"We shot the ball extremely well," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. "We have good shooters, they make a lot of shots in practice. Translating that to a game has been a bit of an issue, but the freshmen are getting used to game speed."
After starting the season 0-4, the Vandals have won three of their last five games to improve to 3-6 on the season, dropping UC Riverside to 5-3 in the process, and Newlee is seeing his team begin to play the way he envisioned heading into the season. Idaho beat UC Irvine 73-55 on Wednesday.
"We're starting to see it. Consistency for 40 minutes isn't there for us, but our good stretches are getting longer and our bad stretches are getting shorter," he said. "We were knocking down shots when we we're open and we came through tonight."
Four Vandal players scored in double figures and Idaho's top two scores, Stacey Barr and Ali Forde, came off the bench. Barr, hobbled with a leg injury, poured in 20 points, and Ali Forde added a career-high 14 points. Barr hit 4-of-8 3-pointers and came just three points from matching her career-high, and added three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
"For her to even come out and play tonight was amazing as bad as her leg is," Newlee said of Barr. "Then to just forget about it and play her game, even limping there at the end, she was just going to go out there and do what she does best, and that's just play hard, knock down some shots and just get after it. She is one tough kid. I'll tell you that."
Senior Jessica Graham added a season-high 11 points and junior Alyssa Charlston added 10 points. Freshmen Christina Salvatore and Connie Ballestero each added eight points for Idaho. Salvatore, Graham and Forde tied for a team-high seven rebounds.
"There's a lot of talent on this team," Newlee said. "At times everyone is even, how they earn their minutes is out here on the court and in practice. We can go to the bench without drop off. Everyone who came in contributed, a total team effort tonight and that's what we need every night."
Idaho's 48 percent shooting was its season-high as the Vandals connected on 29-of-61 shots, including 9-of-24 from 3-point distance. The Vandals, who led the WAC entering Friday with 8.13 3-pointers made per game, have now hit 35 3-pointers in their last three games. UC Riverside shot 41 percent from the field in the game, and 28 percent from 3-point range.
Both teams committed 17 turnovers, which Idaho turned into 17 points, and URC converted into 14. In addition to its advantage from 3-point range, the Vandals won the battle in the paint, outscoring UC Riverside 28-16. The Vandals out-rebounded the Highlanders 37-31, and both teams scored 10 second-chance points. Idaho held a dominating, 41-6 advantage in bench points.
The Vandals came out of the gates on fire, shooting 51.6 percent in the first half, building a lead that peaked at 19 points before taking a 43-33 lead into the break. Idaho connected on 6-of-14 first-half 3-pointers.
The Highlanders cut Idaho's lead to four, 45-41, almost as soon as the second half started, but the Vandals responded with a quick spurt to build the lead back to 11 at 54-43, and led by eight or more the rest of the way.
TreShoni Nottingham, who entered the game averaging 23.6 points per game, second best in the NCAA, scored 20 points and added five assists and four steals for the Highlanders, but also turned the ball over a team-high five times.
Idaho will have a week off of competition for finals before returning to action on Dec. 16 when it visits Washington. The Vandals wrap up their current six-game road stretch at Gonzaga on Dec. 20 before returning home to open Western Athletic Conference play against Seattle U on Dec. 29.