VANDAL HEARTBREAK: Top-seeded Idaho upset in semis; but surprising Eastern reaches title game

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Idaho coach Jon Newlee hugs Mikayla Ferenz (21) and Taylor Pierce late in the Vandals’ loss to Portland State in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference basketball tournament Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena in Boise. BROOKS NUANEZ/Associated Press

BOISE — Fourth-seeded Portland State clamped down on Idaho’s senior shooting stars and took down the top-seeded Vandals 75-59 in the semifinals Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena to advance to the Big Sky Championship game for the first time since 2011.

Portland State (24-7) contained the nation’s top 3-point shooting team as the Vandals (20-11) went 6-for-29 from behind the arc for 21 percent after coming into the contest averaging 11.6 3-pointers per game.

Mikayla Ferenz (13 points) and Taylor Pierce (2 points) were limited to 6 of 29 from the floor and 3 of 21 from long range after averaging more than 40 points for the Vandals this season.

“We had to go up against two of the best shooters in conference history,” Portland State coach Lynn Kennedy said. “We had to play the perfect game and I thought our team did a phenomenal job in guarding those two players the way we did.”

Sophomore guard Kyle Jimenez paced Portland State with 22 points and nine assists.

Lizzy Klinker led the Vandals with 21 points and nine boards. Hailey Christopher added 16 points.

“I just hate it for these guys; we really thought we’d be playing in the NCAA tournament this year,” said Idaho coach Jon Newlee, seated next to Ferenz and Pierce at the postgame news conference. “I’ve been on both ends of these ... frankly, it sucks.”

Holding a 32-28 halftime advantage, the Vikings opened the third quarter on an 11-5 run to grab a 10-point lead at 43-33 six minutes into the period.

Idaho pulled within eight on several occasions but a 2:28 scoring drought down the stretch propelled Portland State to a comfortable lead with Jimenez giving the Vikings their largest advantage at 16 in the final minute on a pair of free throws.

The Vikings shot 45 percent for the contest while holding Idaho under 40 percent for just the seventh time this season with a 36 percent shooting clip.

Newlee said the Vandals will play in the WNIT.

Portland State will look to earn an NCAA Tournament bid for just the second time in program history (2010) Friday as the Vikings face No. 6 Eastern Washington at noon PDT. The game will air on Eleven Sports, Pluto TV and WatchBigSky.com.

Eastern Washington 59, Northern Colorado 57: Jessica McDowell-White inbounded the ball off the backside of a Northern Colorado player, grabbed the ball and scored the go-ahead basket with 3.2 seconds left as the sixth-seeded Eagles (13-19) stunned the second-seeded Bears (21-10) in the semifinals.

EWU will play in the conference finals for the first time in the 31-year history of the tournament on Friday, facing fourth-seeded Portland State.

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