LAS VEGAS – For the second straight year, the Seattle University women’s basketball team came one game short of the NCAA tournament.
It was the worst kind of déjà vu for the third-seeded Redhawks, who lost 75-67 to No. 1 seed Idaho in the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship game.
“This is a tough game to lose,” coach Joan Bonvicini said. “It definitely stings being second. It’s great to be in the championship game, but it stings too.”
The Redhawks came tantalizing close to the school’s first trip in school history to the NCAA tourney, but once again they were denied by the Vandals. Idaho, which swept the regular-season series against SU, defeated the Redhawks 67-64 in the tournament title game last year.
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“It’s definitely disappointing,” said Seattle’s Ashley Ward, who had 17 points and five rebounds before fouling out with 2:48 left. “We’ve been here twice before and weren’t able to get the win.”
The sparse Saturday afternoon crowd of 588 at the Orleans Arena was treated to a thrilling rematch of last year’s title game.
Despite a slow start and falling behind 20-6, the Redhawks battled back and trailed 29-27 at halftime.
“Once we found out that Idaho was here to play we decided that we needed to pick up our energy, otherwise it was going to be an ugly game,” Ward said. “Once we hustled harder, then we were able to get into this thing.”
Ward’s layup gave the Redhawks a 48-46 lead with 10:31 left in second half.
However, Seattle U had no answer for Idaho guard Stacey Barr, the tournament and regular-season MVP, who had a game-high 28 points.
“When things got tough down the stretch, I really thought Stacey Barr took over the game,” Bonvicini said. “(She) found a way to score, either from the field or from the free-throw line.”
The Redhawks trailed 63-58 with 2:48 left when Ward fouled out and Barr took over. The Vandals guard scored nine of Idaho’s last 11 points. Alyssa Charlston had 17 points, six rebounds and four assists for Idaho (25-8).
Meanwhile, Sylvia Shephard had 14 points, four assists and four rebounds for Seattle U (16-16). Kacie Sowell added 12 points and six rebounds.
“Looking at the season as a whole, we have a lot to be proud of,” Sowell said. “We have a great group. I’ve loved every minute of the season. It’s tough. It was a great season. It’s disappointing. I wish we could have played better today.”
The all-tournament team included Ward, Sowell, Barr, Charlston and New Mexico State’s Danesia Williamson.
“I really feel this week we stepped it up and really was playing our best basketball,” Bonvicini said. “We had a season that we’ve grown and I was really proud to get us to this point. We just need to finish the job and get the championship.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278
On Twitter @percyallen