Big Sky Conference

Idaho State earns regular-season women’s hoops title for first time in nearly a decade

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Even after dismantling the once-mighty Lady Griz in Missoula, Seton Sobolewski refused to take a long view of what was ahead for a team chasing its first Big Sky Conference women’s basketball regular-season title in almost a decade.

Sobolewski, ISU’s head coach since 2008, watched his team win the fourth quarter at Dahlberg Arena late last month by 20 points on the way to a convincing 79-49 victory that helped the Bengals bounce back from a skid that included losses on consecutive Saturdays at Idaho and at Montana State, respectively.

Following the resounding victory over Montana, Sobolewski said his team remained focused on the task at hand with a few weeks left in the regular season.

“We try not to look too far ahead,” Sobolewski said. “We try to just look to the next game. Our goal structure for our team is to win the next game. We don’t have long term goals. We don’t have anything else to talk about. We just concentrate on the next game.”

The strategy has worked as well as any season during Sobolewki’s successful tenure leading one of the Big Sky’s most consistently competitive programs. Two days after the impressive fourth frame, the Bengals completed the sweep in Missoula.

A team that had a 14-game winning streak earlier this season had its Wednesday contest against Eastern Washington called off because of Covid-19 precautions. Friday, the Bengals and the Eagles took the court and Idaho State left no doubt.

In the final home game of her career, ISU senior Delaney Moore points in 18 points, super senior Estafania Ors added 10 points, all-conference candidate point guard Diaba Konate improved that resume by dishing out 11 of ISU’s 21 assists and the Bengals cruised to an 86-51 victory on Reed Gym.

“It’s great, it’s amazing, it’s a dream come true,” said Ors, a native of Spain who was a standout for three seasons before losing last season to a torn knee ligament. “We have to celebrate it because it feels so amazing. I can hardly describe how I feel right now.”

Montana State senior forward Estefania Ors (14) vs. Montana State in 2021/by Brooks Nuanez

The victory helped Idaho State finish 15-2 in league play, earning the first outright Big Sky title for the program since the 2011-2012 season. Idaho State also finished 11-0 at Reed Gym in Pocatello, marking the second time in the 46-year history of ISU women’s basketball a Bengals’ squad has gone unscathed in Pocatello.

The Bengals enter next week’s Big Sky Tournament in Boise as the No. 1 seed. ISU sports a 19-3 record overall after navigating an impressive non-conference schedule that included a convincing 85-61 win over Utah State, a spirited effort in a 64-51 loss at Nebraska and an eye-opening 65-50 win at Kansas State.

The win in Manhattan, Kansas sparked a 14-game winning streak as ISU started 13-0 in league play.

“Even if you don’t want it to, it still looms,” Sobolewski said following ISU’s first league loss, a 73-56 defeat to rival Idaho in Moscow. “A 14-game winning streak, the talk of the streak, instead of just playing. Maybe, it will relieve some pressure and brings us down to earth and focused on the next game and playing harder, seeing if we can build another streak.”

ISU started another streak less than a week later, thoroughly handling upstart Montana State in a 69-59 victory in which the host Bengals never trailed. But in Bozeman less than 48 hours later, the Bobcats rallied from a 17-4 lead in the first quarter to take a 12-point halftime lead. Idaho State charged back, taking a lead of its own late in the fourth quarter only to see Tori Martell drill a 3-pointer with less than a second left to send the game to overtime.

MSU emerged with an 88-80 win in Bozeman.

ISU needed to win three in a row to secure the outright title and the No. 1 seed. Idaho had both of its games against Montana State cancelled the final week of February and one game against Montana also called off.

Friday, despite missing the All-Big Sky duo of point guard Gina Marxen and power forward Beyonce Bea, Idaho raced past Montana, 92-72, to secure the No. 2 seed in this week’s tournament with a 14-3 record.

Montana State had to gut out a 61-57 win over last-place Sacramento State on Wednesday. Martell nailed seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points to help MSU cruise to an 81-66 win on Friday to secure the No. 3 seed.

Northern Colorado sophomore forward Alisha Davis (15) vs. Portland State in 2020/by Brooks Nuanez

After losing eight of its first 10 games — a stretch that included a 77-76 overtime win over Montana — Northern Colorado has won 10 out of 13 games, including five in a row, to vault up to the fourth seed. All-Big Sky cinch Alisha Davis is one of the most talented players in the league and her 16.5 points along with 10.1 rebounds helped the Bears finish 11-7 in conference play.

Southern Utah had more cancellations than any team in the league, yet found a way to get the required 10 Big Sky games in. The Thunderbirds finished 6-5 in conference competition and will take the No. 5 seed into the tournament. SUU played Northern Colorado once and did not play Idaho State, Montana State , Montana, or Eastern Washington.

After mounting its first winning streak of more than three games — UM won five in a row before running into the league-champion Bengals — yet enter the tournament on a three-game losing streak. The Lady Griz finished 9-8 in league play after missing a pair against SUU and one of its two games against Idaho.

The Lady Griz will take on last-place Sacramento State in the final game on Monday night in Boise.

Monday’s schedule from Big Sky Tournament

No. 8 Portland State vs. No. 9 Eastern Washington, 2 p.m.

No. 7 Northern Arizona vs. No. 10 Weber State, 5 p.m.

No. 6 Montana vs. No. 11 Sacramento State, 8 p.m.

Main photo courtesy of Idaho State Athletics. Body photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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