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Vandals guard Taleni overcomes her obstacles

No matter how the season ends for Idaho, Derisa Taleni is having a season to remember.

It all started with a season to forget, or the season she didn’t have. The 5-foot-9 guard from San Jose, Calif., missed all of last season because of a knee injury suffered in a preseason scrimmage.

Coming back from that is enough for many basketball players to call it a successful season, but Taleni had several other challenges along the way to averaging 10 points, four rebounds and four assists for the 10-7 Vandals.

She was shifted to point guard from shooting guard, where she averaged 14.5 points and was named Western Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year following her transfer from De Anza College.

Then her rehabilitation was just a wee bit behind after giving birth to a son, Dreyden, in July.

“It’s mainly my teammates, my coaches and my boyfriend, who help me,” she said. “I can talk to them.”

She doesn’t worry about her son, who is with her parents, and has her five sisters and two brothers nearby to watch over him, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“It’s hard being away from him,” she said. “I know he’s in good hands with my parents. Every day I get to talk to him.”

That allows her to focus on basketball, which is also easier because she earned her degree in sociology in December.

The first challenge was getting in shape.

“I was kind of getting frustrated, because I wanted to catch up to the girls, be where they’re at,” she said. “Coach (Jon) Newlee said it was OK to slow down.”

The adjustment to point guard wasn’t quite as tough.

“Coach hinted to me I would probably play some point. He knew that’s what I played a lot of in (junior college) and high school,” Taleni said. “I was mentally prepared, but running the team physically was harder. There were just some things my coaches would see that I wouldn’t see. I would make the mistakes over and over. They would show me on film … I had to not force things, to play within myself.”

It seems to be working.

The Vandals are tied for third in the conference at 3-2 with WAC-leading Louisiana Tech visiting Thursday. New Mexico State, also 3-2, comes in Saturday. Then there is a rematch with San Jose State next Wednesday. The Spartans upended the visiting Vandals last weekend for their first win.

“It’s just mainly coming in … focusing in practice,” Taleni said. “Coach has been on us about a lot of energy, try to bring that into practice as well as the game.”

Once basketball is over, a number of options and decisions await Taleni.

There is basketball overseas or going on to graduate school, but most important, “I’ll finally be home and be a mom.”

Dreyden’s father, Vandals running back Deonte Jackson, is hoping for a chance to play professional football, although he could use his psychology degree with a minor in communications to help intercity kids, Taleni said.

And that could lead to another tough choice. Taleni has really embraced the small, college town.

“I wanted to go somewhere different, different from city life,” she said. “I wanted to experience the college life. I like going to local stores and have people come up and say, ‘Great game,’ talking with you, knowing my name. You don’t get that at home in the big city.

“It made me think you don’t have to live in a big city to be happy. Seeing people in the small community is great. Living here is great. It has changed my perspective.”

Big numbers

Gonzaga leads the nation in scoring at 85 points a game. Oral Roberts is second at 83.2.

The Zags are in the top five in shooting, which is an impressive list. The top five are Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, Gonzaga and Baylor.

The Zags are doing more than keeping impressive company on the stat sheet. GU has played No. 4 Stanford the past two seasons, No. 9 Notre Dame earlier this year and No. 1 Baylor last year.

Gonzaga also leads the nation in field goals at 34.1 a game, more than three ahead of North Carolina, another ranked team the Zags met and beat in the NCAA tournament last year. The Bulldogs are tied with Connecticut for most assists per game at 20.

With offensive numbers like those, and Courtney Vandersloot leading the nation in assists for the second year in a row, it’s no wonder the GU women are second in the WCC in attendance behind the GU men.

The Bulldogs are averaging 3,536 fans, with the Saint Mary’s women next at 3,069.

Done deal

Florida Gulf Coast made it official at the semester break: Lewis and Clark graduate Brittany Kennedy has transferred across the country from Oregon State.

“Brittany’s arrival at FGCU is a big addition for our program,” said coach Karl Smesko, who has the Eagles at 15-1, 8-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. “She’s a fast point guard who makes good decisions.”

The Eagles opened the season with 14 straight wins until losing last week.


Whitworth coach Helen Higgs won her 250th game with the Pirates last weekend. She is 250-172 in 17 seasons at Whitworth. … Montana State’s Rachel Semansky averaged 18 points on 70 percent shooting with 17 rebounds, four assists, four steals and three blocks as the Bobcats won two road games. She earned the Big Sky player of the week award over Eastern’s Brianne Ryan, who averaged 25.5 points on 70 percent shooting with 10 boards as the Eagles won twice on the road. Ryan had a Big Sky season-high 33 points against Sacramento State. … Katie Baker (Lake City) of Montana had a 19-rebound game, one off the school record. … Chene Cooper of Eastern leads the Big Sky in assists at 6.2, which is 11th in the nation. … Louella Tomlinson of Saint Mary’s is No. 1 in blocked shots at 5.1. … Kia Gibson, a 6-foot senior center from Lakeside (Nine Mile Falls), who scored 39 points off the bench in two wins for 18th-ranked Northwest University in Portland, was named the Cascade Conference player of the week for the second time this season.