Ellie Smith vs. NAU

Idaho State’s Ellie Smith (13) wins the opening tip against Northern Arizona’s Jacey Bailey (11) during a game Saturday at Reed Gym.

POCATELLO — Seton Sobolewski, the fundamentally-focused coach he is, knows the importance of free throws. So, in the Idaho State Bengals locker room, there’s a chart that tracks all the players’ practice performance at the charity stripe.

The top-rated player gets to shoot technical free throws in games, and for most of the past few years, Estefania Ors’ name has been the one on the top of the list.

Which made it shocking when Ors, ISU’s Spanish sharpshooter, missed four straight free throws in the fourth quarter of the Bengals’ game against Northern Arizona on Saturday.

The misses, on two trips to the line that came one minute, 13 seconds apart, followed the same pattern — first one short, off the front of the rim, second one long, off the back iron. After the third miss, Ors jumped in the air and half-twirled away from the basket, pirouetting in frustration.

Ninety seconds later, a foul sent Ors to the line again with just over a minute left in the game. This time, she squared her shoulders and dropped in both shots.

The free throws, along with two more Ors made in the final minute, helped Idaho State hold off the Lumberjacks, 78-65, as the Bengals completed a sweep of another Big Sky contender at Reed Gym and pushed their best-in-program-history start to 8-1.

“I’m really proud of (Ors),” ISU head coach Sobolewski said. “She had a setback in the middle of the fourth quarter, missing those free throws. ... We know that she’s a good free-throw shooter, so for her to miss four in a row, it’s kind of devastating to her. But I was really proud of how she gathered herself and started knocking them down after that.”

Diaba Konate scored 20 points as the Bengals, up 18 at halftime, avoided a reversal of the last time these two teams played. In Flagstaff last February, ISU trailed by 12 points going to the fourth quarter before coming back for a 79-76 win.

In Pocatello on Saturday, the Bengals led 62-48 heading into the final quarter before Northern Arizona closed to within five points with just under five minutes to play.

“It was the exact same scenario we had last year in Flagstaff, but the tables were turned,” Sobolewski said. “So now they’re in a position where they can come back, and we can let them — or we can figure it out. ... It’s a tough thing for me to coach, just knowing, do you keep your foot on the pedal and give them the possessions if you’re not making shots, or do you just try to manage it slowly and burn clock?”

A jumper by Callie Bourne and a layup by Ellie Smith pushed the lead back to eight points before Ors broke out of her shooting slump and combined with Konate to make 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:07 to seal it.

Meanwhile, Northern Arizona, which made 7 of 8 shots at one point in the fourth to close the gap, scored just one point — on a JJ Nakai free throw — from an Emily Rodabaugh 3-point play with 4:54 left until a Miki’ala Maio jumper with 22 seconds left.

“I think it was our collective effort, on defense especially, in the second half,” Konate said. “For us, defense is more important than offense. So if we play defense, we know that our shots are going to fall eventually. That’s kind of our identity.”

ISU’s run to end the game came with leading scorer Dora Goles on the bench after she fouled out with seven minutes to play. Without Goles — who had helped close ISU’s win over the Lumberjacks on Thursday, handling the ball and making several good plays down the stretch — Ors found herself with the ball in her hands a lot more.

The tense finish came after a first half in which the Bengals looked perhaps the best they have all season. Konate had 13 points on 5 of 6 shooting, and Ellie Smith and Carsyn Boswell — not ISU’s typical sources of offense — each had eight on a combined 6 of 6 from the field.

ISU was shooting 69.2% from the field and 55.6% from the 3-point range at the break while forcing NAU into difficult shots and holding the visitors to 28.6%.

It all added up to a 46-28 halftime lead.

“That’s kind of where you think you’ll be,” Sobolewski said. “I don’t know if we can shoot 60% and 70% every quarter, but I think some of those rhythms and some of that momentum we felt, that’s where I think we can be.”

Konate added nine rebounds to her 20 points, narrowly missing her second-straight double-double. Goles, Ors and Bourne all finished with 11 points for Idaho State, while Smith had 10.

Nakai had 14 points to lead Northern Arizona, but took 16 shots to do it. Despite the tough second half, ISU still outshot the visitors for the game, 56.9% to 40.7%.

NOTES

- ISU’s facility on baseline out-of-bounds plays was especially notable Saturday. In the span of about a minute in the first half, the Bengals scored twice while taking the ball out from under their own basket, once when Goles, the inbounder, zoomed up to the free-throw line and took a handoff for a jumper, and once when Smith ducked into the paint for a layup.

“It’s funny, a coach from the University of San Diego approached me two summers ago and said, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you,’” Sobolewski said. “She said, ‘You guys were No. 1 in the nation scoring on baseline out-of-bounds plays.’ I didn’t even know that! I didn’t even realize that, but yeah, we’re pretty effective at it.”

- Another wrinkle that ISU showed was the guard post-up. On back-to-back possessions early in the third quarter, first Konate and then Ors posted up their defender for baskets. Working through the post isn’t generally a large part of ISU’s motion offense anyway, but with Konate’s length and Ors’ and Callie Bourne’s size and physicality, the Bengals can get some good matchups with their guards down there.

“The nice thing about that is, that’s not a play,” Sobolewski said. “They’re reading that on their own. When Diaba turns a drive into a postup, that’s not a play. She’s reading that, and that’s the level we want to get to with our freelance motion. We don’t want to have a lot of scripted things that people can prepare for. We want to just be able to make reads and counter how the defense defends things.”

- Northern Arizona went to a full-court press sporadically in the first half, one of the first times ISU has seen a press this year, and then more regularly in the second half as the Lumberjacks tried to come back. Idaho State handled it fairly well, although Konate put herself in trouble several times by trying to break it herself and getting trapped just past halfcourt. She finished with five turnovers. It was good preparation for next week, as the Bengals will play Sacramento State, which runs a full-court press.

“We tried not to be nervous, because they made a great comeback and they were trying to get us to turn the ball over,” Konate said. “We have some great plays for that, and we just tried to bring the ball up slowly and not turn the ball over.”

- With the ISU men’s team winning at Northern Arizona on Saturday, it marked the first time since 2017-18 that both ISU teams have swept the same conference opponent in the same year. Both ISU teams swept both Northern Arizona and Sacramento State that year.

IDAHO STATE 78, NORTHERN ARIZONA 65

Northern Arizona 17 11 20 17 — 65

Idaho State 26 20 16 16 — 78

Northern Arizona — Nakai 14, Schenck 12, Rodabaugh 11, Moran 11, Maio 9, Bailey 7, Bryant 1.

Idaho State — Konate 20, Ors 11, Bourne 11, Goles 11, Smith 10, Boswell 8, Moore 4, Oltrogge 3.