The Idaho State women’s basketball team has found comfort inside the confines of Reed Gym this season as the Bengals are 7-2 at home with both losses coming to the Big Sky’s top two teams, one of which was an overtime loss.
The Bengals sit in sixth place in the Big Sky with a 4-4 conference record, which includes a road win over the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the first time ISU has beat a Power Five school since 2007.
Despite this, the Bengals have only managed to win one other game on the road – a 67-60 conference win over Idaho.
“At Wisconsin, everybody as a team was super positive and we came out pretty strong,” said sophomore guard Saylair Grandon. “As for other road games, I can’t give you a good explanation for that. It’s something we need to work on.”
As for games in Reed Gym, the Bengals have come away with seven victories, including a 67-59 win over last season’s regular-season champion, Montana State. The Bobcats won 21 games last season and are currently in third place with an 8-2 conference record.
The Bengals hauled in a season-high 57 rebounds that night and handed the Bobcats their second consecutive loss to ISU.
In the previous meeting, Juliet Jones hit a buzzer-beater from NBA-distance to take down the top-seeded Bobcats in last year’s Big Sky tournament during the quarter finals.
“It’s the crowd,” said head coach Seton Sobolewski. “It’s the people and the fans and the support we have. We have a great tradition of being successful at home.”
The Bengals took a 14-win North Dakota squad to overtime where ISU hung with the Fighting Hawks the entire way in a game that featured eight lead changes.
The other home loss was a 77-62 thumping at the hands of Northern Colorado.
The Bears are a perfect 10-0 in conference and hold an 18-3 overall record with losses to Colorado, Colorado State and St. Mary’s.
“I think we need a completely different approach when we play Northern Colorado,” Sobolewski said. “They picked us apart.”
Sobolewski said he has yet to devise a different game plan for the conference’s top team, saying that he is worried about the upcoming games on the schedule rather than a road game three weeks anyway.
An area the coach says his team does need improvement is shot selection and health.
“Somebody has a back issue, someone has a knee issue, another one has a knee issue, a different person has a foot problem,” Sobolewski said. “It’s maintenance stuff where if it flairs up at the right time, it can give you a problem. We have one of the best defenses in the conference and we are one of the best rebounding teams in the conference. It’s our offense.”
The loss of Brooke Blair means the Bengals are without the top two scoring leaders from last season. Blair will redshirt and return next season while Apiphany Woods, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season, graduated at the end of the 2016 school year.
The injury has forced players such as Grace Kenyon, who has been battling a pair of sore knees throughout the season, to pick up for the slack.
Kenyon has attempted 226 field goal this season, a team-high. The next closest is Grandon, who has attempted 180.
“I think that is a big part of it,” Sobolewski said. “Brooke was going to be a pretty big part of our offense this year; someone has to pick up the slack or we have to do it collectively.”
The knees and foul trouble limited Kenyon to 12 minutes Saturday afternoon against Weber State.
“I’m trying to learn how to play through it because it is something I’m probably going to have to deal with the rest of my career,” Kenyon said.
In the absence of Blair and Kenyon, Grandon scored a game-high 14 point on Saturday.
“Sayliar, at times Lindsey Brown is doing more for us,” Sobolewski said. “I think the bench is doing more for us. That’s where it’s getting spread out a little bit.”
The Bengals hosted the Big Sky tournament 2011-12 season as prior to last year, the regular season champion hosted the conference’s postseason tournament in its gym.
The Bengals won 24 games that year and advanced to the NCAA tournament where they played Miami in the opening round in Spokane.