The day Stacey Barr accepted the Western Athletic Conference tournament’s Most Valuable Player award would have been Bev Loveday’s 68th birthday.
Barr marked the occasion by writing her late grandmother’s name on her hand and occasionally glancing at it for inspiration during Idaho’s 67-64 win over Seattle in last Saturday’s WAC championship game.
Loveday died Feb. 25 from emphysema and other complications. Barr missed two games to attend her grandmother’s funeral in Australia, but she played through her grief as Idaho won three games at the WAC tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1985.
“She channeled it in an emotional way,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “She willed us to win.”
Barr said it was her way of honoring the woman who would call every week or two to keep up on her life on and off the court in Moscow, Idaho.
Barr averaged 9.9 points per game during the regular season, but she had 59 points and 23 rebounds during the conference tournament. She scored a career-high 26 points in the semifinals against Utah State.
“(The MVP) was an honor, but I think it was definitely a team thing,” the Melbourne native said. “My teammates are the ones who won me the award.”
Sixteenth-seeded Idaho (17-15) will play top-seeded Connecticut (29-4) at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Storrs, Conn., to open the NCAA tourney.
Barr, a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard, spent most of the early season coming off the bench, the same role she had last year while averaging 10.3 ppg. Newlee joked that he called Barr “The Microwave,” for her ability to provide a quick spark, as long as she was plugged in.
“Once she became more consistent, that’s when I started her,” Newlee said.
Barr’s joined the starting lineup on Jan. 3, for a win against San Jose State. Idaho, 3-9 entering that game, won 14 of its final 20 games.
“I’m comfortable either starting or coming off the bench,” Barr said. “(Newlee) trusting me to start was probably the big thing.”
Newlee noted Barr’s willingness to take charges and go after loose balls. Barr suffered a contusion to her right shin at UC Irvine by smashing into a chair while chasing a ball out of bounds. She needed to wear a protective splint over the injury for part of the season.
Newlee learned about Barr through long-time contracts in Australia. They said Barr flew under the radar with recruiters, but she could play team ball and shoot from long range. Barr has 51 3-pointers this season, second on the team to Christina Salvatore’s 87.
Barr, majoring in exercise physiology, plans to travel to Mexico and the West Coast this summer rather than return to Australia. Her family hopes to visit her in the U.S. for Christmas.
First up is this weekend’s trip to the East Coast.
“It’s going to be a huge experience,” Barr said of playing third-ranked UConn. “I think we’ll have to give it our best and see what happens.”