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.