|Vandal women advance|
RENO, Nev. - Shaena Kuehu and Yinka Olorunnife paced the Idaho women on Wednesday, as the Vandal women advance to the Western Athletic Conference semifinal round with a 75-63 win over New Mexico State at the Lawlor Events Center.
Kuehu scored a career-high 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting, along with 10 rebounds and four assists for her second career double-double, while Olorunnife went a crisp 9-of-11 from the floor, 3-of-4 from 3-point range and scored 23 points with 10 boards, four steals, and two assists.
The win moves Idaho to 11-19 overall and gives the Vandals the seventh win in their last 10 games. New Mexico State's season ends with an 18-12 overall slate. Idaho will now face Fresno State at 12 p.m. (PST) Friday with a championship game berth on the line.
"It feels great," Idaho senior Charlotte Otero said. "We've done so many things this year and I'm really proud and happy to be a part of this team, and knowing that these are the girls who are helping to make my senior year keep going as far as it can go."
After the first half was primarily a one-possession affair, the Vandals exploded out of the blocks to start the second. Three straight baskets after a Rachele Kloke free throw to start the second half gave the Vandal women eight points of breathing room at 41-33 just four minutes into the period.
After NMSU rallied back to tie, Idaho went on what was the game-winning run. The Vandals scored eight straight points after NMSU took a 45-44 lead on a Crystal Boyd free throw at the 12:17 mark. The Aggies fought back to within one point at 58-57 with 4:35 remaining, but Otero slammed the door shut with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and the Vandals stretched their lead to 12 by the final gun.
"Every time they made their runs, one of these guys right here (Kuehu, Olorunnife and Otero) made a big shot to keep us in front, and I thought it was important that we keep the lead down the stretch," Idaho head coach Jon Newlee said at the postgame news conference. "It just seemed like big shot after big shot. They'd hit one and then we would."
Idaho took advantage of a bevy of NMSU mistakes by turning 14 Aggie turnovers into 22 points, while also limiting NMSU to four second-chance points.
The Vandals shot 44.4 percent overall and 43.5 percent from 3-point range, while NMSU was just 35.4 percent from the floor and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. Idaho hit seven of its 15 attempts from 3-point range in the second half and tied a season high with 10 made 3-pointers.
"It's huge for the program, it's huge for the kids that are coming next year and it's huge for the kids that are coming back - which is everyone but Char," Newlee said about the impact of the win. "They understand that we're capable of doing that, of getting to the semis and going beyond. It's another step forward in getting this program up to the level that I want it to be at."
The first half went as expected after the two regular-season nail-biters. Idaho took a 33-31 advantage into the break. Turnovers were key in the period, as the Vandals scored 13 points off NMSU miscues.
Ally Sisel-Kumpfer came up big in a reserve role in the half, as she grabbed three rebounds, scored four points and played solid defense in eight minutes of the opening stanza.
After falling behind by as many as seven points, Idaho closed out the half with a 12-5 run to take the two-point lead in the break. Idaho shot 45.5 percent in the first half, but the Aggies stayed in by shooting 50 percent from 3-point range.
Idaho lost both regular-season games against Fresno State this year, but the Vandals swept the Bulldogs last year and have played FS close in three of the last four meetings. The two teams have never met in the WAC Tournament before.