BILLINGS — Brianna King is saving her best for last.
The Montana Western guard set a program record with 40 points on Saturday, leading the Bulldogs to a 74-61 win over Menlo in the NAIA national tournament quarterfinals. The win advances Western to its first semifinal in program history.
“She’s special. She can score, she can distribute,” said Western head coach Lindsey Wooley. “You know (Friday), even though she turned it over a bunch, I thought it was one of her better games in terms of getting us what we needed to get to and getting the ball to the right spots. And then obviously tonight, I had a feeling they might have a tough time guarding her, and I guess it turned out to be right.”
King has entertained the Rimrock Auto Arena crowd for the past three games, but lit up the scoreboard on Saturday afternoon. King went 9-21 from the floor, including a 4-9 performance from beyond the 3-point line. She also hit all 18 of her free throw attempts on her way to the school-record 40 points.
“I saw a couple shots go in and started to feel pretty good,” said King.”I consider myself a scorer and hadn’t been doing too well at that the last couple games, I feel like. So I kind of just got hot in the first quarter and tried to keep it rolling.”
Western opened the game strong, pouring in 23 first-quarter points to take a six-point lead. King assisted on the Bulldogs’ first basket of the game, a Britt Cooper field goal in the paint. Cooper finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the win.
King then scored 16 of the Bulldogs’ next 19 points, lifting Western to a 21-15 lead. Cooper added another basket minutes later to round out the first quarter scoring. King, Cooper and Savanna Bignell each sparked an 8-2 run early in the second period, giving the Bulldogs a 31-22 advantage. King had nine points in the quarter to send Western to the halftime locker room with a 41-28 lead.
Menlo trimmed the deficit by four points after a 21-point third quarter, but King and the Bulldogs held off the Oaks in the final 10 minutes for the 13-point win.
The Bulldogs were out-rebounded 45-33, but Western had only nine turnovers in the game, while forcing 18 Menlo turnovers and finishing with 11 steals.
King added eight rebounds and two assists to her 40 points, while Bignell chipped in with 12 points, four assists and three rebounds for the Bulldogs. Western became the first team to advance to Monday’s NAIA Fab Four and will meet No. 1-seed Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.).
Monday’s semifinal game is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Rimrock Auto Arena. The winner advances to Tuesday’s national championship, which will tip off at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast live on ESPN 3.