LAS VEGAS – Chicago State was understaffed and thoroughly overmatched in its Western Athletic Conference tournament opener against top-seeded Idaho. Throw in a hot-shooting night for the conference champions and the Vandals’ 84-43 win Wednesday served as little more than an additional walkthrough.
The Vandals will face 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’s first season in the WAC. The Cougars (3-27, 0-16) brought 10 cheerleaders to support their seven players and were forced to hang back in a tight zone to give their 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. UI made 14 of 29 3-pointers for a scorching 48.3 percent.
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 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. We were ready to play.”