MOSCOW – Ali Forde scored a career-high 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting Thursday night as the Idaho women’s basketball team got its fifth win in its last six games, a 72-53 victory over New Mexico State.
“It feels pretty good to be honest,” the freshman from Woodinville, Wash., said of her career mark. “I made all my layups for once, but I got a bunch of really good passes so I’ve got to give it to my teammates.”
The Vandals shot 48.4 percent (30-of-62) from the field and held NMSU to just 29.7 percent shooting. It was the seventh time in 12 WAC games Idaho’s opponent failed to score more than 60 points, and the fifth time a Vandal opponent shot 30.0 percent or less from the field. New Mexico State’s Stefanie Gilbreath scored a game-high 21 points but needed 26 shots to do it, going 9-of-26 from the field.
“Defensively we were extremely solid tonight, stuck right to the plan,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “Gilbreath is always going to get hers. We wanted to make her a volume shooter, and we did tonight. She had 21 points so it’s kind of weird for me to say Jess (Graham) and Ali did a good job on her, but they did. They did a really good job on her, she’s just at times unstoppable and we had to just keep running those two at her. I’m happy. If she’s going to take 26 shots and only score 21 points, that works for us.”
Idaho improves to 11-12 on the season with the win and 8-4 in the Western Athletic Conference, while New Mexico State lost for the eighth straight time, falling to 9-14 overall and 3-9 in WAC play.
Junior Alyssa Charlston scored 14 points for Idaho, going 6-for-11 from the field and 2-for-2 from 3-point range. Freshman Christina Salvatore added 12 points, all in the first half, as she connected on all four of her first-half 3-point attempts. Senior Jessica Graham, who averages 5.6 points per game this season, scored in double-figures for the third time in her last four games, finishing with 10 points, five rebounds and two assists.
“I told her yesterday that this is the best stretch that she’s ever played for us,” Newlee said of Graham. “She just gives us such a huge life coming off the bench. She’s usually out there really early in the game and our leads seem to grow, or if we’re behind we seem to take the lead. She’s really embraced that roll of coming in and giving us that spark we need.”
Freshman Connie Ballestero added six points, five assists and three rebounds in the game, and committed just one turnover. Her 1.97 assist to turnover ratio entering the game was second-best in the WAC.
New Mexico State’s only lead in the game came 20 seconds in at 2-0. Idaho responded with a 7-0 run and took its first double-digit lead at 20-10 with 12:29 to play in the first half. The Aggies cut that lead to eight points, but Idaho built it back to 14 at halftime and led by double-digits the entire second half. Idaho’s largest lead of the night was a 23-point advantage at 49-26 with just over 15 minutes to play.
Despite giving up 19 offensive rebounds, Idaho out-rebounded the Aggies 42-40. The Vandals finished with 17 assists on their 30 made shots and turned the ball over just 10 times, the second fewest of the season for the team.
The Vandals will have a chance to get to .500 for the first time all season when they welcome Denver to the Cowan Spectrum for a 2 p.m. tip on Saturday. Just five weeks ago Idaho was six games under .500, with a 3-9 record before its win on Jan. 3.
“We keep talking game-by-game,” Newlee said. “You’ve got to defend home court and then take your chances on the road. Every game is huge, we know that. We want to keep winning and keep moving up the standings as best we can and know that March is coming.”