Overcoming a double-digit deficit is not an easy task.
But overcoming several of them? Talk about extremely tough. However, that’s just what Utah State’s women’s basketball team did Saturday afternoon against Idaho.
Four different Aggies scored in double figures as USU rallied from 16 down in the second half to beat the Vandals 91-85 at the Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.
The Aggies (6-9, 3-1 Western Athletic Conference) trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half.
“I am pleased because it shows the fighting spirit, but there’s a reason why we got behind, too, and that’s the displeasing part of it,” USU head coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “I never understood the NFL stat about these quarterbacks and all these fourth-quarter comeback wins. To me, that shows a bad three quarters.
“But what I really take away from it is our fighting spirit is also an element of the game and that’s starting to come out, the urgency of it.”
Devyn Christensen led all scorers in the game with 25 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the field. Freshman guard Makenlee Williams added a career-high 21 points and Jenna Johnson recorded a double-double for the Aggies with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
“We had some strong play by Jenna Johnson, Devyn Christensen and Mak Williams,” said Finkbeiner, who also singled out the play of Jennifer Schlott (11 points, six assists) and Franny Vaaulu (seven points, six rebounds).
Christensen scored 17 of her points after halftime. Her 3-pointer with 6:19 remaining in the game gave USU a 71-70 lead and the Aggies never trailed again.
Following a 3-pointer by Williams to open the second half, USU led 45-40.
However, the Vandals (4-10, 1-2) responded with a 21-0 run. Stacey Barr, who led all Idaho scorers with 23 points, capped the spurt with one of her six 3-pointers and the home team was cruising with a 61-45 lead with 15:03 to go.
Barr nailed five consecutive 3s and converted an old-fashioned three-point play during the run.
A jumper by Jessica Graham made it 63-47 for Idaho with 12:55 left, but Cristal Turner ignited a 27-7 game-changing spurt for the Aggies with a 3-pointer.
“We went on our run and instead of putting our foot down and increasing our lead, we just didn’t play the best defense and let them back in it,” Barr said.
Finkbeiner credited the play of his point guards — Schlott and Christensen — when asked what spearheaded USU’s second-half comeback.
“We just gave the ball to our point guard and set a high-ball screen and had them drive,” Finkbeiner said. “Then we had a couple of flare options, a couple of kids cutting. It’s a very simple, quick-hitting play. It’s basically been Jen Schlott’s play for (the last) four or five games. Jen was being overly guarded on our left and we couldn’t turn the corner. We gave it to Devyn Christensen and pulled her out of the corner shooting guard spot and put her at the point guard spot.
“That was probably the main adjustment we made down the stretch is we gave Devyn the chance to rub that screen and get a shot. ... Forty-eight hours ago (at Seattle) it was Jen Schlott who made a living off of it, and tonight Devyn did.”
Christina Salvatore scored 18 points for Idaho and helped the Vandals set a school-record with 15 3-pointers — like Barr, she had six of them.
“They lived and died by the 3,” Finkbeiner said of Idaho, which went 15 for 39 from beyond the arc.
Alyssa Charlston (16 points) and Connie Ballestero (10 points, 11 rebounds) also scored in double figures for the Vandals.
The Aggies trailed 23-10 during the first 20 minutes of play, but used a 13-2 run to get back into the game. USU took a 42-40 lead into the halftime locker room.
“We’re beginning to create some momentum right now and we’re starting to draw that line in the sand a little bit, that, ‘OK, this is who we are and we’re a group of fighters,’” Finkbeiner said. “It’s starting to pay off now.”