GREAT FALLS – Hardin’s girls didn’t waste much time in dismantling Browning.
The Bulldogs outscored Browning 23-4 in the second quarter, including a 21-0 run, to grab a commanding 36-15 lead at halftime en route to a 71-29 win in the first round of the State A girls basketball tournament at Pacific Steel & Recycling Four Seasons Arena on Thursday.
“That’s kind of like you’re feeling out each other, first game, but once we got that out of the way, they got more comfortable in what we were doing, which is their defensive effort. It just got them going,” Hardin head coach Cindy Farmer said.
Hardin’s run-and-jump full-court press gave Browning fits the entire game, particularly during the Bulldogs’ monster second-quarter run. Browning had 24 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, compared to just 15 shot attempts. Hardin racked up 28 points off turnovers in the first half alone.
The pressure continued in the second half, until Hardin pushed its lead to 40 points and forced a running clock in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter.
“That’s what we’ve been working on all season, is our press. … That’s what we want to do,” Hardin’s Marie Five said.
“Our defense creates offense for us, and once the kids get some easy baskets, it just gives them confidence in their outside shooting, too,” Farmer said.
Five was dominant for Hardin, posting a massive double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds. She had her way inside with the smaller Indians, seemingly scoring at will, but was also able to keep her teammates involved when the defense collapsed.
“(Five) is tough,” Farmer said of her star forward. “They throw doubles at her, some triple team. She’s very unselfish. If they do, she’ll go inside out. Once she catches it inside, if there’s one person on her she’s going to create something.”
Ivery Fritzler and Kamber Good Luck joined Five in double figures, notching 14 and 12 points, respectively. Dulci Skunkcap led Browning with 10. Browning shot 10 of 34 in the game and turned the ball over a total of 33 times, which led to 41 Hardin points.
Hardin moves on to Friday’s semifinal round, where the Bulldogs will play the winner of Billings Central and Butte Central. With both the Hardin boys and girls in the semifinal, a raucous crowd is to be expected.
“Our fans are so great. I’m serious,” said Farmer. “They’re, like I say, a sixth man for these guys. They feed off the boys. With the boys playing ahead of us and then us going right in there, definitely our crowd and the energy there helps.”
Billings Central 46, Butte Central 35
It wasn’t the dominant showing the rest of the Eastern A had in the first round of the State A girls basketball tournament on Thursday at Pacific Steel & Recycling Four Seasons Arena, but Billings Central found its footing to beat Butte Central, 46-35.
The Rams trailed 11-7 after the first quarter, but the Billings Central defense amplified its intensity in the second, allowing Butte Central to score just one point in the frame. The Rams outscored the Maroons 11-1 to grab an 18-12 lead at the break.
“Brushing the cobwebs off a little bit,” Billings Central head coach Jetton Ailes said of the Rams’ slow start. “They responded and got the job done down the stretch.”
While the Rams were unable to put the game away early, they were able to fend off any hope of a Butte Central comeback with stingy defense and timely shooting. Isabelle Erickson buried a 3 to open the fourth quarter from nearly 10 feet behind the arc, ballooning Billings Central’s lead to 13. A three-point play by Erickson with 3:30 to go pushed Billings Central’s lead all the way to 15.
“Anytime you can space the floor and (Erickson) knocks down the outside shot, it helps us out a little bit. We had kids respond at the right moments,” Ailes said.
“I have to keep shooting, because I know if they don’t fall at the beginning they’re going to fall eventually. That’s kind of the mindset I have,” Erickson said. “To give (Olivia Moten-Schell) room to work and for our posts, I know that I need to use my shooting range and I can space out the floor.”
Butte Central’s Tricia Joyce did all she could to keep the Maroons close in the fourth quarter. Joyce buried tough shot after tough shot, scoring seven straight and eventually trimming the Rams’ lead to eight, 41-33, with 1:19 to go, but Billings Central had built a lead too large to overcome.
“(Joyce) is a motor, she never quits,” Ailes said. “She’s very important to that team. The girls did a good job on her and we got some stops when we needed to.”
Billings Central held a huge size advantage over the Maroons and was able to capitalize. The Rams were dominant on the glass, both offensively and defensively, frequently holding Butte Central to one shot while getting multiple looks on their own end. The Rams out-rebounded the Maroons 40-24.
Moten-Schell had a double-double for the Rams, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Erickson had 16 points to lead the Rams. Chloe Paharik added five points, five rebounds and six assists. Joyce had a game-high 18 points to lead Butte Central.
Billings Central’s win sets up an all-Eastern A semifinal, something that doesn’t surprise Ailes or Erickson.
“The Eastern A is tough. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of. We’ve got four great teams in the semifinals and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Ailes said.
“Like (Havre head coach Dustin Kraske) said, it’s like playing back-to-back state tournaments. Two weeks ago, it was really hard to get to the championship and to win, because there’s so much competition in the Eastern A,” Erickson said.