The 2018-2019 University of Denver Women’s Basketball season is over, as the Pioneers were curb-stomped in the second round of the WNIT, 88-66 by the University of Idaho Vandals before a boisterous crowd filling the historic, old Memorial Gym in Moscow, Idaho on March 24th.
The Vandals, from the Big Sky Conference, were led by Makayla Ferenz, who put up a game-high 33 points against a porous DU defense. DU was led by Junior Madison Nelson with 19 points in the losing effort.
Senior Guard Samantha Romanowski, DU’s third-leading scorer and floor leader, played her final game in Crimson and Gold with 11 points. Other Pioneers playing in their final college basketball game were guard Haley Simental with three points and three steals in her swan song, and forward Courtney Smith, who had transferred into DU from Northern Colorado after last season, who had six points in the contest.
The Pioneers had led 41-32 at halftime behind strong shooting and looked to be on their way, but the Vandals came out of the locker room inspired, made some key adjustments and took over the game with a blistering 36-point third quarter including eight devastating three-pointers that turned that nine-point Idaho halftime deficit into an 18-point lead for the Vandals, pushing the lead to 68-50 at the end of the quarter, effectively sealing the romp for Idaho.
Denver simply could not keep up with the Vandals, only scoring nine points in that decisive third quarter, and giving up 40% 3-point shooting over the course of the contest to Idaho.
Denver, the third-place team in the Summit League this year, finished with a record of 18-14 overall and 10-6 in the Summit League, and will be remembered for pushing new post-season boundaries this year by winning the Pioneers’ first-ever postseason game. Last week’s 83-75 road upset of New Mexico in the first round of the WNIT made for some happy new memories, after the team’s two prior losses in the two other DU postseason appearances, including the 2011 WNIT and the 2001 NCAA tournament, where DU fell in double-digit losses to BYU and Virginia Tech, respectively.
This second round NIT appearance is now the high-water mark for second year coach Jim Turgeon and his staff and for the DU program. Turgeon took over the Pioneers two years ago after the shambolic Kerry Cremeans-era and has quickly restored the program to contention in the Summit League. DU expects to return three of its four top scorers next year in (1) Madison Nelson (16.4 PPG), (2) Lauren Loven (14.5 PPG) and (4) Claire Gritt (10.7 PPG) giving Turgeon a strong nucleus to build around, including seven other veterans and some exciting newcomers.
While the Pioneers brought excitement back to Magness Arena with a national top 10 offense averaging over 80 points run-and-gun per game, DU will likely need to improve its defense next season after allowing 76 points per game this year, one of the lower-ranked defenses in the nation if it hopes to improve on this season.