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Montana State Billings women fight back, advance into GNAC championship game

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Posted at 6:40 PM, Mar 08, 2024

(Editor's note: Great Northwest Athletic Conference release.)

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — No. 1 seed Montana State Billings will be back in the finals of the GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships for a second consecutive year after beating No. 4 seed and host Central Washington 62-60 in the dying seconds of the game.

The Yellowjackets’ biggest players came through when the moment demanded it, battling in a fourth quarter where the score was tied five times over four and a half minutes and neither team led by more than four points at any stage.

Reigning GNAC Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year Kola Bad Bear showed why she earned the honor in the win, leading all players with 21 points to go along with nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

Kortney Nelson also came up huge for MSUB, notching a season-high 19 points that was just one point shy of her career-high.

In addition to her offense, Nelson was huge on the boards, hauling in 10 rebounds to record her first double-double of the season. The performance included a 4-for-4 day at the free-throw line, three assists and a steal.

The Yellowjackets trailed for much of the first half after the Wildcats made their presence known early, draining five three-pointers and snagging four steals in the first 20 minutes to take a 36-29 advantage into halftime.

The scoring effort for CWU in the first half was led by freshman guard Annalee Coronado with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting from the field, including three treys. Coronado had one of the biggest games of her career, finishing with 15 points, three rebounds and three assists.

Defensively, the Wildcats out-rebounded MSUB 25-19 in the first half, including 12 offensive boards. Aliyah Finch was the top rebounding player for CWU through two quarters as she matched her career high of eight rebounds. Finch also finished with seven points, two blocks and a steal.

Montana State Billings was led by a balanced scoring effort in the first 20 minutes as Bade Bear notched 10 along with second team all-conference guard Nelson.

Dyauni Boyce also chipped in six points through the first half to keep the ‘Jackets within striking distance heading into the break. Boyce was one of four Yellowjackets to finish with double-digit points, notching 10 to go with five rebounds, two blocks and an assist.

Central Washington’s late drive to keep playing in front of its home fans was spearheaded by Asher Cai as the first team all-conference guard finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals.

In the fourth quarter, Cai reclaimed the lead for the Wildcats once and gave CWU its last chance to tie the game as the clock hit zero.

Bad Bear played some of her best basketball down the stretch, picking up 11 of her points, two rebounds and a steal in the final quarter.

Montana State Billings had to fight all the way to the end as it didn’t lead in the fourth quarter until Aspen Giese hit a pair of free throws with just under two and a half minutes remaining in the game.

Giese finished the day with 12 points, six rebounds and a team-high four assists while the lead that she provided proved to be enough as the ‘Jackets closed out their semifinal win by holding CWU scoreless for the final minute.

The victory sets the table for a rematch of last year’s GNAC Championships final as No. 1 seed Montana State Billings (26-5, 16-2 GNAC) will take on No. 2 seed Western Washington (22-6, 14-4) tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. (PST).

The top two seeds in the tournament split their regular season series this year, with both sides taking home wins.

This will be just the second time that the two teams meet in the final after the Vikings won last year’s edition of the tournament with a 76-71 victory over the Yellowjackets in Bellingham.