RENO, Nev. – The excitement of college basketball is built on upsets, and the Idaho State Bengals apparently got the memo.
The Bengals entered the Big Sky Conference women's basketball tourney as the No. 9 seed. They got past Northern Colorado in Monday's opening round and upset No. 1 seed Montana State in Wednesday's quarterfinal -- a win that made national news for a Juliet Jones buzzer-beater.
Add another upset to the Bengals' totals as Idaho State stunned No. 4 seed North Dakota in Friday's semifinal action, 69-54. With the win, Idaho State advanced to the conference title game for the first time since 2012 when the Bengals went to the NCAA tournament.
"It might be one of our best performances because (North Dakota) is a really good team out there, a really physical team," ISU coach Seton Sobolewski said. "And we've had our butts kicked more than a few times by North Dakota.
"They're well coached; Travis (Brewster) is a great coach and he's done a great job there. We really have to play hard and be on our best to even have a chance to beat them. We put it together today."
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Idaho State limited North Dakota to a 26.8 shooting percentage (15 for 56). The Bengals also forced 15 turnovers in the win.
ISU outscored North Dakota 34-18 in the paint. Additionally, Idaho State scored 14 points off second-chance opportunities, while gaining 21 bench points.
Idaho State had three players finish in double figures, with Apiphany Woods leading the Bengals with 15 points. Tressa Lyman, a two-sport star for Idaho State, contributed nine points and 15 rebounds.
Leah Szabla led North Dakota with 18 points.
Idaho 86, Eastern Washington 71
Idaho was on fire from deep on Friday, hitting 14 triples as the Vandals topped No. 2 seed Eastern Washington to advance to their third league championship game in the last four seasons.
"Our first quarter started a little rocky," Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. "From a defensive standpoint they (EWU) were getting some pretty good looks. We were not as quick as we needed to be. We had to regroup there and I really liked our comeback to get it to six at halftime.
"I thought they would have a hard time covering us if we could spread the floor. We got to running. Our posts and guards were pushing the ball up the floor and scoring. I though the key was we started defending."
Idaho (23-9) trailed for much of the game, but came out on fire in the fourth quarter, scoring the first seven points to claim the lead. The Silver and Gold went 14-of-28 from beyond the arc on the day, hitting double figure 3’s for the 18th time this season. Mikayla Ferenz drained four 3-balls, giving her 12 so far in the tournament.
Ali Forde was stellar as well, scoring 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and grabbing a career-high 17 boards. Forde contributed on both ends of the court, swatting five shots as well.