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Idaho finds value in humbling loss

Connecticut’s Kelly Faris, left, pressures Connie Ballestero of Idaho, which commited 21 turnovers. (Associated Press)
Connecticut’s Kelly Faris, left, pressures Connie Ballestero of Idaho, which commited 21 turnovers. (Associated Press)

68-point loss to powerhouse UConn worst in program history

STORRS, Conn. – The Idaho women’s basketball  team will enter the 2013-14 season as one of the teams to watch in the WAC, with all five starters returning from the conference tournament champions.

Vandals coach Jon Newlee shouldn’t worry about overconfidence, though. No. 3 Connecticut helped with that Saturday.

The Huskies were true to their historic form in a dominating 105-37 victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament before 4,627 at Gampel Pavilion.

The Vandals (17-16) promised Friday that if nothing else, they would play hard for 40 minutes, and they did. With Idaho in danger of surpassing the NCAA women’s tournament record for biggest losing margin (74) – a stat that appeared on the Gampel video board’s feed of the ESPN2 broadcast – sophomore guard Stacey Barr made four 3-pointers in the final 3:38.

“I don’t think any of us were really aware of it, we were just continuing playing basketball,” said Barr (14 points). “It’s kind of nice not to be put in the record book for something like that.”

On paper, it was the worst loss in Idaho program history, surpassing the 98-45 loss to Boise State in the 1994 Big Sky Conference tournament. But Newlee, whose team went 14-7 after a 3-9 start, was far from discouraged.

“I told our guys, ‘You walk out of here with your heads up,’ “ Newlee said. “This game doesn’t define Idaho’s basketball season by any stretch of the imagination. This (NCAA appearance) was our reward for a job well done.”

The reward came with a clinic on pressure defense. UConn (30-4), employing quickness and length the Vandals had never seen, forced 21 turnovers, leading to 31 points.

“They just keep coming, keep coming,” Newlee said. “I’m sure my point guards are going to see that in their sleep the next two weeks, seeing that wave. But that’s good for us; it’s going to make us tougher, it’s going to make us better.”

Seventeen Vandal turnovers came in the first half as UConn took a 58-17 lead.  Before Saturday, Idaho averaged 16 turnovers a game.  In the first 20 minutes, UConn came within seven points of the average UI had been allowing per game.

The Huskies didn’t let up in the second half, outscoring the Vandals 18-0 in the first 7:28. UConn could start thinking about its second-round matchup with Vanderbilt Monday, and Newlee could continue laying the groundwork for a run at another WAC title. He was complimentary of UConn coach Geno Auriemma and not upset by the lopsided margin.

“I really liked that he respected our kids,” Newlee said. “He said, ‘You guys remind of where we started out way back when’. Our players heard that quote and they were just thrilled. Honestly, it’s like being on the floor with John Wooden. That’s what he’s done in the women’s game.”

When Idaho returns to Moscow, it will be the Huskies’ worth ethic which will stick most with Newlee.

“They have great athletes and all that. … but they play so hard,” he said. “They never take a play off. That just doesn’t happen here.” 

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