MOSCOW — The University of Idaho women’s basketball team never quite got the chance to prove its potential last season.

Almost nine months after that heartbreaking ending, the Vandals showed the rest of the Big Sky Conference that their potential hasn’t diminished.

Six Vandals scored in double figures, led by Natalie Klinker’s 15-point, 13-rebound double-double, en route to beating Sacramento State 97-73 on Friday at Memorial Gym. It was Idaho’s first game since last season’s conference tournament championship was called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, and finally got the Vandals’ season underway after multiple schedule adjustments resulted in the program’s latest season opener since 1992.

“I’m really proud of my team tonight,” said Klinker, one of four returning starters on an experienced and deep Vandals team. “There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this game. ... Everybody was just super-excited and I think we played with a lot of heart.”

Klinker and fellow returning starters Gina Marxen (13 points, seven assists) and Beyonce Bea (nine points, 13 rebounds) resumed their roles as go-to contributors. They had help from a few newcomers.

Freshmen Sydney Gandy and Paris Atchley scored 14 points apiece in their first college game, and graduate transfer Gabi Harrington, who previously played at conference rival Montana, added 12 points in her Vandals debut.

In all, nine players entered the scoring column. Bench players accounted for 34 points.

“I’m fairly happy overall,” Idaho coach Jon Newlee said. “Certainly got things to work on, but I love the way our team came out.”

The Vandals (1-0, 1-0) led 28-18 after the first quarter and 47-35 at halftime, but did their biggest damage in the third. They opened the period on a 7-2 run and scored eight straight a few minutes later, pushing their lead to 62-46. Gandy, Marxen, Harrington and Atchley all made one 3-pointer in the quarter, helping Idaho go 4-for-6 behind the arc and 10-of-20 from the field in the quarter. Hailey Christopher (12 points) converted an old-fashioned three-point play at the end of the period, extending the Vandals’ lead to 76-56. Sacramento State only briefly cut the deficit below 20 points the rest of the way.

The visiting Hornets (0-1, 0-1) didn’t go away early, digging out of holes with flurries of 3s. They hit three in a row to take their first lead of the night at 11-8, then made two 3s and a 2 for an 8-0 run to trim the Vandals’ lead to 35-27 in the second. Even in Idaho’s dominant third, Sacramento State used a 9-0 run to momentarily get back within eight, 54-46.

“We had a couple stretches in the first half where we kind of got rolling a little bit, but then they’d get right back in it with a 3,” Newlee said. “I know they’re a very dangerous team, but that stretch in the second half when we got it out to 20 was when we started rolling and doing a better job.”

The Vandals’ balanced scoring helped hold off the Hornets. But so did their rebounding. Idaho pulled down 60 boards, including 22 on the offensive end that led to 28 second-chance points.

Klinker and Bea each claimed 13 rebounds to lead the effort. Allison Kirby added 12 off the bench as Idaho won the rebounding battle by 17.

“I thought our effort on the glass was good tonight,” Newlee said. “We have to do a better job of keeping them off the glass, but I think our own effort on the glass was good.”

Idaho and Sac State face off again at 7 p.m. today at Memorial Gym.

For Newlee and the Vandals, it provides a tournament setting — where they’ve played some of their best ball through the years.

“It’s kind of a chess match with what adjustments are they going to make, what adjustments are we going to make?” Newlee said. “From a coaching standpoint, I think it’s fun. You get a taste of NBA life, a little bit of a playoff series.

“And from a player’s standpoint, to get ready in 24 hours I think is good prep for (the conference tournament in) Boise.”

IDAHO (1-0, 1-0)

Gandy 5-12 1-2 14, Marxen 5-9 0-0 13, Harrington 4-11 3-3 12, Klinker 6-9 3-4 15, Bea 4-15 1-3 9, Atchley 6-10 0-0 14, Kirby 2-7 2-2 6, Christopher 5-10 2-3 12, Alexander 1-3 0-0 2, Carlson 0-1 0-0 0, Pulliam 0-0 0-0 0, Milne 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 38-87 12-17 97.

SACRAMENTO STATE (0-1, 0-1)

Enger 2-9 0-0 5, Menke 4-18 0-0 8, Enochs 6-10 4-6 18, Johnson 4-13 2-2 12, Abney 3-10 0-0 8, Rios 3-5 1-2 9, Munguia 1-3 1-2 3, Panfili 4-7 0-0 10 Totals 27-75 8-12 73.

Idaho 28 19 29 21—54

Sacramento St. 18 17 21 17—82

3-point goals — Idaho 9-26 (Gandy 3-6, Marxen 3-6, Atchley 2-4, Harrington 1-5, Bea 0-1, Alexander 0-1, Kirby 0-1, Christopher 0-2), Sacramento State 11-33 (Panfili 2-3, Enochs 2-4, Rios 2-4, Johnson 2-5, Abney 2-7, Enger 1-5, Menke 0-5). Rebounds — Idaho 60 (Klinker, Bea 13), Sacramento State 43 (Menke 11). Assists — Idaho 17 (Marxen 7), Sacramento State 11 (Enger 4). Total fouls — Idaho 12, Sacramento State 19.

Guernsey may be contacted at mguernsey@lmtribune.com, (208) 848-2268 or on Twitter @MD_Guernsey.

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