BY JAIME SCHROEDER-ISU MEDIA RELATIONS
POCATELLO, Idaho – In a true definition of a championship game, Idaho State and Northern Colorado battled to the very end with Idaho State defeating the Bears 49-46 to claim the 2012 Idaho Central Credit Union Big Sky Women’s Basketball Tournament title. Idaho State will make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2007.
Senior guard Chelsea Pickering and junior forward Ashleigh Vella led ISU with 12 points apiece. Sophomore forward Cydney Horton led the rebound effort with nine for Idaho State and recorded a game-high five blocks. Sophomore guard Lindsey Reed also scored in double digits for the Bengals, notching 10 in the contest.
For their excellent performances in the tournament, Reed and Vella were named Big Sky Conference All-Tournament and Pickering was named tournament MVP.
Idaho State shot 40.5 percent from the field in the contest and held Northern Colorado to 28.6 percent. ISU went 5-for-12 from 3-point range while the Bears hit 6-of-15. The Bengals outrebounded NC 36-27.
It was a strong defensive effort by both teams in the first half as ISU held a narrow 22-21 lead heading into the locker room. ISU hit 8-of-21 for a 38.1 shooting percentage in the half. The Bengals also shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range with Vella, Oakes and Pickering each hitting one from the arc. ISU, however, committed 12 turnovers in the half while Northern Colorado only turned the ball over six times. ISU outrebounded NC 19-13.
The back-and-forth battle continued in the second half with five tied scores and six lead changes. Sophomore guard Kara Jenkins was a major impact player for the Bengals in the half as she came off the bench and made big plays. In four minutes, Jenkins scored five points, pulled down four rebounds and recorded one steal.
Pickering, Reed and Vella continued to make big plays in the second half and even when Northern Colorado jumped out to its largest lead of the game with six points, the Bengals refused to back down. With two minutes left in the game, Vella hit a layup to put ISU up 43-43. Then Pickering went to the line with 21 seconds left, knocked in both and gave ISU a four-point lead. NC’s Victoria Timm hit a 3-point shot to cut ISU’s lead down to one but ISU followed up by breaking the Bears’ press. Pickering hit Oakes for a layup to put ISU up 49-46 with seven seconds remaining. ISU then forced a NC turnover, sealing the win and tournament title.
“I thought that in the first half we played really good defense,” ISU Head Coach Seton Sobolewski said. “Holding them to 21 points in the first half is huge for us. We struggled a little bit offensively and that carried over into the second half. With about 10 or 12 minutes left in the game, we regrouped, we refocused, we put forth the right effort defensively and the girls found a way to push through. I think there is a little bit of fatigue, there’s a little bit of excitement of being in a championship game. That can be a little overwhelming. The girls did a nice job of regrouping and finding a way to make it happen there at the end.”
ESPN will unveil the 64-team NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship field exclusively during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Selection Special Presented by Capital One Monday, March 12, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN3.