Idaho women crush Chicago State in WAC tournament opener
LAS VEGAS – Emperor Petronius Maximus would not have thought the sacking of Rome was so bad if he could have seen what the Vandals had in store for Chicago State.
In Wednesday’s Western Athletic Conference Tournament opener the Cougars were understaffed and thoroughly overmatched against the top-seeded Vandals. Throw in a hot-shooting night for the conference champion and UI’s 84-43 win served as little more than an additional walkthrough.
The Vandals will face the winner of Texas Pan-American and New Mexico State on Friday in the tournament semifinals.
“One game down, two to go I guess,” coach Jon Newlee said. “Just to be able to have the experience of some of the players who haven’t really played out here just to kind of know that we’ve been anticipating these games out here under the lights and get a game under our belts was nice.”
The loss ended CSU (3-27, 0-16 WAC)’s first season in the WAC. The Cougars brought 10 cheerleaders to support their seven players and were forced to hang back in a tight zone simply to give its ladies a rest and keep them out of foul trouble.
Faced with the Cougars meager zone the Vandals (23-8, 15-1 WAC) simply shot over the top of it. Again, and again, and again. UI made 14 of 29 3-pointers for a scorching 48.3 percent and faced few impediments when driving towards the basket.
The Vandals were one made 3-pointer shy of the WAC tournament record, and tied the record for assists with 26.
“The first few times we played them we ran the floor really well and our posts ran the floor really well and spaced out our shooters,” said Christina Salvatore, who led the Vandals with 18 points. “I think we just had the same mindset tonight, our posts got looks and once our posts got looks it kind of opened up our shooters on the wings.”
With a short bench himself and the game well in hand, Newlee tried to preserve his players legs by evenly distributing playing time. Every Vandal played at least 19 minutes and none played more than 29.
UI coasted through the second half, committing 10 turnovers and only outscoring CSU 30-27. But the Vandals didn’t need to score a basket after halftime to win, not after racing out to a 54-16 lead at the end of the first half.
“One of our better halves of the year, probably the best offensively just in terms of moving the basketball, sharing the basketball, making good decisions,” Newlee said. “I liked our defensive intensity as well in that first half. I thought we really brought it. We were ready to play.”
One of the stars of the first half was emerging freshman Agueda Trujillo Fernandez, a 6-foot guard from Manacor, Spain. Fernandez wasn’t a factor offensively for most of the season, but scored a career-high 19 points in the regular season finale against Chicago State.
On Wednesday she scored 13 points, second-most in her career, and 11 of them in the first half.
UI was without post Brooke Reilly of Spokane, who has a hip injury. Newlee said that Reilly is “day to day” and was unsure if she would be available on Friday.