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No. 16 Idaho women to face No. 1 seeded Baylor

Taylor Pierce and the Vandals continue their postseason drive against Baylor. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
Taylor Pierce and the Vandals continue their postseason drive against Baylor. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
Sean Kramer Correspondent

MOSCOW – Jon Newlee’s stoic reaction displayed his feelings well when his Idaho women’s basketball team was shown in the NCAA tournament bracket during Monday’s selection show party at the Kibbie Dome.

The Vandals were paired with No. 1-seeded Baylor as a No. 16 seed for a Friday matchup in Waco, Texas.

His feelings became perfectly clear when his non-reaction turned into a subtle head shake of disapproval.

The rest of the room mirrored his feelings, until senior Ali Forde thrusted her arms in the air and started the cheering. The room followed.

“Extremely disappointed in the committee and where they decided to put us,” Newlee said. “I think it’s a joke, to be honest with you.”

Newlee cites Idaho’s body of work as justification for a seed as high as 14 or 15. The Vandals barely lost to Duke and Abilene Christian, while defeating Iowa State. However, Idaho only played one other NCAA tournament opponent — a 69-44 loss to Oregon State in Corvallis.

“With the success we had this year and the teams we played we thought we’d get a bit of a (better) seed,” senior Christina Salvatore said. “We’re happy to be in the tournament, although 16 is a little disrespectful to us, but we’re happy to be here and we’ll take what we get.”

Newlee feels a string of disrespect from the committee stemming from the previous two NCAA bids Idaho earned. The Vandals were a No. 16 seed at UConn in 2013 and a No. 14 seed with Louisville. Louisville was a top-five ranked team in the country in the Associated Press poll, with three of its four losses coming to eventual national champion UConn.

“I don’t know what you got to do with these guys; we get no respect from them,” Newlee said. “That’s three out of the last four years where we’ve gotten nothing out of that committee. I don’t know what their problem is.”

Idaho played in Waco last season, an 88-70 loss to the Bears. Baylor has stocked up even more since then, including a 6-foot-7 freshman in Kalani Brown, who increases their physicality in the paint.

“It’s going to be rough,” Forde said. “I’m always in for a battle. I’m excited.”

The freshmen trio of Forde, Salvatore and Connie Ballestero received their first taste of tournament play with a 105-37 evisceration at the hands of UConn. Stellar freshmen Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce will receive similar experience.

“I told them coming into it, winning a conference championship is the best feeling in the world,” Salvatore said. “They’re freshmen, sophomores, junior, and seniors just like us. Don’t feel outmatched and come ready to play.”

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