Tournament time is finally here and the Idaho women’s basketball team will get things going when they take on San Jose State in the first round of the WAC Tournament Wednesday night.
The Vandals finished the regular season with a 6-8 conference record and are the No. 4 seeded team in the tournament. Idaho started conference play 0-5, but put it together in the second half of the season.
Sophomore Alyssa Charlston said the team is ecstatic for tournament play.
“We’re super excited,” Charlston said. “Everything starts off 0-0 from here on out, so we’re looking to play a whole new brand of basketball.”
It will be the third meeting between the Vandals and Spartans this season. Idaho won both meetings this year, but by a narrow margin. Charlston said Idaho isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It shows that we can finish games, but the WAC tournament is a whole different thing,” Charlston said. “It’s a clean slate. It’s hard to beat a team three times. It’s been two close games. We have the confidence and know we are capable of it, but it’s no guarantee whatsoever.”
The Spartans are led by all-WAC selection Brittany Johnson, who is the second-leading scorer in the conference and played a big role in SJSU’s resurrection this season. Johnson set a new Spartan record for points in a season.
SJSU coach Tim La Kose was named WAC coach of the year this season in his first year with the Spartans. Under La Kose, the Spartans won nine more games than they did last season.
The Vandals won their last two games of the season, largely because they were able to take care of the ball. In their last two games the Vandals turned the ball over just 16 times. Idaho coach Jon Newlee said his team has to continue to cut turnovers if the wins are going to keep coming.
“We’re going to have to make good decisions with the basketball,” Newlee said. “I think we’re going to have to rebound and match their physicality. Defensively, they’re extremely talented and athletic offensively, so we’re going to have to get out there. I think we’re going to have to come focused defensively.”
Leading the Vandals is Charlston, who was also named to the all-WAC first team. Charlston was the fourth-leading scorer in the conference and the second-leading rebounder.
The Vandals are a young squad and the experience of a conference tournament will be a new experience to multiple players on the roster. Nevertheless, Newlee said his team is focused and ready to go.
“I think we’re focused,” Newlee said. “They know what’s at stake. It’s the best time of the year. It’s postseason tournament time, a lot riding on it. There’ll be a lot of emotion out there.”
“I think we’re excited to get out there,” Charlston said. “We just have to bring the energy that we brought the last five or eight games.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena. The winner of the contest will advance to the semifinals and play on Friday.