<strong>LAS VEGAS—</strong> They say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. That proved to be true for the Utah State women’s basketball team as they fell to the Idaho Vandals in the semifinals of the WAC tournament in Las Vegas, 84-82.
“This is a tough place to be in obviously,” USU head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “I’m sure if we had won the game, Idaho would be feeling the same way we do right now, just very disappointed, very frustrated.”
Aggie senior Devyn Christensen led all scorers with 37 points, including a WAC tournament single-game record nine made 3-pointers. Fellow senior Jenna Johnson and freshman Makenlee Williams also added 12 apiece for USU with Johnson also tallying 10 rebounds. Idaho’s Stacey Barr led the Vandal attack with 26 points while Ali Forde pulled down 14 rebounds.
Christensen made her first four shots including three from behind the arc for 11 points in just six minutes of play. After the hot start, Christensen went ice cold and didn’t score again in the half.
The first half was very streaky for Utah State. Big runs were interrupted with long dry spells, giving Idaho a chance to keep things close. At the half, Utah State held a slight 34-32 lead.
After the break, the Aggies got hot from long range. Senior Pualei Furtado, Williams and Christensen hit big shot after big shot from 3-point land.
“I just felt space,” Christensen said. “I don’t even know what it looked like, I just felt space. I was just trying to shoot and get things going for myself and get things going for my team.”
The Vandals stayed in the game behind their offensive rebounding efforts and making some big shots of their own. Idaho outrebounded USU 47-35 overall and 19-9 on the offensive glass in the game.
“Rebounding is definitely a heart thing,” Johnson said. “It’s about determination. If you want to rebound, you can rebound, no matter what your size is.”
After taking a 54-46 lead, USU’s offense sputtered and Idaho’s exploded. The Vandals went on a 22-5 run to go ahead of the Aggies 68-59 with five minutes to play.
“Our motor just wasn’t running smoothly,” Finkbeiner said. “We couldn’t turn the corner on offense, we weren’t getting shots. On defense we weren’t getting stops.”
The Aggies then took a timeout to stop the bleeding. USU showed more composure but each time momentum started to build for the Aggies, Idaho would hit a big shot to quiet things down.
“It’s extremely frustrating but that’s what a good game is all about,” Christensen said. “A good team will do that to you when they are feeling it and Idaho was feeling it tonight. They wanted it and we wanted it and they hit shots when they needed to.”
The Aggies slowly cut the deficit to three with 1:12 to play. Christensen hit another 3-pointer and Idaho made a bucket and a free throw as the two teams battled for the lead.
“Both teams were feeling it,” Johnson said. “We were both on that edge. We wanted to get that lead, get that edge.”
With 12 seconds remaining and the Aggies trailing by three, Franny Vaaulu made an inside bucket and was fouled. She made the free throw to tie the game at 82. Idaho drove the length of the floor and missed the layup but as was the case for much of the game, the Vandals picked up an offensive board and Addie Schivo drew a foul to go to the line. Schivo hit both free throws to put Idaho up by two with just 3 seconds remaining.
Utah State inbounded the ball to Johnson at half court who then passed to Christensen for a desperation shot. With a foul to give, Idaho attempted to use it but knocked the ball loose instead. The ball rolled into the hands of the Vandals as time expired.
“We started to fight back so I’m proud of everybody for that.” “We just needed a few more seconds there and I think it would have been a different story.”
Utah State finishes the season with a 18-13 record, and still has a chance to improve that with a possible postseason invitation.