It was a situation which the Vandals have found themselves in almost too many times for Idaho coach Jon Newlee to count. With under two minutes remaining, the Vandals held a slim lead over Nevada, ranked second in the WAC, and were coming out of a time-out after Nevada sunk a big shot and looked on the verge of breaking even.
“What was going in my head (during the time-out) was we have been in this position so many times,” Newlee said. “I told the players ‘we are going to close this one out and we are winning this ball game and not giving it away.’”
They Vandals didn’t disappoint.
After heartbreaking losses to La Tech in overtime and Utah State at the end of regulation, the Vandals finally clamped down and held Nevada, whose only loss was to unbeaten Fresno State, to a measly 26 percent shooting in the second half, including an abysmal 18 percent from three-point range as Idaho brought down Nevada by a score of 61-53.
“The first thing I said (to the team) is that I am so happy to not be standing here and saying we gave another game away,” Newlee said. “I am proud of the way the team responded throughout the close games and the breaks have finally started to come our way.”
The entire game was a see-saw affair, with eight lead changes as both teams traded punches early, with Idaho entering halftime down by one point. The Vandals turned up the heat in the second, out-shooting Nevada for a eight-point lead with under two minutes to go before Nevada’s Tahnee Robinson nailed a perfect three to bring Nevada within striking distance at 57-52.
“When she (Robinson) banked in that three, I thought, well, here we go again,” Newlee said. “It was the same as in San Jose, when they banked in a three from the top and, well there you go.”
Instead of folding, the Vandals came out of the huddle and played arguably their best defense of the year — Nevada would get just one point in the next two minutes, off a free-throw.
Rachele Kloke said the team took the best parts of their game against La Tech and worked on transition play.
“It feels amazing,” Kloke said. “Nevada is a great team — it was a big win for us and it will give us more momentum.”
The Vandals, despite being out-matched size-wise in almost every game, have hung in with the best in the conference, losing their past their past three games by single digits. Newlee said the team played hard but the breaks just never seemed to happen for the team until tonight.
“Char’s layup was a great example — it hung on the rim and went in,” Newlee said. “All year, that ball has been hanging on the rim and coming off.”
The Vandals took their high-pressure defense, which was so effective against La Tech, and applied it to Nevada to hold them to a paltry 34 percent shooting from the floor.
On the other end, Idaho nailed 44 percent of their shots and an astounding 41 percent from three-point range.
Idaho was once again led by Rachele Kloke, who tallied up 17 points along with six rebounds. Yinka Olorunnife was a force at both ends, tallying 15 points for the Vandals cause as well as shutting down Nevada’s top scorers, and Shaena Kuehu rounded out the Vandals top-three with 12 points as well as leading the team with 8 rebounds.
“Sometime you feel like that black could is over your head,” Newlee said. “But you have to make your own luck with effort and playing smart, and I thought we did that tonight.”
The Vandals have an entire week to study film and work on their game before heading to California with a showdown against unbeaten Fresno State, which sits firmly in first place in the WAC.