LAS VEGAS - Jon Newlee's players complimented him on the new accessory he sported after Saturday's WAC women's basketball championship - the basketball net around his neck.
Newlee and the Idaho Vandals clinched the school's second NCAA Tournament berth with their 67-64 win over the Seattle Redhawks, their first trip to the Big Dance in 28 years.
"What's impressed me about this team is their resiliency," Newlee said of his team, which started 4-10. "When things start to go a little bad, they dig down."
Considering the third-seeded Vandals (17-15) won their first two tournament games in the final seconds, it was fitting that Saturday's game came to a frantic finish.
With 7 seconds to play, Idaho tried to inbound the ball under its own basket to seal the win, but it bounced off a Vandal, going out of bounds. No. 1 seed Seattle (20-10) fired off two 3-pointers, but both missed and the Vandals celebrated.
"Survive and advance has certainly been our motto in this tournament, and we did that right until the end," Newlee said.
Idaho won its three conference tournament games by a combined seven points after the team had three losses by a combined six points in the final month of the regular season.
"Things were going to start going our way, and thank God they did," sophomore guard Stacey Barr said with a laugh.
The Vandals, who led by 10 in the first half, needed to mine some of that resiliency when the Redhawks, who beat them March 9 on a shot with 1.2 seconds left, led 45-40 with 11 minutes, 14 seconds to play. Idaho scored 23 of the next 33 points to go up 63-55 with 53 seconds left before Seattle stormed back. But it wasn't enough, despite the fact the Redhawks were plus-8 on turnovers and had 25 offensive rebounds to Idaho's six.
"You see the numbers really weren't in our favor, but that final number was," Newlee said.
Seattle put up 22 more shots than the Vandals, but made 33.8 percent from the field, as opposed to Idaho's 44.2 percent. The Redhawks also were 11-of-24 from the free-throw line. The Vandals were 15-of-19.
"We had every opportunity to win, we missed a ton of free throws, we missed layups," Seattle coach Joan Bonvicini said.
Barr, who was named the tournament MVP, had all of her team-high 16 points in the second half, along with eight of her 11 rebounds. Alyssa Charlston had 15 points, making 3-of-3 3-pointers. She also was an all-tournament team pick with Barr.
"We don't have one dominant player everybody's got to do their share, they know that, and they truly trust each other," Newlee said.
The Vandals, picked in the preseason to finish fifth by the WAC coaches and sixth by the media, overcame the slow start and didn't let close losses stop them on their way to a WAC title. Newlee and his commemorative net cut down from the Orleans Arena will sit with the team Monday night and see their name called on ESPN during the NCAA Selection Show.
"They believed - it was a rocky start for everyone to see the hard work is fantastic," he said.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn