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Idaho State wins Big Sky final despite poor shooting

POCATELLO, Idaho -- Northern Colorado couldn't find enough offense to a win a conference championship.

Chelsea Pickering and Ashleigh Vella scored 12 points each as Idaho State fought through shooting struggles to beat Northern Colorado 49-46 in the Big Sky Conference championship game on Saturday.

"I thought we did some great things defensively," Northern Colorado coach Jaime White said. "I thought we really did a good job and at the end, it really could have gone either way."

Idaho State (24-7) earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and won the Big Sky tournament for the third time, first since 2007.

Victoria Team led Northern Colorado (20-11) with 18 points, but Idaho State managed to hold standout Bears guard D'Shara Strange to six points on 2-of-15 shooting.

Vella made a layup with 2:00 left to give the Bengals a 45-43 lead. Neither team scored again until Pickering hit a couple of free throws with 21 seconds left to put Idaho State up by four.

Victoria Timm's 3-pointer for the Bears with 13 seconds left cut the lead to one, but Kaela Oakes got free for a layup to seal the win for Idaho State.

Northern Colorado went on a 11-1 run during the final 7:12 of the first half to cut the Bengals' lead to 22-21 at intermission.

Northern Colorado held the Bengals to one field goal and four points during the first 7:35 of the second half, and the Bears built up a six-point lead.

Idaho State's Kara Jenkins hit a 3-pointer with 12:25 in the second half and the Bengals outscored Northern Colorado 23-14 for the remainder of the game.

Timm, clearly disappointed with Saturday's loss, showed a spark of excitement when talking about the Women's NIT berth the Bears will receive.

"It's a great opportunity," she said.