LAS VEGAS – Basketball coaches often say it’s difficult to beat a good team three times. Try doing it when a starting guard spends the night before the game in the hospital and two other starters are battling illness.
None of that bothered fifth-seeded Idaho, which rode Yinka Olorunnife’s big first half and a balanced attack in the second to a 70-59 victory over No. 8 Boise State in the opening round of the WAC women’s tournament Wednesday at the Orleans Arena.
The Vandals (15-14) face No. 4 Nevada (20-9) in the quarterfinals tonight at 6. The teams split two regular-season meetings with the road team winning each time.
Idaho handled BSU (12-19) for the third time, all by double digits.
UI head coach Jon Newlee received a text message at 1 a.m. that senior Derisa Taleni was in the hospital and she passed a kidney stone at 4. About 14 hours later, she played 35 minutes, scored seven points and had two assists.
Senior wing Rachele Kloke, who has been slowed by a knee injury, and junior guard Keri Arendse have been under the weather since Idaho concluded the regular season with a road trip to New Mexico State and Louisiana Tech. They combined for 21 points, seven rebounds and five steals.
“Gutty performance by my team,” said Newlee, admitting he was nervous about a third meeting with rival BSU.
Olorunnife torched the Broncos for 19 points and seven rebounds in the first half as Idaho grabbed a 33-26 lead. Bianca Cheever’s 3-pointer and Olorunnife’s three-point play stretched Idaho’s lead from one to seven in the final minute. The Broncos missed five layups in the first 20 minutes.
“The fact that it was Boise State, I just came out pumped and I wanted every possession, every ball, every rebound,” said Olorunnife, who finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds for her 15th double-double this season.
The Vandals bumped their lead to 12 on Cheever’s 3-pointer early in the second half, but the Broncos rallied within 50-44 on Lauren Lenhardt’s basket. Idaho scored the next nine points, with contributions from Alyssa Charlston, Ganeaya Rogers, Taleni and Arendse.
“Coach’s speech at half was about how we needed to value each possession and step it up,” Kloke said.
Idaho trimmed its 11 first-half turnovers to seven in the second. The Vandals made 50 percent of their shots and 20 of 27 free throws.
Newlee said he hopes to continue playing BSU, which joins the Mountain West Conference next season, but Broncos counterpart Gordy Presnell didn’t sound as optimistic.
“They’re definitely in my plans,” Newlee said. “We have our best (home) crowd and they have their best crowd (when the teams play).”