Big Sky women's tournament

BIG SKY WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Bengals blast Vandals, advance to Big Dance


BOISE, Idaho — With almost seven minutes remaining in the game, Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski subbed senior Delaney Moore out of the game.

The senior post came to the bench and hugged her teammates, soaking up the moment of upcoming championship glory.

Two more fast break buckets later and the rest of Idaho State’s veterans got subs, walking into a timeout with more than five minutes to play with a massive lead few could’ve possibly expected.

And as the final seconds ticked down, the moment began to set in for the Bengals. Idaho State is going dancing.

A roster highlighted by players from around the globe came together like no other team in Big Sky women’s basketball this season, sharpening a wonderfully unselfish style that hit a fever pitch in downtown Boise on Friday afternoon.

Idaho State forged a perfect start and kept the momentum rolling, building a 20-point lead by halftime, a 30-point lead by the end of the third quarter and a 40-point lead by the time Moore, Dora Goles, Estafania Ors and Diaba Konate all took their celebratory seats on the bench, accepting the ovations from the smattering of fans in orange with great joy.

The top-seeded Bengals sprinted to the conference tournament title, dismantling No. 2 Idaho in an 84-49 victory that left no doubt who the best in the Big Sky is this season.

Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski cuts down the net as 2021 Big Sky Conference Champions/by Brooks Nuanez

“This is really satisfying,” Sobolewski said. “To win a conference tournament is really hard. So many things have to fall into place. You could have one bad game and your season can be done. To come in ready to play every single game and shoot the ball that way, it’s difficult to do. This feels really good.”

After subbing out of the game, Idaho State’s star quintet could barely sit still, Boure, Ors and and Goles stood at their bench seat , constantly hugging each other and waiting for the moment they could just taste. Moore sat in her chair, visibly shaking with excitement.

The result was so thoroughly in hand that the post-game confetti launched five seconds early when the final shot clock expired. And when the final buzzer did sound, the Bengals first made snow angels in the confetti while laying in the key under a basket they lit up all afternoon.

Then the Bengals broke into a dance party as Flo Rida’s “Welcome to My House” blared on the speakers.

“I can’t describe that moment,” Konate said with a laugh. “Personally, I was really happy. Everybody was really happy. Something was happening in my head. I just couldn’t’ believe it. We had to seize the moment and it doesn’t happen every time so that was really special.”

Idaho Central Arena certainly felt like Idaho State’s house this week. The Bengals faced little resistance in this tournament, particularly in Friday’s championship game against second-seeded Idaho team playing in its fourth championship game since rejoining the league in 2014.

Idaho State players celebrating after beating Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

Ors, a super senior who fought back after a serious knee injury that cost her last season, came locked and loaded for the chipper. She scored the first eight points of the game and converted her first six field goal attempts overall on the way to 17 first-half points.

“Estafania is a pillar of our team,” Konate siad. “She is a great shooter and no matter what happens, she’s there for all of us.”

As the All-Tournament team was announced, the jumbo-tron zoomed in on Ors. She had a look of genuine surprise when she was announced as the MVP of the championship run.

“It’s the work of my teammates,” Ors said. “They are the ones who got me to that position. I didn’t expect it.

“It is really special. Back in my freshman year, I didn’t really understand everything because I am foreign, too. I didn’t know how everything worked. Now that I know, I really appreciate the win.

“I’ve been wanting this for so long. It feels so amazing.”

The trademark of the Bengals all season has been their unselfish play, their ability to move the ball and the true chemistry that is apparent across Sobolewski’s roster.

Ors hails from Spain. Goles, who also came back from a serious knee injury suffered a few years ago at this tournament, is a native of Croatia. Callie Bourne, the heart and soul of the squad and an All-Tournament team selection, grew up in Australian. And Konate, one of the most relentless defenders and competitors in the recent history of the league, is a native of France.

Idaho State guard Dora Goles (5) attacks the hoop vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

“We love each other,” Ors said. “We really, really love each other. We are like sisters and that’s what makes us great.”

The Bengals raced to a huge halftime lead by converting 15 of their first 21 shots. ISU led 27-17 at the end of the first quarter and 44-25 by halftime.

By the end of the game, Ors had 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, Konate had raced her way to 20 points, Moore had added 16 on 8-of-10 shooting, Goles had five of ISU’s 18 assists, all playing key roles in the Bengals rejoicing in cutting down the nets.

