LAS VEGAS – Krissy Karr wasn’t supposed to be the one taking the shot.
But given how much the Idaho women’s basketball team struggled in its WAC tournament opener against San Jose State, maybe it was fitting that it ended in unexpected fashion.
Karr handled the ball for nearly all of Idaho’s final possession, then drove left into the lane and tossed up a floater that bounced around the rim and fell through the net at the buzzer to lift the Vandals to a 57-55 win over the Spartans in the WAC tournament quarterfinals at Orleans Arena.
It might not have been quite what the third-seeded Vandals (15-15) were expecting, given their two 17-point wins over SJSU (11-19) in conference play. But the win is enough to move Idaho to the semifinals, where it will face No. 2 seed Utah State at noon Friday.
“That game was a war, man,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said.
It was also nearly an upset. The sixth-seeded Spartans, after relinquishing what was once a 15-point lead in the first half, had a chance to take the lead when Riana Byrd went to the free-throw line with 18.8 seconds left and the score tied at 55.
She missed both free throws, just as Idaho forward Ali Forde had with the same score more than two minutes earlier.
The Vandals claimed the rebound off Byrd’s second miss and called timeout once the ball was brought into frontcourt. There were 14 seconds remaining when they inbounded to Karr, who dribbled out front, passed once and immediately received a pass back.
“We were looking for (forward Alyssa Charlston) off a down-screen action,” Karr said, but a San Jose State defender was helping over in that area. “I heard coach say, ‘Go, go,’ so I just went, and got the lucky bounce.”
There weren’t any of those for Idaho in the first half. SJSU, which suited up just seven players and played four of its starters the entire game, raced to a 26-11 lead behind some opportune shooting and the strong inside presence of Byrd, who scored 16 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
And Idaho’s 3-point shots weren’t dropping. The Vandals made 5 of their 21 attempts from beyond the arc. They were more successful when looking inside to freshman forward Forde, who scored nine points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“It was a conscious decision to stop shooting the 3, and let’s get the ball inside and see what happens,” Newlee said.
Part of the problem, Newlee is sure, was nerves.
“I think our young players, a couple of them definitely felt the lights here on the big stage,” Newlee said. “I think they put a lot of pressure on themselves.”
Idaho cut San Jose State’s lead to five by halftime, and took its first lead after a transition layup by Charlston put the Vandals ahead 53-52 with 4:19 remaining.
Stacey Barr, a 5-foot-8 guard who led all scorers with 17 points, made 3 of her 4 3-point attempts and finished 7 for 9 from the field.
She also made Idaho’s second-to-last field goal, a jumper with 3:18 remaining that gave the Vandals a 55-54 lead.
Byrd tied the game by splitting a pair of free throws with 2:56 to go. SJSU missed its last three shots, and shot 30 percent from the field in the second half.
“I was extremely nervous all week waiting for this game, knowing we had beaten them a couple times fairly easily, knowing they would have something else for us here in Vegas,” Newlee said. “They certainly did, and we’re proud of our team for battling back from that early deficit.”