You, too, can be part of the Big Sky tournament (sort of)
Taylor Pierce is having one of the greatest 3-point shooting seasons in the history of college basketball — men’s or women’s.
Pierce made six more 3-pointers on Tuesday afternoon at CenturyLink Arena in Downtown Boise to lift top-seeded Idaho to a 90-73 rout of Northern Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky women’s basketball tournament. Pierce scored a career-high-tying 31 points, including 25 in a dominant first half.
The Vandals (20-10) will play in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday against fourth-seeded Portland State (23-7). The championship game is at 1 p.m. Friday.
“The rim looked pretty massive to me today,” Pierce said, “and I hope it looks the same tomorrow.”
Pierce increased her season total for 3-pointers to 138. That’s by far the most in women’s basketball this season (she led the rest of the country by 20 through Sunday’s games).
And soon, she should have more 3-pointers in a season than any women’s basketball player in Division I history. Jessica Kovatch of St. Francis (Pennsylvania) set the record with 141 made 3-pointers last season. Pierce made 137, barely losing out on the record then.
Pierce needs four threes to break the mark this season. She has made at least three triples in 19 straight games, averaging 5.5 per game during that stretch.
“I’m just so lucky that I’ve gotten to be there for every single one of those 3-pointers,” fellow senior Mikayla Ferenz said. “... I went and visited her this summer and did a shooting workout with her and I was exhausted. She deserves it all, and I’m happy for her.”
Pierce says she tries to avoid the countdown toward the record.
“I know my teammates, they know, but they do their best not to tell me things,” she said. “Setting records isn’t a goal of mine. You come in and you play your best and you do what you can to help the team, and if records get broken in the process, then so be it.”
Pierce has been a sharp shooter on the basketball court since she was young. Her dad recognized her talent and connected her with shooting coach Jim Brogan in the summer before seventh grade. They worked together several days a week and still do when Pierce returns home to Carlsbad, Calif.
The workouts usually are held around 6:30 in the morning — Ferenz learned that the hard way on her visit — and they’re grueling. Brogan asks Pierce to shoot nearly from midcourt to challenge her.
“I really enjoyed that part of the game, so it really wasn’t hard for me to want to put in all that time and all the work to get better,” Pierce said. “... (Brogan) turned me into the shooter I am.”
Pierce was a role player her first two years in Moscow, nailing 3-pointers primarily off the bench. She has started every game in which she has appeared the last two seasons as her overall game has improved. She attacked her defensive weaknesses, for example, by finding the best 1-on-1 opponents she could.
That type of work is what has made Pierce so successful, Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. They like to chat about former Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s approach because they’re both from Southern California.
“I’ve always told these guys, there’s a reason NBA guys shoot so well,” Newlee said. “They don’t just show up. ... We talk about (Kobe Bryant’s) work ethic, what he does before games and after games. She puts in that same kind of effort. It’s amazing to me.”
Pierce has made more than 40 percent of her 3-point attempts over the past two seasons. Her career total of 456 3-pointers likely won’t be enough to challenge the NCAA career record of 497 but it has obliterated the previous Big Sky record.
The men’s single-season record is 162, set by NBA superstar Stephen Curry at Davidson. Pierce likely would need the Vandals to compete deep into a postseason tournament to challenge that mark.
Fletcher Magee of Wofford (151) is the only men’s player with more 3-pointers than Pierce this season — and he’s already finished his conference tournament.
Pierce is quick to credit her teammates for their role in her success. Ferenz, who scored 24 points Tuesday, is the top women’s scorer in Big Sky history — creating an enviable 1-2 punch for the Vandals.
“If we weren’t on the same team, I don’t think I would get 75 percent of the looks I do,” Pierce said. “She’s the MVP for a reason. She draws so much attention because she can do everything.”
Notes: Pierce was named unanimously to the All-Big Sky first team earlier this week alongside Big Sky MVP Ferenz. Newlee also was named Big Sky Coach of the Year and guard Gina Marxen was named Freshman of the Year. ... There will be five games at the Big Sky tournaments Wednesday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. The Idaho State men play at noon and the Idaho men play at 2:30 p.m. ... Eastern Washington upset third-seeded Idaho State in the late game of the women’s tournament Tuesday. Eastern Washington will face Northern Colorado in the 8 p.m. semifinal Wednesday.