MOSCOW - The first half was sloppy and the second half was physical, but in the end the Idaho women's basketball team prevailed with a 65-53 Western Athletic Conference win over UTSA in the Cowan Spectrum on Thursday night.
After 12 days without a game, the Vandals committed 11 first-half turnovers and gave up 6-0, 9-0 and 11-2 UTSA runs. But a 20-16 rebounding advantage helped keep Idaho in the game, as it trailed just 26-24 at the break.
"It reminded me of any game that we usually have after the Christmas break," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. "Very rusty, it's pretty physical, it's just a grinder. A lot of times after that time off your offense just isn't clicking. It's hard to replicate that intensity in practice for that long. That being said, defensively our players stepped up and did a great job tonight against a team that I think is very explosive."
The second half saw 18 personal fouls against UTSA to go along with two technicals and a flagrant foul against the Roadrunners. Idaho went 19-of-27 from the free throw line in the second half and held UTSA to 8-of-37 shooting after the break to withstand the physicality.
"It was real physical," Idaho junior post Alyssa Charlston said. "They played us the same way they wanted to play us last time, and in the second half we used that to our advantage."
"It was just a very physical game, it's their style," Newlee added. "I think the word is to be very physical with us, so we've faced that a lot this year. Teams are going to bring that style of game at us and we're going to have to respond. We've got to be tough and in the second half we did a good job of handling it. If teams are going to play like that then we've got to make them pay at the free-throw line and we did a good job of converting there."
The Vandals went 21-for-29 at the free-throw line for the game and out-rebounded the Roadrunners 44-40. Idaho also held UTSA to just 27 percent shooting for the game, 19-of-70, while the Vandals shot 40 percent, going 20-of-50.
Charlston led all scorers with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting. She added seven rebounds, all in the second half, three assists and a block. Freshman Christina Salvatore tied and then broke Idaho's single-season 3-point record by draining her 76th and 77th 3s of the season. She broke Susan Woolf's record of 76 3s from the 1998-99 season. Salvatore finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
"I happened to break the record tonight but I have to give the credit to my teammates," Salvatore said. "I don't do it on my own, it's their screens and their passes. I have a pretty easy job, I just shoot the ball, but it feels pretty good to make a positive contribution."
Freshman Ali Forde had a busy night. She finished with eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, and added nine rebounds, four steals and three blocks. Junior Addie Schivo also added eight points, going 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. That's the most free-throws made by an Idaho player without a miss this season. Jessica Graham added seven points and five rebounds for Idaho, while Krissy Karr scored seven clutch points as well. Her 3-pointer with 15:27 to play gave Idaho its first lead of the night, and she went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 61 seconds of the game.
After losing a pair of two-point games on the road on Feb. 14 and 16, the win snaps Idaho's two-game skid and moves the Vandals to 13-14 on the season and 10-6 in the WAC. UTSA falls to 14-12 on the season and 8-7 in the WAC.
"It's huge, especially coming off the road trip that we had, losing two close ones," Salvatore said of the win. "We were pretty down after that road trip but we stayed together, like we always do. We're pretty good at bouncing back after tough games. The break was good, we just worked in practice and came out a little rusty but stayed together, stayed positive, stayed aggressive and made some hustle plays and kept our head up."
Losses by UTSA and Louisiana Tech Thursday night mean Idaho has a 1.5 game lead for third-place in the WAC with two games remaining. Idaho hosts Texas State on Saturday at 6 p.m. on Senior Night, before closing out the regular season at Seattle U on March 9.