After seeing a 19-point first half lead evaporate, the Vandal women’s basketball team was able to hang on and beat San Jose State 67-63 Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas and advance to the semi-finals of the WAC Tournament.
The Spartans surged in the second half and got within three points of Idaho with less than a minute to go, but freshman Krissy Karr hit two free throws to give the Vandals a four-point lead that would hold.
Idaho sophomore Alyssa Charlston said it’s an amazing feeling to get the first round win.
“It’s huge for us. We’re a team that’s been improving all along,” Charlston said. “… We have a lot of threats on our team and I think just getting this game is going to get a lot of confidence.”
Next up for Idaho will be the No. 1 seeded Fresno State Bulldogs. The game is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Friday.
The Vandals started the game on a 5-0 run, but it was quickly countered by the Spartans. Over the next 10 minutes the Vandals slowly extended their lead, and after an 8-0 run and barrage of 3-pointers, Idaho cemented the lead. Idaho led by as many as 19 and went in to the break with a 41-24 lead. The Vandals hit nine 3-pointers in the first half.
Idaho coach Jon Newlee said it was all about getting stops in the first half.
“We came out on fire. I thought we’re playing well,” Newlee said. “I thought we defended extremely well in the first half.”
The score may have been lopsided at halftime, but the game was far from over. The Spartans came out of the locker room and went on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to single digits. Throughout the half the teams played a counter punch game, but slowly the Spartans climbed back into it, led by all-WAC senior Brittany Johnson.
The Spartans cut the deficit to three in the last minute but Johnson was forced to give up her fifth and final foul, sending Karr to the line with 3.9 seconds remaining. Karr made both free throws to make it a two possession game, sealing the Idaho victory.
Newlee said he wasn’t happy with his team’s energy in the second period.
“In the second half, I thought defensively we broke down as some point, but you have to give a lot of credit to Brittany (Johnson),” Newlee said. “I thought in the second half we got tentative with the basketball and tentative in our shot selection and it almost cost us, but I’m proud of the way we hung tough.”
Johnson led all scorers with 31 points. Karr led Idaho with 17 while Charlston had 16 and 15 rebounds.
Newlee said the Vandals will practice at a local high school on Thursday to prepare for Fresno State on Friday.
For San Jose State, the loss ends another season and the career of Johnson, who was the second-leading scorer in the conference this season. It was a breakout year for the Spartans, who won nine more games this year than last year. First-year coach Tim La Kose was named WAC coach of the year for his efforts.
La Kose said despite losing Johnson, this year should serve as a building block for San Jose State’s future.
“Going into the future now, I think the expectations have been laid,” La Kose said. “It’s a tribute to what this group did.”