watching the film and having us know exactly what all their tendencies are," she continued. "They do an amazing job every single game, and this game we finally followed through with what they wanted. The game plan was…at La Tech we did a great job of rebounding and blocking out and just staying aggressive and that was the game plan -- to carry that over while executing more on offense and getting back on transition defense was very key for this game."

The first half was tight all the way with five ties and five lead changes. Neither team led by more than three and at intermission Nevada was up 26-25. That changed in the second half. The Vandals erupted offensively to shoot 60% from the floor (including 7 of 11 layups or put backs). They hit 10 of 14 free throws. At the other end of the floor the Wolf Pack was held to 26% from the floor, making only 6 of 19 layups or put backs. They shot 18% from three-point range.

Kloke was asked how important the victory over Nevada was to the Vandals. With a smile on her face she said, "I know we've been improving each game, but Nevada is a great team and it was a big win for us. It's just gonna give us more momentum for when we're on the road now…La Tech was a horrible feeling. We had them and just weren't able to pull it off. Coach does a great job after games of letting us know what we did wrong, what we can take from it, (telling us to) make sure that you focus on the positive and don't separate as a team but work together more…everyone do their thing together."

In addition to 17 points Kloke had 6 rebounds, an assist, a steal and a blocked shot. Yinka Olorunnife checked out with 15 points and 7 rebounds, Shaena Kuehu had 12 points and a team high 8 rebounds as Nevada made a concerted effort to keep Olorunnife off the boards. Otero also was key with 8 points, 6 rebounds and two assists. Bello finished with 6 points and 3 rebounds and Bianca Cheever added 3 points, an assist and two rebounds.

Only 343 fans were on hand to see the game, even though it is becoming apparent that the Vandals are tough to beat in the Spectrum. "I think we do a good job of playing at home," Newlee said. "Everybody's comfortable, it's a great place to play I think. We'd love to have a few more fans come out and support us, I know that. Maybe they will. Hopefully they will and get it really loud. We've played well on the road; we just haven't played well enough to get that win. It's not like we've been blown out on the road. We haven't pushed through. But here at home -- the Boise game -- we pushed through the close game. And here (tonight was) a close game we win, and I think they have a certain confidence level when they play here at home."

Idaho is idle Saturday then will travel to California next Wednesday to take on league-leading Fresno State.

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