LAS VEGAS — No matter that the Utah State women’s team had defeated Idaho by 31 points the last time they played and was the higher seed in the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. The Vandals were simply the hottest team coming into the tourney as they showed Friday afternoon at Orleans Arena with an 84-82 victory over the Aggies.
Since that loss in Logan on the last day of January, the Vandals had won six of nine games with their three losses each coming by two points apiece.
In Friday’s game, the Vandals got hot when it counted, scoring on 10 of 11 possessions late in the second half to overcome a six-point deficit and outscore the Aggies 24-9 over a seven-minute stretch and were never headed.
The loss spoiled an absolutely tremendous performance by Aggie senior guard Devyn Christensen, who scored a career-high 37 points, including 9 of 16 from 3-point range. Christensen made a dizzying 26 of her points in the final 11:39 of the game, but it still wasn’t enough.
She needed one more chance at the end after Idaho’s Addie Schivo hit a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds left. The Aggies drew up a play for her, but she couldn’t get the handle between two defenders and fell to the floor as the ball bounded away and the clock ticked down. Christensen lay face-down on the floor for several seconds after the buzzer as her teammates tried to console her.
Despite her red eyes in the postgame press conference, Christensen was able to joke about her hot finish after a drought of more than 20 minutes without a point.
“I planned it that way — I just wanted to get hot at the end,’’ she said.
Then turning serious, she added, “There were streaks in the game and I wasn’t assertive enough when I needed to be.’’
For first-year coach Jerry Finkbeiner, it was a tough loss after leading for most of the game.
“Our motors were not running smoothly today,’’ he said. “We couldn’t turn that corner offensively, and defensively we couldn’t get the hold we needed.’’
Christensen came out on fire, sinking her first four shots, including three 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the game as the Aggies took a 13-10 lead. However, the Vandals shut her down the rest of the half as Jenna Johnson picked up the scoring slack with 10 first-half points.
The Aggies kept a slim lead in the second half thanks to their outside shooting as they hit five straight 3-pointers with Williams and Christensen each making two and Pualei Furtado the other as the Aggies pushed the lead to 51-44.
But the Vandals heated up and could hardly miss from the 11:46 mark to the 4:34 mark when they turned a 54-46 deficit into a 70-61 lead.
“I don’t think we stole it, we earned it,’’ said Idaho coach Jon Newlee. “It was a game of runs, and our run came at the end.’’
Stacy Barr led the Vandals with 26 points on 8 of 14 field-goal shooting as well as 7 of 8 from the foul line. Four other players scored in double figures as Alyssa Charlton, Krissy Karr and Jessica Graham each scored 12 and Ali Forde added 10.
Johnson and Makenlee Williams had 12 points apiece for the Aggies, but Jennifer Schlott, who led the team with 21 points in the quarterfinal win over Denver, had an off-day and finished with just 6 points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Although Aggie coach Finkbeiner said his team was “emotionally drained” and disappointed to have its NCAA dreams ended, he said his team would be interested if the WNIT came calling for a second straight year.
Idaho will play in the finals Saturday at 1 p.m. against Seattle, which defeated Louisiana Tech in Friday's second game.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company