RENO, NV – Montana State is back in the Biggest Little City in the World as the top seed in the bracket. The Bobcats women wrapped up the Big Sky Conference title on the final day of the regular season, after not leading the standings at any point throughout the year.
The ladies admit it’s a nice accomplishment. But it’s not the ultimate title they want.
“Knowing us and North Dakota are the top teams coming in, and we had the best record, it means a lot,” said senior forward and Big Sky MVP Peyton Ferris. “But we also know there are no bad teams in this conference. So we’ve got to keep playing hard and not be satisfied with it.”
“Maybe a little luck in their too, to have things fall the way that they did,” added senior forward and second team all-confernece choice Riley Nordgaard. North Dakota lost the last day of the regular season to give the Cats the title. “But either way as coach says, it’s a new season. Although all those accolades are great, we’ll maybe talk about those in a couple weeks.”
“We talked about that this morning,” said head coach Tricia Binford on Tuesday. “Congratulations on the regular season, being super consistent. But now it’s 0-0 for everybody. And it’s about proving yourself every time you step on the floor.”
The Bobcats will step on the floor for the first time in Reno on Wednesday afternoon. They meet 8-seed Weber State in the quarterfinals at 1:00 Mountain Time, the same opponent they played in the last game of the regular season last Friday, a game MSU won 72-53.
“It’s fresh on our minds,” said Ferris. “It’s a positive because we don’t have to really change our focus. But also we’ve got to prepare for whatever adjustments they make.”
“I like the fact that you have a familiar scout,” added Binford. “So you don’t have to over-prepare. But at the same time you want to prepare your team for something new, because there are going to be some adjustments. There are going to be some changes.”
Weber State came from behind in regulation and again in overtime to sneak past 9-seed Sacramento State 98-97 in Monday’s first round. So the Wildcats bring some momentum into the quarterfinals.
MSU has been in this position before. As the number one seed last year, the Cats were shocked by 9-seed Idaho State in the quarterfinals. But everyone in blue and gold expects a different result.
Montana State finished 15-3 in conference, 22-6 overall, finished perfect at home, and won their last four games before traveling to Reno. The team shows no signs of weaknesses. And Binford feels her team enters the bracket this time in a better frame of mind.
“We finished with some home games,” she said. “And I like the momentum that we have coming into the tournament. But at the same time we have more experience, just learning from last year’s first time in Reno.”
“First year you’re kind of looking at the city lights, and the tournament feel, and the teams are all here, and all of that,” admitted Nordgaard. “I think for me anyway as a senior coming back, it’s more, I’m hoping to play basketball all week. All of these other things, you do your best to eliminate them. And you’re really a little bit more focused.”
The Cats don’t want to talk about last year. But they did learn some lessons that can help in this postseason.
“Come out hard, and compete through the whole game,” explained Ferris. “If you do that, things are usually in your favor. This year’s team we have some more momentum going down. We feel pretty good and confident.”
And if the Cats find themselves staring down another upset in Reno, an incredible regular season showed them they have what it takes.
“We’ve been in tight games,” said Nordgaard. “And we’ve been down late in fourth quarters. We’ve had to scrap some out. I think as a team it’s really allowed us to build a lot of confidence in those game-time situations, to rely on each other and find was to finish games.”
The battle between Bobcats and Wildcats starts the quarterfinal day of the women’s tournament on Wednesday.
#4 Eastern Washington takes on #5 Idaho at 3:35 Mountain Time.
Then 2-seed North Dakota meets #7 Portland State again at 6:30. The Vikings were the team that knocked off the Fighting Hawks last Friday, giving the Bobcats the regular season title.
3-seed Northern Colorado finishes the night at 9:00 against 6-seed Idaho State. The Bengals eliminated Montana in the first round, 63-53.