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Ferenz, Idaho Vandals on a roll

Idaho guard Mikayla Ferenz, center, scored 33 points Mondy night to lead the Vandals past Eastern Washington. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)
Idaho guard Mikayla Ferenz, center, scored 33 points Mondy night to lead the Vandals past Eastern Washington. (Lance Iversen / Associated Press)

It’s no coincidence. Mikayla Ferenz is on a run, and so are the Idaho Vandals.

“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” coach Jon Newlee said as Ferenz put up 41 points to help his Vandals take a 91-80 win on Saturday at Northern Arizona.

The win gave Idaho its first sweep of the Big Sky Conference season. Three days later, on Tuesday, Ferenz was rewarded with her second conference player of the week award.

“Every time I looked up the ball was going in,” said Newlee after the Vandals improved to 4-3 overall and 9-9 in the conference.

“She gets 41 points and only shoots two foul shots. She was attacking hard, running hard in transition,” Newlee said of Ferenz, who was 15 for 17 from the field.

Over the weekend, the sophomore from Walla Walla averaged 28.5 points, six rebounds and six assists. She had seven in an 85-68 win at Southern Utah that saw Idaho overcome an early 13-point deficit.

“We needed to get a sweep,” said Newlee, whose defending tournament champs lost three of their first five Big Sky games this year.

“We like playing at 7,000 feet. We got wins here and at Wyoming. That is mental toughness,” said Newlee, whose club hosts Montana State on Thursday.

Eagles show fortitude

Likewise, Eastern Washington showed some guts on what is considered the toughest road trip in the Big Sky.

Last weekend, the Eagles were coming off a loss at NAU and were locked in a tight game Saturday at Southern Utah.

A nine-point lead dwindled to one, and the Thunderbirds got the ball back in the final seconds. However, the Eagles forced a bad shot on the baseline to hold on for a 67-66 win.

“Sometimes you have to find a way to win,” said coach Wendy Schuller, after the Eagles improved to 5-2 in the conference and 10-8 overall.

Now in fourth place, the Eagles have a chance to move up with home games against the Montana schools.

Gonzaga winning with defense

After starting the West Coast Conference season with two losses, the Bulldogs are tied for first place. It’s easy to see why.

Last week, GU was in peak defensive form holding Santa Clara and Portland to a combined 26 for 90 (29 percent) from the field and a ridiculous 4 for 31 (13 percent) from 3-point range.

“We had some people step up and shoot the ball well, but our first-half defense was a game-changer for us today,” coach Lisa Fortier said after Saturday’s 85-50 win at Portland.

Three days later, after watching film, Fortier was just as impressed.

“We’re playing team defense, and focusing on the fact that there’s nothing we can do back there by ourselves,” Fortier said.

In particular, the Bulldogs have been quick with providing backside help, which has led to 44 steals in the last three games combined.

“Steals come from deflections and deflections come from intensity,” Fortier said.

The Zags (15-4 overall, 6-2 WCC) take a six-game winning streak into Thursday’s game at San Diego.

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