TWIN FALLS — Jamie Nielson had Saturday’s game circled on her mental calendar.
Nielson and the College of Southern Idaho women’s basketball team were taking on Snow College. Nielson knows several of Snow’s players from her high school days in Utah, but the game’s importance ran deeper. Snow ended CSI’s 2016-17 season.
“We have a really big rivalry with Snow,” she said. “Every game that we play them is really important.”
The No. 22-ranked Golden Eagles had revenge on their minds, but the No. 23 Badgers denied them, winning 69-66 Saturday at CSI. One long run in the first half helped Snow win the Scenic West Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
“We were definitely frustrated,” Nielson said. “That was a game we should’ve won.”
CSI took on Snow in the first round of the Region 18 tournament on March 3 of last year. The Golden Eagles built a 40-34 through three quarters, but Snow rallied for a 54-52 win that eliminated CSI.
CSI’s roster this season is mostly made up of players who weren’t on last year’s team and can’t fully understand what that loss felt like to this year’s returners (Nielson, Tiena Afu, Chesney Campbell, Meghan Hughes and Jane Nelson).
On Saturday, CSI led the entire first quarter and held a five-point lead at multiple points. But after falling behind 13-8, the Badgers responded with a 26-6 run, which netted them a 34-19 lead. The score was 36-26 at halftime.
“They smacked us in the face with their aggressive play,” CSI head coach Randy Rogers said.
For most of the second half, CSI showed spurts of promise, but Snow repeatedly kept the Golden Eagles at arm’s length. The 15-point deficit looked too large for them to overcome.
But they didn’t go away.
Down 65-58 with 53 seconds left, Afu completed an and-1. Snow’s Kayla Hugie then made one of two free throws, and Nielson sunk a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 66-64.
Snow and CSI traded two-point possessions, and Harley Hansen went to the line with 17 seconds left. She made the first and missed the second, but she went back to the stripe after Jazmin Chavez wrestled a rebound away from Gabriella Bruno.
Hansen missed both free throws, giving CSI a chance to tie it with 13 seconds left. Nielson got the ball and fired a 3 from the left corner. It missed, and the Golden Eagles ran out of chances in the remaining few seconds.
“I thought it was in,” Nielson said. “That’s a tough one to swallow.”
CSI improved on its 22.9 percent field goal shooting mark in the first half but still finished the game at a subpar 32.4 percent (22-of-68). And the Golden Eagles only made 20 percent (4-of-20) of their 3-point attempts.
“Sometimes, a game comes down to make and miss, and we didn’t make shots,” Rogers said.
Afu, Nielson and Mallory Lapoole each scored 13 points, but only Nielson shot efficiently (5-of-9 from the field, 3-of-5 from 3). Afu went 4-of-17 from the field, and Lapoole was 5-of-12. Afu did, however, grab 16 rebounds (10 offensive).
Hansen also finished with 16 rebounds (11 at halftime), and she scored a game-high 17 points (6-of-16 from the field, 0-of-5 from 3). Rogers wanted his defenders to force Hansen left when she dribbled, but too often, they let her go right, he said.
CSI (15-4) resumes conference action on Thursday, when it plays at Salt Lake CC.
“We’re definitely gonna learn from it, and we’re gonna come back stronger,” Nielson said of Saturday’s loss. “But right now, it’s really hard. It sucks to lose to Snow, and it sucks even worse to lose at home, in front of your home crowd. It’s gonna be harder to come back from this.”