BOISE — Montana State got off to a sizzling start, but the Bobcats went cold in the second half as Portland State pulled away for a 68-56 win in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament Tuesday at Century Link Arena.
Fifth-seeded MSU scored 22 points in the first quarter, making 5 of 8 3-point attempts in the quarter, but managed just 34 points the rest of the game. Portland State, the No. 4 seed, outscored the Bobcats 20-9 in the third quarter and used a 14-0 run in the second half to take control.
“I really thought the difference in this game was obviously turnovers for us. We weren’t able to take care of the ball as well as we needed, and I think that’s credit to Portland State,” MSU coach Tricia Binford said. “I think they have a lot of length, and I thought they did a great job defensively, particularly in the second half where they got a little farther out there in the passing lanes on our guards. We’ll have to learn from this.”
The Bobcats turned the ball over 22 times in the game, including seven from Oliana Squires, who adjusted into a score-first mode. The 5-foot-8 junior led MSU with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, including a 4-of-9 mark from behind the arc.
Martha Kuderer added 12 points — all from 3-point range — but the Cats could never establish a post presence against the size of the Vikings. They were just 12 of 36 from 2-point territory and only shot five free throws in the game.
PSU, meanwhile, made 23 of its 25 free throw attempts. Sidney Rielly was 12 of 12 from the stripe on her way to a team-high 18 points.
“That was huge,” Binford said of the free throw disparity. “We’re a team that typically is dominating at the free throw line, and I thought Portland State took that away. We weren’t able to draw that contact in the interior enough. We weren’t getting enough touches, in general, through there. When you’re hot from the perimeter, you’re looking for the quick 3, and we want to take those, obviously — we want our guards to be shot-ready. But one of the strengths of this year has been us and our ability to get (to the free throw line). And I just thought there was some opportunities missed on our end to stay composed on the defensive end and not bail them out.”
MSU led 33-30 at halftime but only took one free throw in the final 20 minutes. Twenty-two of Portland State’s attempts came after the halftime break.
Still, the Bobcats were still in it in the fourth quarter, closing back within six points on a Blaire Braxton bucket that made it 52-46 less than three minutes into the final quarter. PSU’s Kylie Jimenez made a 3 a minute later to push the lead back to nine, and MSU would never get closer than seven the rest of the way as Portland State (23-7) punched its ticket to the semifinal round, where it will play top-seeded Idaho.
Courtney West had 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting for the Vikings, who also got 10 points each from Ashley Bolston and Desirae Hansen.
Montana State, like Montana on Monday, now turns its attention to the 2019-20 season with optimism. The Bobcats had just three seniors on the roster, and they combined for just one minute of action Tuesday. Claire Lundberg, who was the Big Sky’s newcomer of the year and a third-team all-conference selection, averaged 17 points per game but suffered a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 4.
“We had a lot of new players this year, as well, so I think we learned throughout the season how to play well together, so I’m just hoping we build off of that coming into next year, because we do have a lot of people returning,” Kuderer said. “I think we can just keep improving on what we kind of built this season.”