Idaho’s bench provided a big boost and the Vandal women’s basketball team powered past Colorado State 61-54 in its home opener Wednesday at Memorial Gym.
Idaho (1-1) was led by senior post Isabelle Hadden and freshman guard Caitlyn Jones, who contributed 12 points apiece in reserve.
Jones sparked Idaho with a 4-of-6 showing from beyond the arc in her first game as a Vandal. Idaho got 31 points from its bench.
“We had a really strong showing tonight from a lot of our team,” said Jones, a Perth, Australia, product. “We played great team defense and we shared the ball really well, so it was a really strong showing to start the year.”
Idaho coach Jon Newlee’s teams usually are known for their flashy offense, but in this one, defense was king. The Vandals held the Rams to 30.8-percent shooting from 3-point range and outrebounded the Rams 47-33.
“I really loved our defensive effort for 40 minutes,” Newlee said. “We did a really good job on a really talented, well-coached basketball team.”
Idaho led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter, but Colorado State (3-1) went on a 9-0 run to start the fourth and cut the deficit to three.
That was as close as the Rams got.
UI guard Allison Kirby came off the bench to hit a 3 with 4:18 remaining to bump Idaho’s lead back to six at 56-50.
The Spirit Lake native also had a steal in the final minute that all but put CSU’s hopes of a comeback out of reach.
“The 3 was humongous and those defensive plays, the rebounds and steal, were huge for us,” Newlee said.
Jones and Kirby missed much of Idaho’s preseason with foot injuries, but neither showed much sign of being anything less than 100 percent against Colorado State.
Kirby finished with six rebounds, four points and two steals in 18 minutes.
In total, nine Vandals scored and 10 saw minutes.
“It’s that time of year where I’m still putting in people and seeing what they can do in practice, in games; different lineups, trying to experiment with that,” Newlee said. “I thought when people had their chance, they came in and did a great job.”
Idaho never trailed.
The Vandals started to pull away for the first time in the second quarter when Jones and Christopher combined for three 3s in a 50-second span to take a 27-15 advantage.
Idaho shot 6 of 9 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, but finished 9 of 25.
Point guard Gina Marxen, who usually is a deadly 3-point shooter, was 1-of-8 from 3 and 1-of-11 from the field. But the reigning Big Sky Freshman of the Year made up for her poor shooting in other ways.
The 5-foot-8 sophomore led Idaho with 12 rebounds, five assists and drew seven fouls. She finished with seven points.
“Smallest kid on the floor, biggest heart,” Newlee said. “She doesn’t let things affect her if her shot’s not on. She just kept playing hard, and that’s what we need.”
Senior guard Lizzy Klinker added nine points and seven rebounds for Idaho. The Rams were paced by Makenzie Elliss and Liah Davis, who combined for 24 points.
The home win was an important one for Idaho. The Vandals don’t return to Moscow until a Dec. 21 game against Hawaii. In between are six road games.
“I said, ‘Man, we better win this one at home or everybody is going to forget who we are if we lose,’ ” Newlee said, laughing. “We gotta be road warriors. It’s a long stretch of road games coming up and we’re just going to have to be mentally tough and physically tough to get through that.”
COLORADO STATE (3-1)
Ellis 5-17 0-3 12, Davis 6-13 0-2 12, Williams 3-6 1-2 8, Stamatelopoulos 1-5 4-4 6, Bonnarens 2-7 1-2 5, Brady 2-4 0-0 4, Hamm 1-3 1-1 3, Jacobs 1-1 0-1 2, Mole 1-2 0-1 2.
Hadden 5-12 2-2 12, Jones 4-6 0-0 12, L. Klinker 4-7 1-2 9, Marxen 1-11 4-6 7, Bea 2-5 0-0 5, Christopher 2-9 1-4 5, N. Klinker 1-2 2-6 4, Kirby 1-1 1-2 4, King 1-4 0-0 3, Carlson 0-0 0-0 0.
CSU 9 15 13 17 — 54
Idaho 13 23 15 10 — 61
3-point goals — CSU 4-13 (Ellis 2-6, Williams 1-1, Bonnarens 1-2, Hamm 0-1, Mole 0-1, Stamatelopoulos 0-2), Idaho (Jones 4-6, Kirby 1-1, Bea 1-2, Christopher 1-4, King 1-4, Marxen 1-8). Rebounds — CSU 33 (Ellis, Brady 7), Idaho 47 (Marxen 12). Assists — CSU 5 (Stamatelopoulos 2), Idaho (Marxen 5). Total fouls — CSU 22, Idaho 20. Fouled out — N. Klinker.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @StephanSports.