Montana State women rally past rival Montana for 10th straight home Cat-Griz win

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jan 20, 2024

BOZEMAN — What should've been a celebratory day for the Montana State women's basketball team turned heart-wrenching Saturday at Worthington Arena.

With the Bobcats in the process of putting the finishing touches on a 64-55 comeback win over rival Montana, Montana State senior Katelynn "K.J." Limardo took a hard foul and fell to the court, hitting her neck and the back of her head on the hardwood. Medical personnel tended to her for nearly 20 minutes, ultimately taking Limardo out on a backboard and stretcher as an emotional Bobcat team surrounded her and wished her well.

"It's really tough seeing one of our key players go down in the middle of a game and then seeing the stretcher come out, that is really tough for the whole team to see, especially it being K.J., because we're all united as one, we all care for one another a lot," said Montana State fifth-year player Madison Hall. "This is just a thing that we're going to have to pray about for her, for our team and just keep moving on to the next game and mentally stay together and just be composed as possible."

Montana State coach Tricia Binford did not have an update on Limardo's status after the game. (Update: A Montana State spokesperson said Binford visited Limardo in the hospital and Limardo is going to be OK. Limardo's parents, Kristina and Peter, expressed gratitude to "the best fans in the world" for their prayers.) Limardo finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots, ultimately helping Montana State to its 10th consecutive home win over the Lady Griz.


Montana State's win didn't come without suspense, though. Montana built an early double-digit lead and looked poised to give coach Brian Holsinger his first win in Bozeman. The Lady Griz built their largest lead of the game — 14 points late in the first quarter — behind five made 3-pointers, but it was Carmen Gfeller who sparked Montana in the opening 10 minutes. The 6-foot-1 all-conference forward gave Montana State fits, grabbing three offensive rebounds and blocking three shots in the first quarter. She anchored a Montana defense that held the Bobcats to just two made field goals in the first seven minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, the Lady Griz offense was flowing freely, sinking the five 3-pointers and tallying six assists and seven made field goals.

"They were hitting a lot of 3s on us. And that was something in our game plan, we said we had to limit the 3s because it showed in the games previous to us, they've been a great 3-point shooting team," said Montana State sophomore forward Marah Dykstra. "We'll give them credit, they were hitting a lot of shots and they were moving the ball well in the beginning, so we said we've got to be more disruptive, we've got to take away their primary actions and primary looks and make them play us for the whole shot clock."

Montana State started to find its answer late in the first quarter, closing the period with six consecutive points to pull within 19-11. The Cats' run eventually reached 14 unanswered points when an Ella Johnson 3-pointer tied the game at 19 midway through the second quarter.

Despite the first-half rally, Montana State never was able to take the lead before intermission, and the Lady Griz went into the break up 29-25 after a Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw 3.

Montana pushed the lead back to 36-28 in the third quarter, but the Bobcats had another rally in them, putting together what would become a 13-3 run that stretched into the fourth quarter. During the spurt, Hall gave Montana State its first lead of the game with a bucket at the 2:50 mark of the third quarter. Dykstra capped the run with her own basket early in the fourth quarter that gave the Bobcats a 46-41 lead.

The fourth quarter saw the teams trade 3-pointers in the early going before the Bobcats started to gain separation in the final minutes. With the game tied at 53 with 3:45 to play, Natalie Picton drilled a big 3-pointer for MSU. After two Gina Marxen free throws for the Lady Griz, Hall scored in the paint and then knocked down two clutch free throws after Limardo's frightening injury. Hall and Picton each added two more free throws in the final seconds to ice away the win.

"(Hall) is the kind of player where — you know, nine out of 10 times, there's sometimes a game slippage or whatever — (Hall) is going to be there," Dykstra said. "She's the most accountable person on the team. She's yet to not show up for a game for us. I'm really proud of how she played (Saturday). It was incredible."

Hall finished with a game-high 18 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Bobcats, who also got 12 points from Dykstra and 10 from Picton.

"We don't have one person on our team that's going to give up," Hall said. "We hold each other accountable. If you're going to step up and compete for me, I'm going to step up and compete for you, because that's just how it has to be."

Dani Bartsch scored 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Montana. Gfeller and Marxen each added 10 points.

"Hats off to Montana State. They played aggressive, so you want to give them credit. I don't want to not give them credit, for sure, but something changed (after Montana's 19-5 start to the game)," Holsinger said. "They played really good defense, and they made it hard on us. I think we average 70-some points a game and we get 55, so that's the biggest difference."

The win is the 200th Big Sky Conference victory in Binford's 19-year career as the Bobcats' coach.

Both teams have quick turnarounds on their schedules. Montana State (9-9 overall, 3-2 Big Sky Conference) plays at Idaho State on Monday, while Montana (11-5, 3-2) is at Weber State the same day.