(Argo Athletics Media Release)
GREAT FALLS, Mont. – With (14) University of Providence women’s basketball desperate for a win, senior Stephanie McDonagh was at her best, scoring 30 points with 8 rebounds and 6 steals in a much-needed 74-71 win over (23) Lewis-Clark State College. The win comes after two straight home losses of 28 points or more to unranked teams and keeps UP in the hunt for the top spot in the Frontier Conference standings.
“There’s nothing more I can say about Stephanie. She’s just amazing. She’s an amazing girl and an amazing player,” Head Coach Bill Himmelberg said. “She wasn’t going to be denied tonight in order to get this team back on the right track.”
McDonagh was simply magnificent throughout. In the first half, her offense kept the Lady Argos in the game after LCSC shot 51 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three in the first two quarters. As good as those shooting numbers were, McDonagh’s were better, hitting 6-9 from the floor and 3-4 from three to score 15 of UP’s 32 first half points.
Through the first five minutes of the game, the Lady Argos looked a bit like the sluggish, turnover-prone team that lost the ball 23 times in its loss to Montana Tech and 25 times in its loss to University of Montana Western the previous night. Turnovers on back-to-back possessions early on allowed LC State to get out to a 6 point lead.
Despite cleaning up their play after that, UP still trailed by 6 at the end of the first quarter.
It was at the beginning of the second quarter that McDonagh first looked poised for a special night. She scored 8 of the team’s first 10 points of the period, including back-to-back pull-up threes that gave UP its first lead of the night at 29-28.
Inexplicably, she would only shoot once more for the rest of the half and the Lady Argos went into the locker room trailing by 5.
A defensive effort that got ratcheted up in the second quarter had its biggest impact in the second for the Lady Argos. After allowing LCSC to shoot 66 percent from the floor and score 25 points in the first quarter, UP limited them to 35 percent in the next two periods and never gave up more than 18 in the next three quarters.
“Our whole team really stepped up and played well defensively tonight. That’s what our team is supposed to be about,” Himmelberg said. “We took some pride in getting better tonight but by no means have we peaked. Our girls are dedicated to getting better and they showed that tonight.”
That defensive effort, which included 4 steals from McDonagh, complimented the senior’s hot shooting night and turned the game into a back-and-forth contest. To keep up with the Warriors, McDonagh got some help from freshmen Emilee Maldonado and Parker Esary who combined to score 17 points in the second half.
It was none of those three, but junior post Tristan Murphy who hit the final go-ahead bucket for the Lady Argos. With the score tied at 71 all, Maldonado drove the lane but was too strong on her contested layup. Murphy was waiting on the other side of the rim with a good box out, a solid rebound, and a putback to put UP ahead by 2.
Then it was time for McDonagh’s defense to clinch the win with 2 steals.
The first of the two came on the ensuing LC State possession. With 12 second left, LCSC’s Jossilyn Blackman drove the line with McDonagh guarding her looking to tie the score or at least pick up a foul. As she planted to go up for the lay-in, McDonagh reached in and grabbed the ball with both hands, forcing a jump ball call with the possession arrow going to the Lady Argos.
After a timeout, UP inbounded the ball from midcourt, but the initial pass was tipped and then controlled by the Warriors. As the LCSC player tried to quickly get the ball to a teammate that was in a position to head towards the hoop, the ball came loose and rolled into an open section of floor. Sure enough, McDonagh was the first one there. She picked up the ball, drew the foul and hit 1 of 2 free throws to bring the game to its final score of 74-71.
“We talked about the last few games, that we need to control what we can control, which is defense, rebounding, and taking care of the ball,” McDonagh said. “Coach Bill preaches hard work and being the first to the ball. In the last few seconds, it’s about who wants the ball more, and I was hoping I did.”
UP did solve its turnover problem. After two games of over 20 turnovers, the Lady Argos only lost the ball 11 times.
McDonagh finished with her third game of the year of 30 points or more, and first in conference play. She also led the team with 8 rebounds and a season high 6 steals. Her 5-6 shooting from three was also her highest total of the year in any game where she had more than 1 attempt.
The next highest scorer for UP was Esary, who had 14 points and also tied McDonagh with 8 rebounds. The freshman also had the best passing game of her young career, finishing with a season high of 4 assists.
The win brings UP’s record to 16-5 (7-3) which ties them for first place in the conference with Carroll College. That tie won’t last long, with Carroll being the Lady Argo’s next opponent, as they travel to Helena, Montana to take on the Fighting Saints on February 1 at 5:30 p.m.