TWIN FALLS — After losing its Scenic West Athletic Conference opener, the College of Southern Idaho women’s basketball team has found its stride.
CSI earned its third straight win Saturday in tight fashion at home against Utah State University Eastern.
The Golden Eagles won 76-72 behind Mallory Lapoole’s 18 points, but it was far from easy for her in her normal post role.
“It was kind of rocky at first,” she said. “I’m used to my fadeaway being on point, but they defended me a different way, and it was tough.”
Lapoole went 1-for-6 from the field in the first half with her only made shot being a 3-pointer. But in the second half, she began to adjust to how they defended her.
“They wouldn’t take away my jump shot, so I just decided to shoot that,” she said.
After draining a few jumpers, the paint opened up and Lapoole got back to driving to the basket en route to 15 second-half points.
She said her job was easier in the second half because her teammates gave her outlet passes, especially Jane Nelson, who shot 6-for-6 from the floor (4-of-4 on 3-pointers).
“Jane did a really good job of getting spread out on the court today,” Lapoole said. “As soon as I caught it, I knew she was going to be open on the side.”
Nelson finished with 16 points.
It was truly a tale of two halves for CSI. In the first, the Golden Eagles only made four of their first 16 shots and entered halftime shooting 30.6 percent to USU Eastern’s 40 percent.
But USU Eastern forfeited 11 turnovers to help CSI hold a 31-26 halftime advantage.
Both teams came out firing from 3-point range in the second half, combining for eight made 3s in the first six minutes. But CSI head coach Randy Rogers didn’t want to get too comfortable with that strategy.
“If that’s how you play, you’re not going to shoot over 50 percent and you’re not going to win games,” he said.
That showed in the fourth quarter, as CSI missed its first four 3-point attempts and let USU Eastern cut a 10-point lead to only three points.
Though the Golden Eagles were able eke out the win with good free-throw shooting by Kaela McClure and a couple layups by Lapoole, Rogers said he was more relieved than happy by the end of it.
“It didn’t feel like a win,” he said. “We just didn’t close well. We were playing like a team that was down nine saying, ‘Guys, come on. We’ve got to go!’ But that time, we were up nine. We were rushing.”
The biggest problem, as Rogers saw it: six turnovers and seven fouls in the fourth quarter.
“We just compounded mistakes with other mistakes,” he said. “We’d turn it over, and then we’d foul them right after, which stops the clock and puts them on the line.”
What the Golden Eagles lacked in late game discipline, Rogers said their second half shooting made up for it.
“Our perimeter shooting was as good as it’s been all year, and that probably won the game,” he said.
The win moved CSI to 3-1 in the SWAC, tied with Salt Lake CC and Snow College.
Rogers said the conference is as competitive as its ever been.
“It’s just a real battle at the top, and it’s so close that the winner of this game goes to first place, the loser goes to fourth place,” he said. “That’s how big these games are right now.”
The Golden Eagles will travel to Snow on Thursday and try to avenge their 69-66 conference-opening loss at home. Because of that loss, Rogers didn’t let the Golden Eagles come out to their regular pump-up video for Saturday’s starting lineup introduction.
“I told them they’ve got to earn the video back,” he said, “which they did.”
He said the team lacked focus coming into the Snow game and let the Badgers jump on them quickly. Megan Carr, Snow’s tallest player, didn’t play at CSI in their last matchup, but she will on Thursday, adding even more size to what Rogers called “the biggest team in the conference.”
But Lapoole said size doesn’t translate to tough post defense, and she’ll be looking for the ball on Thursday.
“We’ve got to hit the post,” she said. “It’s a must. There’s no one on Snow who can guard us in the post. Not one soul.”