BOISE – For the fifth time in eight years, Idaho will play for a conference tournament championship.
The second-seeded Vandals downed in-state rival and No. 3 seed Idaho State 66-51 in the Big Sky Tournament semifinals on Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena, putting Idaho a win away from an NCAA Tournament berth.
Idaho (22-9) used a 22-8 fourth quarter to pull away from the Bengals (18-13) and earned a Friday championship matchup with No. 1 seed Montana State (25-6).
Former Timberlake star Allison Kirby scored all nine of her points in the pivotal fourth quarter.
“They just dug down,” said Idaho coach Jon Newlee, formerly the head coach at Idaho State. “I said (after the third quarter) ‘It’s a matter of heart and desire right now, so let’s see how much we have.’ These guys were warriors.”
Idaho State guard Diaba Konate beat the third-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to cut Idaho’s lead to 44-43, but the Vandals opened the fourth quarter with six quick points to start its run.
Natalie Klinker scored 13 points, fellow forward Isabelle Hadden had 12 points and guard Gina Marxen added 11 points for Idaho, which forced the Bengals into 15 turnovers.
Hadden, a Boise High alum, was happy to come up big in her hometown.
“I love that the tournament is in Boise,” Hadden said. “I get to play in front of my friends and family. We have so many Vandal alumni here so it’s just a great atmosphere.”
Idaho jumped out to a 26-13 lead in the second quarter, but the Bengals answered with a 15-2 run. The Vandals led 30-28 at halftime.
Idaho State was called for 12 fouls in the fourth quarter.
“Idaho does a great job defensively,” said Idaho State coach Seton Sobelewski, who replaced Newlee in Pocatello in 2008. “They’ll give a couple shots that they’ll let you shoot, and you’ll have to make them to stay competitive.”
The Vandals swept Idaho State in the regular season, including a 61-50 win last week in Pocatello.
Idaho, which last reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016 when it won the Big Sky Tournament title, also punched its ticket to the Big Dance in 2013 and 2014 when it won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Vandals advanced to the Big Sky title game in 2018 but fell to Northern Colorado.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.