BILLINGS — There are freshman phenoms and then there is Baker’s Madison O’Connor, who is scoring points at such a ridiculous pace even her coach runs out of superlatives when talking about his star point guard.
“She’s such a special player,” the Spartans’ Jason Coulter told MTN Sports this week. “She can do just about everything there is to do on the basketball court.”
O’Connor proved that again Tuesday night with a triple double in an 85-39 drubbing of Class A Sidney — 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Gaudy statistics to be sure. But it was the type of performance that has become all too common for O’Connor in her first season of varsity competition.
The numbers are staggering: Through 12 games, the 5-foot-7 O’Connor averages 31.4 points. She has scored 30 or more seven times, including outbursts of 45 points at Lame Deer on Jan. 13, and 41 against Wolf Point on Jan. 5 and Ekalaka on Jan. 10.
The Baker girls basketball program has won three state titles in its history, in 1989, 1996 and 2001. But the Spartans have returned to the title game just once since their last championship, and that was 17 years ago in 2006.
Yet behind O’Connor and a solid supporting cast that has so far produced an 10-2 record and the No. 6 ranking in MTN’s latest Class B girls basketball power rankings, there’s belief that another deep postseason run might not be far off.
“I think we’ll be able to pull it together and finish strong,” said O’Connor, whose team is in first place in District 3B. “We’d love to win the divisional title and take that into state.”
Entering this season, O’Connor thought she could make an impact but “didn’t really expect” to have the kind of year she’s putting together. Even Coulter — who watched O’Connor grow up in Baker after the family moved from Plevna when she was in the fourth grade — wasn’t expecting this much.
“But I knew she was going to be good,” he said. “And she’s still growing.”
O’Connor is the second oldest of seven children and spent time earlier in her childhood competing in rodeo, but basketball is now her gig. She spent last summer playing AAU ball with the renowned Northwest Blazers out of Spokane, competing in tournaments in places like Pennsylvania, Washington, Utah and Arizona. She said the experience was huge for her development.
It’s certainly paying off now. O’Connor is shooting 47.9% from the floor and has hit 45 3-pointers. She also averages 5.6 steals per game, which have produced a plethora of easy baskets. But Coulter says O’Connor is a natural scorer.
“She just she has a variety of ways to get shots off,” the coach said. “She's not just a set shooter. She can shoot off the dribble, she gets through the lane, she knows how to finish and get to the hoop. She’s not afraid to go up against anybody. But there’s also days where she can go 5 for 6, 5 for 8, 6 for 8 from beyond the arc. She does whatever she needs to do to help make the team better.”
Baker’s only two losses this season came against Class A Miles City, a one-point loss on Dec. 10 and a four-point setback on Jan. 14. They trailed by as many as 19 in the latter but fought back to tie it with under a minute left.
“It's so much fun playing that kind of competition,” O'Connor said. “The first game I fouled out; I think I could have been smarter. And I still think we could have pulled that one out. And then our second game, we shouldn't have been down by so much at halftime. We could have done better there. But we came back and we had a chance to win.”
O’Connor had 28 in the first matchup with Miles City and 32 in the second game. But the Spartans have supplemental options that are playing well around her. Hope Gonsioroski, Kyal Hadley, Jocelyn Graham and others have provided the kind of support that always comes in handy at tournament time.
And the competition is only going to get better. The Southern B is tough every year, and the divisional tournament this season is likely to include the likes of Big Timber, Huntley Project, Jefferson and other contenders vying for four state tournament berths. But Baker expects to be right in the thick of it.
Coulter served as an assistant coach for Baker’s 2006 state runner-up team while finishing his student teaching at the school. His wife, the former Shye Boggs, was the tournament MVP of the Spartans’ 2001 title squad. He's hoping to be part of a similar story this year too.
Can it happen?
“Once we get to divisionals it’s going to get tougher,” Coulter said. “I expect it to be really good. We just want to finish hard going into districts. And then once tournament time comes around, the best teams are always waiting. We're hoping that we can get to Great Falls for the state tournament.”
With O’Connor, who can do just about everything there is to do on the basketball court, the Spartans have hope. And they might just have what it takes.