LAS VEGAS — Idaho had to dig deep to secure its first trip to the “Big Dance” since 1985.
Stacey Barr had 16 points and 11 rebounds Saturday to lead the Vandals to a 67-64 upset of top-seeded Seattle in the Western Athletic Conference championship game.
Trailing 45-40 with 11:14 left in the game, the third-seeded Vandals (17-15) clamped down with a stingy defense while capitalizing on a 17-7 run to seize control of the game and hold on for the victory and automatic NCAA tournament berth.
It was Idaho’s first-ever appearance in the WAC championship game and the first time the Vandals had played for a conference title since the 2005 Big West championship, a loss to UC Santa Barbara.
Barr was one of four Vandals to score in double figures, along with Alyssa Charlston (15 points), Ali Forde (11 points, seven rebounds) and Connie Ballestero (10 points).
“When things started going bad, they really were digging down,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “They learned that over the course of the year, that basketball is going to be up and down, and it’s not going to be perfect.
“Our younger players are even-keeled on the basketball floor. They don’t panic, so I think right there … they’ve learned to trust one another. Everybody has to do their share, and they know that and trust one another.”
Seattle (20-10) also had four players in double figures, led by WAC player of the year Kacie Sowell’s 17 points.
“I could have been a little smarter inside,” Sowell said. “We can look at all the mistakes, but we have to look forward.”
The Vandals shot 44 percent from the field, including 6 of 20 from 3-point range.
“I think the confidence level that coach has in all of us is what makes the difference, when we need to step up the most,” Charlston said.
Seattle, which had its nine-game win streak snapped, made a last-ditch effort in the final 24 seconds. Down 67-60, Daidra Brown slashed for a layup to cut the lead to 67-62. Following a 30-second timeout, the Redhawks forced a turnover as Addie Schivo’s errant inbounds pass caromed off Barr and back out of bounds.
Brown’s attempt at another layup missed, but Sylvia Shephard grabbed the rebound and followed with a lay-in to cut the lead to 67-64. Another Idaho turnover gave Seattle the ball back with 7 seconds left.
Shephard fired a 3-pointer from the top of the key but missed wide right. Brown grabbed the rebound, dribbled the ball out and fired from just beyond the arc, but she also missed as time expired.
Despite the loss, Seattle is still expected to get a bid from the WNIT.
“That was a disappointing loss for us, and give all the credit to Idaho,” said Seattle coach Joan Bonvicini, who was named the WAC coach of the year. “(Idaho) hit some early 3s and put us down early. We had every opportunity to win this game. We have to use it as fuel for the next game.”
Barr was named most valuable player of the tournament and was joined on the all-tournament team by Charlston, Sowell, Shephard and Devyn Christensen (Utah State).