BOISE — With 23 seconds left and Idaho down 16 points, Vandal fans rose to their feet for a standing ovation as Vandal seniors Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce exited the game.
The pair, arguably the best to ever wear Vandal jerseys, shared a moment and a hug on court with UI women’s basketball coach Jon Newlee before they took a seat on the bench.
It wasn’t the way they wanted to end their last Big Sky tournament — with a 75-59 upset loss to Portland State on Wednesday in the conference semifinals — but they will play at least one more game as Vandals in next week’s WNIT tournament.
“I think that was the hardest moment I’ve had on the sideline and I’ve been doing this a long time,” Newlee said.
On a night where top-seeded Idaho couldn’t seem to make its usual shots, fourth-seeded Portland State couldn’t miss.
The Vikings went 6-for-10 from 3-point land and a perfect 19-for-19 from the free-throw line.
Meanwhile, Idaho was cold from tipoff to the final buzzer.
A day after combining for 55 points in the quarterfinals, the Splash Sisters combined for just 15 — 13 by Ferenz.
The normally sharpshooting Vandals went 6-for-29 from long range, including 0-of-12 by Pierce, who has 138 triples on the season — three shy of the NCAA single-season record.
“(Portland State) did a good job of not losing me … but I got a couple really good looks at the rim today and they just weren’t falling for me,” said a teary-eyed Pierce. “Those are ones that I should make without a doubt.”
The Vikings were quick to get out to the perimeter to guard Ferenz and Pierce and then rotate inside to block the lanes. There were no easy baskets for Idaho.
A 32-28 Vikings’ lead at halftime stretched to double digits by the first bucket of the fourth quarter.
“They would hit an open cut, or get an open 3 or get to the free-throw line. … That was a big difference in the ballgame,” Newlee said.
With Pierce and Ferenz struggling, a pair of guard/forwards stepped up for the Vandals. Junior Lizzie Klinker tacked on 21 points and nine rebounds, and went 2-of-2 from beyond the arc, despite only seven attempts from long range going into the game.
Freshman Hailey Christopher added 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting — perhaps a glimpse of what Idaho will see next season.
“I was proud of our younger girls tonight,” Ferenz said. “Hailey had an amazing game — she stepped up huge for us. I hope that kind of confidence she has carries over to the WNIT and her next three years here at Idaho.”
The Vikings garnered 22 points and eight assists from sophomore point guard Kylie Jimenez, who was 4-of-6 from 3 and 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. Senior guard Ashley Bolston added 17 points and eight rebounds.
Newlee said the loss doesn’t take anything away from the great season and careers Ferenz and Taylor had.
And Idaho isn’t done yet. Due to their regular-season title, Idaho will play in the WNIT (Women’s National Invitational Tournament). They’ll learn their seeding and opponent Monday.
“Obviously that’s not what we wanted, but we’re lucky we get a chance to play and that’s what we worked so hard for during the regular season is to have a chance to play after the conference tournament,” Ferenz said. “I would love to get to go to the NCAA Tournament, but I think we’re just so grateful that we get to go play another week and might as well go win it now since we’re in it.”
PORTLAND STATE (24-7)
Jimenez 5-13 8-8 22, Bolston 5-10 7-7 17, Rielly 4-7 0-0 11, Hanson 4-8 2-2- 10, West 4-7 0-0 8, Tainta 1-5 2-2 5, Stotler 1-1 0-0 2, Jurhar 0-1 0-0 0.
L. Klinker 9-16 1-4 21, Christopher 7-10 2-2 16, Ferenz 5-16 0-0 13, Hadden 2-8 0-0 4, Marxen 1-6 0-0 3, Pierce 1-13 0-0 2, N. Klinker 0-1 0-0 0, King 0-0 0-0 0.
PSU 15 17 18 25—75
Idaho 16 12 14 17—59
Three-point goals — PSU 6-10 (Jimenez 4-6, Tainta 1-1, Rielly 1-2, Bolston 0-1), UI 6-29 (Ferenz 3-9, L. Klinker 2-3, Marxen 1-5, Pierce 0-12). Rebounds — PSU 44 (West 11), UI 33 (L. Klinker 9). Assists — PSU 17 (Jimenez 9), UI 16 (Ferenz 7).
Stephan Wiebe can be contacted at email@example.com, by phone at (208) 883-4629 and on Twitter @stephansports.