KANSAS CITY, Mo.—The University of Idaho women's basketball team opened the Western Athletic Conference season Thursday night in Kansas City with a statement. The Vandals jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half and cruised to an 81-64 victory over Kansas City at the Swinney Rec Center.
Idaho (8-7, 1-0 WAC) came out of the locker room looking to get back on track against the Kagroos, after dropping its last three contests. For the first time this season, all five starters finished in double-digit scoring, as the Vandals got back in the win column.
Sophomore Christina Salvatore started the scoring for Idaho with a three-pointer in the opening minute and the Vandals never let up. Idaho’s 44 first-half points marked its best first-half scoring performance of the season. Both Salvatore and senior Alyssa Charlston totaled 11 points, helping the Silver and Gold to a 44-26 halftime lead. Idaho was 15-of-35 (42.9 percent) from the field in the first half.
"We had started a little slow the last few games,” head coach Jon Newlee commented. “I thought tonight we came out real focused and ready. Offensively we were crisp. We got to the rim and hit some shots early and that kind of energized our defense. I thought the start was a huge key for what we did tonight.”
The start of the second half mirrored the first. Salvatore hit her fourth long-range basket to begin play, extending the lead to 47-26 right out of the gate. Charlston gave the Vandals a 22 point lead, their largest of the night, with a jumper inside the paint with 16:24 to play, pushing game all but out of reach for UMKC.
Salvatore had season highs with 17 points and five made three-pointers. Charlston also totaled 17 points and four rebounds. Ali Forde added 12 points and eight boards. Stacey Barr finished the night with 13 points, six rebounds and a season-high five assists. Connie Ballestero reached double-digits on the Vandals final basket of the night, hitting a three-pointer in the final minute. Ballestero finished with 10 points, adding five assists in her return to the lineup.
Overall Idaho finished the night shooting 28-of-63 (44.4 percent) from the floor. The Vandals added a 16-of-21 performance from the free throw line.
UMKC (4-10, 0-1 WAC) came into the game with the conference’s leading scorer. Eilise O’Connor was averaging 19.8 points per game. Idaho’s defense zoned in on the 5’8’’ guard, holding her to eight points in the first half. She finished the night shy of her average with 16 points (5-of-11).
“We executed our game plan on O’Connor to perfection for three-quarters of the game,” Newlee said. “When the game was in the balance she was not the factor. I thought we did a great job team-wise on her.”
After a sub-parl performance at Texas last week, where the Vandals made 21 turnovers, they turned the ball over only eight times tonight against UMKC, including just once in the first half.
“We only had one turnover in the first half,” Newlee exclaimed. “It got a little sloppy there in the end with our big lead. That is something we need to clean up, but I was happy with our ball movement tonight. We had possessions where all five people touched the ball. We were ending up with wide open looks for three or underneath for layups. I really felt that, that was one of the best jobs of moving the ball we have had in the first half all year.”
Idaho will next travel to Chicago State to take on the Cougars, wrapping up the long weekend trip for the Vandals. Game time is set for 12:00 p.m. PT on Saturday.