ISU women’s storm back in OT thriller

RENO, Nev. – When Idaho State coach Seton Sobolewski looked upward at the scoreboard hanging from the Reno Events Center rafters throughout Wednesday’s game against Weber State, he did not see a pretty picture.

For most of the matchup anyway, though not the conclusion.

Idaho State (21-10) completed a 25-point comeback to defeat the Wildcats 113-109 in overtime, advancing to the Big Sky Conference semifinals for the third consecutive season.

The last three quarterfinal matchups have featured as much dramatics as the next. After the Bengals won their previous two via last-second shots, they clawed back into their latest second-round game by scoring 79 points and shooting 64.4 percent over the final 25 minutes. Their 113 points are the most in a game in program history and set a new tournament single-game record.

“That was just incredible postseason basketball right there for you,” Sobolewski said. “Both teams are just going at it. Both teams are going for it. They want this game so bad.”

Scorching offense was the only way to beat the Wildcats (20-10), who wrecked the Bengals’ defense by tallying a 52.8 shooting percentage and 43.3 3-point percentage by winning countless one-on-one battles.

“Weber State played extremely well. Holy cow,” said Sobolewski, whose team was 0-2 against the Wildcats this season. “You feel like your defense will always put you in a position to win. But I think I had a flip that switched to like, ‘OK, the offense is rolling now. Let’s just go with this. Let’s see if we can outscore them.’”

Idaho State went in reverse after halftime, instead of zooming toward its third-quarter objective, which was to cut its deficit to 14. Weber State guard Emily Drake, who had a career-high 31 points, made one of her seven 3-pointers with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left in the third quarter to give the Wildcats’ their biggest lead of the game at 63-38.

But then momentum flipped. As Wildcats guard Larryn Brooks (21 points) held her leg with a cramp at the opposite free-throw line, the Bengals utilized the advantage and ISU guard Saylair Grandon hit a top-of-the-arc 3 to accomplish Idaho State’s first step, cutting the margin below 15 at 71-59 with 52 seconds remaining in the third period.

Grandon headed the second-half rally, scoring a second-half high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and finished with a career- and team-high 28 points. The first time ISU cut the margin below 10 points in the second half was when Grandon knocked down another top-of-the-arc triple with 8:54 left in the fourth quarter, trimming the margin to 75-67.

When Grandon made her third 3-pointer of the second half, Sobolewski cranked his neck upward while clapping. The scoreboard showed that ISU was down 77-72, about two minutes into the final frame.

Bengals guard Estefania Ors gave the Bengals a 93-92 lead with 1:34 until the game went to overtime. ISU finished the second half with a team-record 64 points.

To start the extra period, Drake ended a personal 17-minute, 39-second scoring drought with a 3-pointer, but ISU senior Brooke Blair (18 points) made two free throws midway through overtime to give her team the lead for good at 106-105. Grandon also scored two from the charity stripe, extending ISU’s streak of consecutive makes from the free-throw line to 21 to put her team ahead 110-107 with 21 seconds left, enough breathing room to secure the victory.

The back-to-back Big Sky runner-up continues its hunt for a conference championship Friday against top-seeded Northern Colorado. Like the last two times Bengals sealed a semifinal bid, they exploded with emotion when the final buzzer sounded.

Explaining how they gathered enough belief to come back and win, Grandon simply said, “We’re in Reno, and it’s March.”