POCATELLO — After its first losing streak in Big Sky Conference play in nearly two years, the Idaho State women’s basketball team gets exactly the reprieve it needs this week — a road trip to play the last-place Weber State Wildcats.
The Bengals (6-8, 2-3 Big Sky) go to Ogden, Utah, to play Weber on Thursday before returning home Saturday to host defending conference tournament champion Portland State at Reed Gym.
Seton Sobolewski’s young squad has been through some growing pains early in Big Sky play thus far, blowing out Eastern Washington and Sacramento State but losing to Idaho, Southern Utah (in overtime) and Northern Arizona.
The latter two losses were the first back-to-back setbacks in conference play for the Bengals since Feb. 24 and 28, 2018.
“There were a lot of little things, going back and watching the Northern Arizona film,” Sobolewski said. “If we had stuck to our fundamentals and done a lot of simple things, it probably would have changed the game, easily. ... We really need to get back to being fundamentally sound.”
Weber State (3-11, 1-4 Big Sky) provides a fine opportunity to bounce back. The Wildcats finished 6-25 a year ago in Velaida Harris’ first year as head coach, and haven’t been much better in 2019-20, with a 3-11 overall record.
They picked up their first conference win on Jan. 9 with a 65-60 victory at Northern Colorado, but followed that up with a 91-67 loss at home against Sacramento State.
BYU transfer Liz Graves leads Weber with 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Ula Chamberlin adds 10.2 points per contest.
“They’re good enough to be scary,” Sobolewski said. “They have a really good guard in Liz Graves, and they have some good youngsters, and some good hustle players that make a lot of difference. ... They’re kind of like us. They’re young, a little bit up-and-down, they’re playing some freshmen.”
Weber is last or next-to-last in the Big Sky in a number of categories, including scoring margin, scoring offense, 3-pointers made and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Wildcats are last in Division I — 348th out of 348 teams — in turnovers per game and turnover margin, which should have ISU guards Dora Goles (third in the conference with 2.3 steals per game) and Diaba Konate (10th with 1.5) eager to take on their backcourt.
Portland State will be a different story. The Vikings lost a lot of talent from their NCAA Tournament squad a year ago, but have still started 3-3 in conference play and 9-7 overall.
Vikings post Tatiana Streun is an early player of the year candidate with 14.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Both marks are third in the Big Sky thus far.
Desirae Hansen, the conference’s co-top reserve a year ago, is now in the starting lineup and averages 13.1 points per game, eighth in the conference.
Then the Vikings have bookends at each end of the height spectrum, with 5-foot-6 point guard Kylie Jimenez averaging 11.8 points per game, leading the conference in minutes played and posting top-five marks in assists and steals, while 6-foot-4 post Jordan Stotler leads the Big Sky — and is fifth in D-I — in blocked shots per game with 3.3.
Struen, Hansen and Stotler, all at least 6-feet, play the back line in PSU’s 2-3 zone defense.
“Portland State is a different animal, in terms of, they have a really good 2-3 zone,” Sobolewski said. “That saves them from a lot of other issues they might have if they were playing man-to-man. But it’s a good zone, they’re big. ... That back line is really tall. They’re smart, and their returners all have at least a year’s experience playing that defense, so it gives them a good chance to be competitive.”
- Four ISU starters — Callie Bourne, Diaba Konate, Dora Goles and Tomekia Whitman — all played at least 34 minutes apiece in both the Southern Utah and Northern Arizona games. Sobolewski admitted that he’s still having trouble getting his rotations in order after Estefania Ors’ injury.
“I’m still struggling with it,” Sobolewski said. “I know I need to play the bench more. We can’t have five players playing 36 minutes. I’m trying to figure it out. ... I never want to be the team that has a whole bunch of kids leading the league in minutes played. Normally, it doesn’t work out for you.”
No ISU player is in the top 10 in the conference in minutes played, but it’s still something to monitor.
“I just have to get (the bench players) out there and let them make their mistakes and let them work through it, and keep trying to get better,” Sobolewski said.
After some minutes for Carsyn Boswell and Nuria Barrientos against Eastern Washington and Sac State, Sobolewski seems to have settled on Delaney Moore, Montana Oltrogge and Irene Vincente as his bench trio of choice. All three played double-digit minutes against both SUU and NAU, with no other reserve getting more than one minute of burn.