Idaho Vandals

Upsets all around: No Idaho team will compete for Big Sky title in Boise’s first year

Postgame Idaho vs. Portland State

Members of the Idaho women's basketball team address the media following the team's 75-59 semifinals loss to fourth-seeded Portland State.
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Members of the Idaho women's basketball team address the media following the team's 75-59 semifinals loss to fourth-seeded Portland State.

Even though the state of Idaho is painted at center court — with a solid black body, a green and white outline and a green star positioned over Boise — there will be no Idaho teams in the Big Sky Conference championship games this week at CenturyLink Arena.

That was expected on the men’s side, but not the women’s.

The Idaho women were the conference’s regular-season champion. They possessed two of the best shooters the Big Sky has ever seen in Taylor Pierce and Mikayla Ferenz. The Idaho State women were the third seed and the Bengals made deep runs in the tournament in 2016 and 2017. It almost seemed perfect that Idaho and Idaho State would play for a Big Sky title the first year Boise held the tournament in what would be a rematch of the 2016 title game, the first year the tournament was in Reno.

[Related: Boise State women return to NCAA Tournament]

But that plan was thwarted by Wednesday night as Idaho was stunned by fourth-seeded Portland State, losing 75-59, while the nation’s best 3-point shooter failed to knock down a single three-ball. The loss came less than 24 hours after Idaho State was upset by sixth-seeded Eastern Washington.

“I just hate it for these guys to go out,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “We really thought we would be playing in the NCAA Tournament this year.”

It will be the first time in three years that a team from Idaho won’t compete for a Big Sky title on the women’s side.

The Idaho and Idaho State men fell in the opening round of the men’s tournament earlier Wednesday — Idaho to Montana State and Idaho State to Southern Utah.

Pierce, who entering Wednesday’s game needed four 3-point field goals to break the NCAA’s mark for most in a season, was shut down by Portland State’s zone defense. She finished 0-for-12 from three with two points.

Ferenz, who is the Big Sky’s all-time leading scorer, finished with 13 points. She and Pierce combined for 55 of Idaho’s 90 points against Northern Arizona in the quarterfinals. As a team the Vandals only mustered 12 second-quarter points after 26 of its 90 came in the same frame against Northern Arizona.

“Every coach has come up to us and congratulated us in some way,” Ferenz said. “I’ve had a couple of them come up to me and say that they are glad I’m leaving. I know they said the same thing to (Pierce). We have earned the right to call ourselves the two best shooters the Big Sky has ever seen.”

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Idaho women’s basketball head coach Jon Newlee gives a hug and some words to his two seniors, Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce (14), as they leave the game. Portland State defeated the Vandals 75-59 in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2019 at CenturyLink Arena in Downtown Boise. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

It was the first time all season and the first since February of 2018 that Pierce didn’t make a 3-point field goal. The two points is Pierce’s lowest total since 2016 when she was a sophomore.

“I think they were getting the shots they usually get, but if they aren’t knocking them down it’s a different game,” said Portland State’s Ashley Bolston, who finished with 17 points.

Both players are seniors and despite losing in the conference tournament, Pierce still will have a chance at the record in the WNIT.

“We are so grateful that we get to play another week,” Pierce said. “We might as well go win it since we are in it.”

Portland State, a program that won a combined 16 games over a three-year span starting in 2013, was a perfect 19-of-19 from the free-throw line. The Vikings were led in scoring by Kylie Jimenez, who finished with a game-high 22. The Vikings will play sixth-seeded Eastern Washington in the championship at 1 p.m. Friday in Downtown Boise.

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