LAS VEGAS – Short-handed and running on fumes, the University of Idaho women’s basketball team gave Nevada all it could handle deep into the second half.
That’s when the tiring Vandals lost track of Nevada senior guard Tahnee Robinson, who poured in 20 of her career-high 35 points in the last 11:18 to carry the fourth-seeded Wolf Pack (21-9) to a 75-61 win in the WAC women’s tournament quarterfinals Thursday at the Orleans Arena.
Fifth-seeded Idaho (15-15), playing without senior Derisa Taleni, who was back in the hospital with a kidney infection one day after passing a kidney stone, appears to be in line for a spot in the 16-team Women’s Basketball Invitational. An official announcement is expected by Monday.
“It’s unbelievable to me what they did tonight,” said Nevada coach Jane Albright, whose team will face No. 1 Louisiana Tech in today’s semifinals. “They had a fierce competitor in the hospital and they’ve had some sickness. For them to come out and battle, it says a lot about their character.”
The game unfolded almost as well as Idaho coach Jon Newlee could have hoped. Senior post Yinka Olorunnife maneuvered inside for 14 points and 10 rebounds – her 16th double-double this season – to help Idaho take a 36-29 lead at half.
The Vandals committed just two fouls, made 55 percent of their shots and limited Nevada to 37.5 percent shooting in the first half.
Idaho was still in front 51-44 after Alyssa Charlston scored on the low block with 11:30 remaining. Robinson took over, scoring on a scoop shot while being fouled, then draining a 22-foot 3-pointer. The All-WAC first-team selection drove for a left-handed layup to knot the score at 57, launching Nevada’s 20-4 run to close the game.
“Really the first three-quarters of the game went the way we wanted,” Newlee said. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t stop Robinson, but there are a lot of people that haven’t stopped her.”
Idaho had turnover issues down the stretch against Nevada’s pressure defense. The Vandals had a couple of shots blocked, missed some other open looks and couldn’t contain Robinson, who made another scoop shot while being fouled, another long 3 and another left-handed layup to boost Nevada’s lead to 68-61.
Olorunnife finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Her 317 rebounds set an Idaho single-season record, bettering her 310 as a sophomore. Charlston added 12 points.
“We’ve had a really good season, and we were really close to having a great season,” Newlee said. “We just lost some games right at the end.”