Sports Editor Emeritus
This March has given the Idaho State women’s basketball team a chance to pull off some Cinderella magic, as the Bengals won their third game in five days as the #9 seed, advancing to the Big Sky Conference title game on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. PST with a 69-54 victory over North Dakota.
Matched up with a physical Lady Hawks team, ISU would bring the fight to the #4 seed early and often, winning the boards 48-38 against the top rebounding team in the conference and outscoring North Dakota 34-18 in the paint.
Tressa Lyman, who joined the Bengals partway into the season, hauled in a career high 15 rebounds to lead the way.
Idaho State Head Coach Seton Sobolewski knew the challenge of matching the intensity on the glass heading into the game, and his first year senior made sure he would have his own personal glass cleaner to work with.
“Really hard [to win boards], they are the best rebounding team in the conference,” said Sobolewski. “They have always been one of best rebounding teams since [Travis Brewster] has been around, and they’ve got size. They are really big, 6’6″ on down with tall guards. One of their smallest forwards is their best rebounder in Mia Loyd. She’s athletic, aggressive and that was a strong point of emphasis of ours. We know they are the best rebounding team going into the game. It was talked about.”
For Lyman, it was just her day.
“Sometimes it’s different people every night. Last night Cheech [Anna Policicchio] had 17 rebounds and she worked hard. Today the ball came to me and I boxed out. All of our team works hard for those rebounds and it just depends on the night who gets them.”
She credits her teammates and the coaching staff for the success seen on the hardwood for her this season.
“It’s been so fun, and really, I owe it to the girls and coaches because they are the ones that are always helping me, reminding me what I am supposed to do and encouraging me. I feel like it can be so frustrating to come in and not really know what you are doing, but they are so encouraging, and if it wasn’t for them I really wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
At the half the Bengals held a 34-21 lead, with the team showing no let-up in the second half.
The overall team win was one of the most impressive in the Sobolewski tenure.
“It’s right up there. Might be one of our best because that is a really good team out there,” he said. “A really physical team. We have had our butts kicked more than a few times against North Dakota. They are well coached. Travis Brewster is a great coach, he has done a great job there, and we really have to play hard and be at our best to even have a chance to beat them. We played together today. One thing that helped us along with our defense is we shot the ball really good and that makes things a little easier.”
ISU shot 7-14 from beyond the arc, with Freya Newton finding nylon from distance on all three tries and Brooke Blair going 2-6 on the afternoon.
The Bengals were paced by 15 points from Apiphany Woods and 14 for Newton. Blair was the other player in double figures with 10 and Lyman had 9 to go with the 15 rebounds.
Leah Szabla had 18 for North Dakota and Samantha Roscoe posted 14 points.
Notable for the Bengals was a Policicchio block halfway through the third quarter, her third of the game and number 85 of the season, a new school record.
After knocking off #1 seed Montana State on Wednesday, ISU was able to maintain focus on the task at hand Friday afternoon.
“It gave us a lot of confidence, but we are going to remain humble, knowing that we have one more game left. We’re going to go in tough and play hard like we always do,” said Woods.
March Madness was personified in Wednesday’s upset of the Bobcats, but it was a different sort of feeling following the defeat of the Lady Hawks in which ISU only trailed for 2:05 of game action.
“I guess all the excitement from Wednesday’s game kind of makes it a little anticlimactic, hitting the buzzer-beater to beat the number one seed, but it’s exciting. I think we are focused and we are not getting carried away. I think we want one more, and yeah, it’s a different feel.”
ISU advances to take on the winner of Eastern Washington and Idaho on Saturday at 12:05 p.m. PST from the Reno Events Center.