RENO, Nevada – Idaho Vandals coach Jon Newlee screamed “shoot!” as loudly as he could, and Taylor Pierce complied.
It almost surely seemed like double overtime was coming when Pierce dribbled the ball off her foot and saw the ball fly into the air. Somehow, she wrestled the ball back and ended up in the left corner.
Fading away from the basket she let it fly.
As senior teammate Ali Forde prepared for the offensive rebound, she only recalls thinking “Oh my God” as it swished through.
The Vandals women downed Weber State 86-83 in overtime in the quarterfinal of the Big Sky tournament Thursday night at the Reno Events Center.
“Oh my God. All I see is Taylor in this weird position,” Forde said. “I thought ‘you’re going to crash and get a tip-in’ and the ball goes straight through the hoop.”
There must be something about the state of Nevada. This is Idaho’s seventh consecutive tournament win, spanning two WAC championship runs in Las Vegas in 2013 and 2014.
While Pierce was the hero of the moment, fellow freshman Mikayla Ferenz was the hero of the night while scoring a career-high 29 points.
She had almost everything to do with Idaho overcoming a 15-point first-half deficit and bringing the Vandals back from the brink of a nine-point deficit with under 3 minutes left.
“They came up huge,” Newlee said. “I talked to them a little bit before practice yesterday. I told them don’t feel any more pressure, it’s what we’re doing here. Just come in and play your game, just come in relaxed and play hard. They’ve been fantastic all year. Two of the best freshman I’ve ever had.”
Ferenz casually drained her eighth 3-pointer with 9.6 seconds left to bring Idaho to within one. After a forced turnover, she seemingly gave Idaho an easy route to victory while being fouled shooting her next 3-pointer.
The free-throw stripe was too close. She sandwiched her one make with two misses, forcing overtime at 76-all.
Ali Forde deserves her due for the comeback effort as well.
For nearly 14 minutes, Forde was relegated to lead cheerleader. Picking up her fourth foul 3 minutes into the second half, the senior enforcer in the paint sat for a vast majority of the second half.
Upon her re-entry, she swatted a shot, cleaned up with a putback, forced a steal and had three-point play the old-fashioned way to cut a six-point lead to one with 80 seconds left.
Weber State took a 39-36 lead into halftime thanks to some dead-eye 3-point shooting. The Wildcats nearly couldn’t miss. Particularly, Yarden Danan, whose third consecutive 3 put the Wildcats up 32-17.
Ferenz gave Idaho its first lead with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, stepping back and draining a 3-pointer in the face of a Weber State defender to put Idaho on top 52-50, capping a 9-0 run by the Vandals. The Wildcats regained a 56-54 advantage to take into the final quarter.
Idaho State pulls upset
In other quarterfinals, ninth-seeded Idaho State (17-14) posted a 52-50 upset over top-seeded Montana State (21-9) and fourth-seeded North Dakota (18-12) held on for a 65-62 win over fifth-seeded Montana (20-11).
Idaho State and North Dakota will meet at noon Friday in the first semifinal.