“I took this game as my last game,” Konate said. “I told myself I was going to play hard and have fun.”


During the regular-season, Idaho State ripped off 14 straight wins at one point, including beating Idaho in Moscow 73-56 on February 13. The next night out against UI, the Vandals got the upper hand, handing ISU its most lopsided loss of the season.

Over the last few weeks, Idaho has had to navigate adversity, dealing with Covid-19 issues within its program. Those issues cost Idaho a pair of games against Montana State and a game against Montana, contests that could’ve helped the Vandals catch the Bengals in the regular-season title race.

The Covid protocols effected Idaho to the point where All-Big Sky point guard Gina Marxen and Hailey Christopher, the Big Sky’s top reserve, did not participate this week in Boise.

Idaho State forward Delaney Moore (22) finishes at the rim vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

With Marxen out, UI freshman Sydney Gandy rose to the occasion. The rookie became the latest young player to tear up this tournament under UI head coach Jon Newlee’s guidance. Gandy scored 21 points in Idaho’s tournament opener against Northern Arizona then 19 more in UI’s 80-64 ripping of Montana State.

On Friday, Beyonce Bea and the Vandals looked out of gas. Senior Gabi Harrington, who earned All-Tournament honors, rolled her ankle in the first half against Montana State and didn’t seem to have the same lift on her shots. Bea also couldn’t get anything going after scoring 21 against MSU.

While the Bengals scored the nets, Idaho’s jump shots kept coming up short and the lead kept getting more insurmountable.

“Credit to Idaho State – they came in here, shot the lights out, played extremely hard and deserved to win this game,” Newlee said.

“This was kind of my greatest fear playing our fourth game in a week as short-handed as we were that we weren’t going to have enough gas in the tank and we didn’t.”

Bea finished the title game with 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Gandy had 10 points on 4-of-14 from the floor, including 2-of-10 from beyond the arc as Idaho shot 27 percent from the floor and 6-of-27 (22 percent) from deep.

“Beyonce got the six stitches under her eyelid last night, Gabi’s ankle was hurting. I don’t want to make a bunch of excuses and credit to Idaho State but for us to battle as short-handed as we’ve been and to get to this championship game is a testament to the grit, the will, the desire, the resilience of this team,” Newlee said. “And I’m as proud of this team as I’ve been of any of my championship teams that went to the NCAA Tournament for their effort to get to this game.”

The Big Sky Tournament championships the second under Sobolewski in his 13 seasons at the helm. The Bengals now have a 22-3 overall record and an RPI in the top 100.

Idaho forward Beyonce Bea (5) shoots a three point shot vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez

“I think they will be a good representative in the Big Dance,” Newlee said. “They had a good season, some good wins against Power 5 teams. They are a tough, physical basketball team and that’s what you have to be when you get into the NCAA Tournament to advance as I well know. I can’t wait to see what their draw is going to be and how they do but I think they will do well.”

The Bengals are projected as a No. 15 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament in San Antonio, Texas.

“As a coach, you feel like you are doing a good job if you can be consistent and your team can be consistent,” Sobolewski said. “If you are the No. 1 seed and you can follow all the way through with that for a win, you feel like you are doing your job well.

“It’s not just me, it’s not just the players. We have great assistant coaches, great trainers that all contribute to making this happen.

“We will enjoy this for a little bit, watch the selection show and then start our preparation. From here on out, we just have to enjoy all these different moments.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Idaho State forward Estefania Ors (14) defending Idaho forward Beyonce Bea (5)/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho forward Gabi Harrington (33) attacks the lane vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski celebrates with team/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State forward Montana Oltrogge (25) shoots a jumper vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho forward Natalie Klinker (42) grabs a rebound vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State forward Callie Bourne (12) in transition vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State players Callie Bourne (L) and Tomekia Whitman (R) celebrate/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State guard Diaba Konate (23) finishes on the fast break vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho guard Sydney Gandy (14) drives to the lane vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State guard Dora Goles (5) shoots a three point shot vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho forward Natalie Klinker (42) wrestles a rebound away vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho State forward Ellie Smith (13) shoots a mid range jumper vs. Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez
Idaho guard Allison Kirby (20) gets downhill vs. Idaho State/by Brooks Nuanez
2021 Big Sky Conference Champion Idaho State Bengals/by Brooks Nuanez

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

Recommended for you