Coming off a road win, Idaho women’s basketball coach Jon Newlee expected his team to continue their new-found scoring and defensive effort. Newlee got his wish, but only after a sloppy first period doomed the Vandals’ chances of victory. Idaho fell to Colorado State, 65-55, in Memorial Gym.
“We lost the game in the first ten minutes,” Newlee said. “It’s frustrating — we lost track of their shooters and played tired.”
Idaho’s offensive struggles were on display early in the first half, shooting for 32 percent. The Vandals (1-6) managed to take the lead in the first minutes of the game, but a defensive collapse led to turnovers and fast-breaks which Colorado State (5-2) took full advantage of.
The Rams shot a staggering 55 percent from the floor, including sinking seven 3-pointers to put them up 41-26 at the end of the first half.
“We didn’t find their shooters, we didn’t sprint back in transition, and they were hitting wide open 3’s,” Newlee said. “When you go down 18, it’s a big hole to come back from.”
Despite the deficit, the Vandals came out charged and ready in the second half. Led by Yinka Olorunnife — who set a career record in blocks with 5 and contributed 9 points as well as 6 rebounds — Idaho rattled CSU into shooting just 21 percent from the floor in the second half.
Olorunnife took charge in the second half with aggressive play on both ends of the court. On defense, Olorunnife blocked five CSU shots, including a spectacular rejection of a 3-pointer late in the second half with the Vandals trailing by just two, which was met with loud cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.
With strong defensive pressure, the Vandals pulled within two points with five minutes remaining, but ran out of steam in the final minutes, giving up back-to-back 3-pointers to CSU.
“We got aggressive and found their shooters, and got all the way back — we were right there, but then we give up two 3-pointers,” Newlee said. “We can’t take plays off, everybody has to contribute and everyone has to come ready to play — until we do that we aren’t going to get many wins.”
Newlee was particularly happy with Olorunnife’s performance in the game. She showed flashes of her old game, Newlee said, but rolled her ankle right when she was playing her best.
Olorunnife said she has been off her game lately, but was happy to get back into the groove.
“The first few games, I’ve been having a hard time,” Olorunnife said. “Things just weren’t going my way, but I finally relaxed and started to play basketball without thinking too much.”
Newlee was also impressed with Charlotte Otero’s performance, as well as three-point extraordinaire Bianca Cheever, who nailed 4 of 8 3-point attempts during the game.
The Vandals held Mountain West Conference-leading scorer Kim Mestdagh to only 11 points, but CSU did what good teams do and fielded other players to pick up the slack. With double-coverage on Mestdagh, CSU’s Bonnie Barbee found room to maneuver and made Idaho pay by going a lights-out 6-of-8 from downtown and putting up 20 points to lead the team.
Idaho was led by Rachele Kloke, who found room in the second half and put up 16 points to lead the comeback.
The second half showed Idaho’s talent, but Newlee said it’s hard to dig a hole and expect to come back from it.
Newlee will have one full day to motivate the team to a strong start against Wyoming, which comes into Memorial Gym unbeaten. Wyoming’s multi-pronged attack, led by four scorers averaging double-digit points per game, will be a huge test for an Idaho defense which has been enigmatic at times. It will be the fifth game for Idaho in seven days. That contest tips off Thursday at 7 p.m.