LAS VEGAS -- Don't blink, because you would have missed the highlights on both sides.
Idaho put on an offensive torrent late in its WAC Tournament women's semifinal against Utah State on Friday, going on a 19-4 run in just 5:37 to defeat the Aggies 84-82. Wunderkind-esque, late-game heroism from WNBA hopeful Devyn Christensen didn't prove to be enough, either, as USU will once again fall short of the NCAA Tournament despite a furious late-season stretch in which they won 12 of 15 games.
Addie Schivo's two free throws with 3.5 seconds left lifted the Vandals (16-15) in a game in which the Aggies (18-13) led for nearly three quarters.
It certainly didn't come at the expense of another Christensen scoring spree. The senior is USU's all-time leading scorer whom USU coach Jerry Finkbeiner considers the greatest complete player in his 22-year head coaching career. She scored 10 straight points in 1:41 to help the Aggies recover from their collapse, tying the game in the final minute. Her 37 points were a career-high -- and the second-most single-game points in school history, behind Pat Montgomery's 38 points against Weber State in 1979.
Christensen's explanation for her torrid effort?
"I just felt space," she said tiredly, her hair knotted on the top of her head looking quite different than the free-swinging ponytail seen when she was bringing "wows" from the crowd. "I just wanted to get things going for myself and my team. I just try to do my part just like everyone else was trying to do theirs."
After Schivo's makes, Christensen had her chance for that shining moment. Coming off a curl alongside her bench, she took a pass from fellow senior Jenna Johnson (12 points, 10 rebounds), who caught a crosscourt lob from underneath the Idaho basket. Christensen was surely double-teamed, however, and lost the ball, trying to split the defenders. It was her only turnover of the night.
Christensen scored 26 of USU's 31 consecutive points (in 12:43) until center Franny Vaaulu completed a 3-point play the old fashioned way with 11 seconds left, after rebounding a missed 3-point attempt from all-conference guard Jen Schlott. That preceded a coast-to-coast layup missed by 12-point scorer Krissy Karr that Schivo rebounded, leading to her go-ahead free throws. Vaaulu's tying free throw followed Christensen's 10-point dash, sandwiched by a 1-of-2 free throw effort from Idaho forward Alyssa Charlston.
Though USU leads the nation in free throw percentage, Vaaulu is just 55 percent from the charity stripe this season.
The Aggies shot 53 percent from the field (for 48 points) in the second half after shooting just 34 percent before intermission. Idaho countered with a 56 percent effort (for 52 points) after halftime after going 26 percent from the field in the first half.
"This is a tough time, obviously," Finkbeiner said. "Really, we were not on six cylinders. We were not on eight. Our motor wasn't running smoothly today. I wish we could have had our last play over."
The strategy, he said, was to emulate Valparaiso guard Bryce Drew's buzzer-beating shot against Ole Miss in the first round of the Crusader's run in the 1998 NCAA Men's Tournament. Christensen even emulated Drew after the attempted play, lying face-first just beyond the arc.
But for very different reasons.
That isn't going to make Finkbeiner "stay up at night," as he said, as it will in his team having failed in their two main objectives. Known for her rebounding tenacity, Vandal forward Ali Forde grabbed nine offensive rebounds, while quick shooter Stacey Barr shot 8-of-14.
"Those were on our blackboard, he said. "Idaho had a lot to do against us, since we were on no cylinders. But I feel bad for the kids. We were in the right place, emotionally and mentally. We've covered a lot of ground since we started this season."
The Aggies started 2-8 this season under Finkbeiner, who replaced Raegan Pebley after she left for Fresno State. Finkbeiner's run-and-gun style contrasted with Pebley's methodical, half-court approach, and he said he hopes to use it due to another WNIT bid.
Christensen nor Johnson seemed convinced, having played in the WNIT the past two seasons. The former's enthusiasm Friday appeared limited to completing the team's resurrection through the playoff's final.
"I was just feeling pretty good," she said. "I've never been one to shy away from pressure, by any means."
Williams' learning experience
In her first collegiate postseason game, Makenlee Williams was impactful. The Syracuse native tallied 12 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 35 minutes in Orleans Arena.
Despite her play, however, Williams wanted to look ahead.
"This really sucks. I don't want to feel it any more," she said. "I want to do everything I can to not go through this again. The positive is that I have years to come. Looking back, I'll know I've learned something from it."
She already identified one lesson: learning from the resilience of the senior class -- not just Christensen and Johnson, but backup guard Pua Furtado and center Banna Diop, who underwent career-ending surgery early in the season.
The group joined a program that had experienced just one winning season in its seven since it was renewed in 2002. Now, the Aggies have strung together three such seasons.
She noted that the group was happy to accept her into the starting lineup early in the season, including backcourt mate Christensen for showing patience, and Furtado for continually playing less minutes as Williams' role increased.
"I'm blessed to play with them," said the former Syracuse High star. "They just have a positive outlook. One day, I want to be just as good a leader."