Vandal women slip past New Mexico State, 59 - 60 - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Vandal women slip past New Mexico State, 59 - 60

MOSCOW, Idaho – When, coach Jon Newlee was asked, did he feel confident his Idaho Vandals had secured the victory in Saturday afternoon's Western Athletic Conference women's basketball game against New Mexico State?

"When the buzzer went off," said Newlee with a smile of relief after the Vandals improved to 7-18 overall but more importantly to 5-7 in the WAC after the 60-59 decision at the Cowan Spectrum.

Newlee was joined in his assessment by just about everyone at the Spectrum after the frenetic finish to a game that, while not always beautifully played, was captivating in its drama. Idaho, after a miserable 18.2 percent from the field in the first half, warmed up to 55.2 in the second. The Aggies were enjoying success from the field as well and pulled out to a nine-point with just over 10 minutes to play.

That was when the Vandals, winners of four of their last five home games, dug deep to defend their home court. The rally found legs from just about every corner of the court with Yinka Olorunnife handling the paint, Charlotte Otero taking charge from the perimeter, and Rachele Kloke challenging from everywhere.

That collective effort enabled the Vandals to recover from being down nine to take their first lead of the game, 54-53, when Shaena Kuehu scored on a give and go from Otero with one minute to play. That set the stage from a furious final minute that included four lead changes and Idaho's biggest lead of the game 60-57 – compliments of two free throws by Olorunnife, with 7.1 seconds left.

Those final 7.1 seconds were tumultuous ticks off the clock. First, Olorunnife fouled Kaitlyn Soto with 2.9 seconds to play. Soto made the first free throw and missed the second to set off a rebound scramble and a frantic shot by Madison Spence. Olorunnife again was whistled for a foul – this time with three-tenths of one second remaining. Spence made the first and the second teetered on the rim before finally falling free. Still, the loose ball was batted back up precariously close to the net before the final buzzer sounded.

"Today it was our turn to finally win in the clutch time," said Olorunnife, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for her 16th career double-double.

Newlee said it was a matter of the Vandals shaking off their offensive woes and focusing on the defense until their shooting touches returned.

"We knew how ugly it was," said Newlee commenting on the first-half tribulations. "I'd like to credit defense but not when you're missing layups right and left; missing wide-open 3s. I told our guys at halftime, ‘The good news is we're only down four. It could be a lot worse.' We're lucky we didn't get into a bigger hole because that's a talented team.

"We knew we had to keep playing defense and keep rebounding. A big key was keeping them off the boards."

Idaho won the rebounding battle 37-35 behind Olorunnife's 11 and Kuehu's five. Also hitting double-digit scoring for the Vandals were Kloke, who matched Olorunnife's 15, Otero with 14 and Kuehu with 12.

The Vandals return to WAC action Wednesday evening with a 7 p.m. game against San Jose State at Idaho's Memorial Gym – a venue change because of the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival.

Becky Paull, Asst. AD/Media Relations, University of Idaho Vandal Athletics

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