Vandal women top SJSU 74-59

Moved back to "the friendly confines" of Memorial Gym because of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the Vandal women's basketball team jumped out to a commanding 38-19 halftime lead over San Jose State, then battled in the second half as the "game" into a "war" with SJSU committing 17 fouls leading to 26 Idaho free throw chances. The Vandals then survived a late Spartan run to post a 74-59 win.

The victory avenged a disappointing five-point Vandal loss at San Jose earlier in the season and moved the Vandals to 6-7 in conference action.

Vandal Coach Jon Newlee said the first 20 minutes was Idaho's best half of the season. "It was our best half I think of the year, really, all around," he said. "Defensively we were doing exactly what we wanted to do. Offensively we really were sharp I thought sharing the basketball, getting to the rim, doing all the things that we want to do…We only had three turnovers at halftime, and that's what I mean about running our offense. We were making good decisions with the ball and taking great shots; so I was really, really happy with that…The first half was definitely our best half of year."

The Vandals were dynamic in the first 20 minutes hitting 55.6% of their three-point shots and outscoring the Spartans 18-2 on turnovers. Idaho had 7 steals and San Jose turned the ball over a total of 13 times in that period. Idaho had only three turnovers.

It was more of the same at the start of the second half as the Vandals pushed the lead out to as many as 27 points (their biggest lead in two years), but the Spartans started playing "physical" basketball in an attempt to rattle the Vandals. That strategy had paid off with a Spartan win in the first game, and it almost did the trick again Wednesday night.

"At the start of the second half, actually, once we pushed the lead out I think we got a little complacent," Newlee said. "They went to some ‘other tactics.' Basically that's their game. When teams do that we need to make free throws and make ‘em pay."

Unfortunately the Vandals missed five of their first six free throws and the battle was on. "You keep missing free throws they're gonna keep fouling you and putting you at the free throw line and playing their game," Newlee said. "I told our guys ‘We got caught up in all of their (stuff)…We can't afford to get caught up like that. We've just got to play our game like we did the first half and it wouldn't even be close."

Once the Vandals regained their composure and started shattering San Jose's full court pressure, the battle turned back into a game. The Vandals substituted liberally and the Spartans sliced into the seemingly insurmountable margin and an 8-0 run in 2:20 cut the edge to 10 points with 1:21 remaining.

But the visitors were never able to get any closer.

The Vandals said they knew what to expect going into the game but they still had to fight to maintain their composure and, as a result, the Spartans were able to get back into contention. "We just let their fouling get to us," said junior wing Rachelle Kloke. "And we didn't go down and score on the offensive end and we just didn't get our rebounds. We let them back. It wasn't so much them, it was us."

Senior Charlotte Otero said, "We should have beat them by more than that…I don't want to get caught up in their game. That's what they're trying to do. They're trying to get in your head. I'm not just gonna fall down and sit there and whine that I'm hurt. I just get up, go knock my free throws down and do it again next time. If they don't wanna guard me out there [beyond the 3-point line] then I'll take advantage of it. My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball and making the extra pass."

Sophomore Shaena Kuehu added, "We wanted to go out and attack them in the beginning and that's what we did. We pushed it because we knew they couldn't run with us. We knew they were gonna get tired, and we're a running team. We didn't take care of it as much as we should have in the second half, but we did capitalize on what their mistakes were." Asked about outscoring San Jose 20-5 on points off turnovers, Kuehu came up with a great assessment of the keys to the win: "If they wanna turn the ball over, it's a benefit for us. We try not to turn the ball over."

The Vandals put five players in double-figures and pretty much everyone on the squad that was able to play contributed. Kuehu had a career night with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals in 33 minutes. Kloke checked out with 15 points, 3 rebounds and a steal, Otero had 12 points, a rebound and an assist, Natasha Helsham had a season high 11 points and two rebounds, and Yinka Olorunnife had 10 points, 7 rebounds, a steal and two blocked shots before fouling out with 7 minutes left in the game. Bianca Cheever added 5 points (including a three) but helped the Vandals in virtually every phase of the game including handling the ball against the press, tying Olorunnife with 7 rebounds, handing out 4 assists and notching 4 steals. Debbie Pederson had 4 points, 3 rebounds and a blocked shot, Ally Sisel-Kumpfer had 1 point and 3 rebounds, and Emily Doran also saw action.

The final team totals for the Vandals: 21-of-54 from the floor (39%, 8-of-19 (42%) from beyond the three-point line, 24-of-34 (65%) from the free throw line, only 9 turnovers, 11 assists, 10 steals, and three blocked shots.

Idaho will be in Logan to take on Utah State Saturday and will be back in the Cowan Spectrum next Wednesday against Louisiana Tech for their final home game of the year, a nationally televised (ESPNU) game that will start at 8 p.m. PST.

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