(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – A one-point lead for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team with 5:10 left in the third quarter turned into an 11-point deficit by the end of the period Saturday night, as No. 6 University of Alaska Anchorage put together a run that defined an 81-60 Great Northwest Athletic Conference loss for the ‘Jackets at Alterowitz Gym.
The Seawolves hit their final four shots of the third quarter, including a dramatic three by Shelby Cloninger that caught the rim and circled the hoop before falling ahead of the buzzer. In the same five-minute time span, MSUB went 0-for-2 from the field and committed four turnovers, and the double-figure deficit was too much to overcome in the fourth quarter.
“Anchorage is a great team that is well-coached and forces you to play their style,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “They made better adjustments at halftime than we did, and dominated us on both ends over the final two quarters.”
Alisha Breen led all players with 27 points and added eight rebounds, while Cloninger had 19 for UAA and Tara Thompson added 18. Hannah Wandersee approached a double-double with 11 points and eight rebounds, and Rodericka Ware was also in double figures with 13 points for the visitors.
MSUB (11-5, 4-2 GNAC) snapped a nine-game home winning streak with the loss, their first of the season at Alterowitz Gym. UAA (13-1, 6-0 GNAC) meanwhile upped its remarkable GNAC regular-season winning streak to 26 games, as the Seawolves have not lost a conference contest since the final game of the 2015-16 season.
The ‘Jackets held a slight edge over the first 20 minutes, carrying a 35-33 advantage into the locker room at halftime. Though UAA controlled the first quarter, the ‘Jackets kept the deficit at a minimum and trailed just 15-11 at the end of the period.
Chipping away in the second quarter, MSUB’s 8-0 run to take the lead was sparked by freshman Hannah Collins. She had four consecutive points and her layup with 4:30 to go before halftime gave the ‘Jackets their first advantage of the night at 25-23. Breen bookended the scoring burst with a layup and a pair of foul shots, and Collins answered an ensuing three by Thompson with a corner strike of her own. “I really enjoyed the first half, and I thought our team competed really hard,” Woodin commented on a half in which MSUB committed only four turnovers. “I thought our spacing on offense was good, and several people stepped up and made some key shots. We also did a nice job on the defensive boards.”
Breen hit the first bucket of the second half, giving the ‘Jackets a four-point advantage at 37-33. MSUB’s offense began to lose steam against the Seawolves’ heavy press however, and after UAA evened the score at 43-43 the ‘Jackets failed to respond in the game-defining stretch.
Two more free throws by Breen cut the spread to 56-47 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but it was the last time MSUB got within single digits. UAA’s advantage gained momentum, and reached a peak of 23 points as MSUB could not find a late comeback effort.
Breen was 10-for-11 from the foul line on the night, and the team shot well from the line overall at 17-for-21 (81.0 percent). The ‘Jackets struggled from the field however, hitting 18 of 54 shots (33.3 percent) including 7 of 21 threes (33.3 percent). Meanwhile UAA made 27 of 49 shots (55.1 percent) and knocked down 11 of 21 threes (52.4 percent).
“We needed to win or be close on the 3-point line in order to win, but they got the upper hand on that statistic,” Woodin said. “It continues to plague us in losses.”
Rylee Kane finished with six points, four steals, three assists, and a pair of blocks, and Collins wound up with seven points and four rebounds.
“We need to learn from this loss,” Woodin said. “We have two tough games next week at home, and it is important that we have a good week of preparation.”
HONORING A LEGEND: During a pregame ceremony, the jersey of Yellowjacket three-time All-American Bobbi Knudsen (’14) was honored as she was presented with a plaque. A former GNAC Player of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year, Knudsen piloted the ‘Jackets to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 during her senior year in the spring of 2014.
THE BUZZ: Breen was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 26-34 all-time against UAA and holds a 15-14 record in home games…UAA upped its winning streak in the series against MSUB to eight games…MSUB’s last win against UAA was a 75-72 victory on March 1, 2014 at home…MSUB is 0-3 against nationally-ranked opponents this season…Saturday marked Breen’s eighth 20-point effort of the year, and her third-highest single-game total of the season.
AHEAD: MSUB remains home next week, hosting Northwest Nazarene University Thursday and Central Washington University on Saturday. Both games will tip off at 5:15 p.m. as the opener in a doubleheader with MSUB’s men’s basketball team.