(MSUB Athletics release)
MONMOUTH, Ore. – Rylee Kane kicked Montana State University Billings into gear at the New P.E. Building Thursday evening, sandwiching a pair of buckets with an assist to Alisha Breen in a crucial 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter in a 65-56 road win for the Yellowjackets against Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball foe Western Oregon University.
The ‘Jackets led just 45-44 entering the period, but out-paced the Wolves 20-12 over the final 10 minutes to prevent the game from slipping away. Kane finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Alisha Breen led all players with 19 points.
“I am really happy with the road conference win, and I thought we competed hard,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We got off to a good start tonight in the first quarter, and our transition offense and defense were working well together. Give Western Oregon credit, as they fought back in the second quarter. They did a good job of slowing down the game, and we missed some shots we needed to make.”
Sophomore Taylor Cunningham also played a big role in MSUB’s fourth-quarter surge, scoring five of her career-high 12 points in succession to give MSUB its largest lead of the night at 57-46 with 3:50 to go. Both of Cunningham’s key buckets late in the game came on assists from Breen, and she just missed a double-double as she also reached a career-high with nine rebounds.
The Yellowjackets improved to 13-6 overall on the season, and kept pace towards the top of the GNAC standings by moving their conference record to 6-3.
“Rylee had a very good game, and was really aggressive offensively,” Woodin said. “Alisha was solid throughout, and had a couple key assists late to Taylor which really gave us some breathing room. Overall I thought that was one of Taylor’s best games of the year.”
The Wolves (8-8, 4-6 GNAC) refused to let the ‘Jackets pull away, and overcame three separate 10-point deficits in the opening half to keep the game close all night long. Natalie DeLonge led the Wolves with 16 points, while Sydney Azorr had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Despite a cold shooting night overall at 35.6 percent from the field (21-for-59) and 21.7 percent from long range (5-for-23), MSUB hit big shots when they counted the most. The ‘Jackets made 5 of 10 shots in the fourth quarter, and eight free throws in the final two minutes to secure the win.
“We played well early in the third quarter, and I was really proud of our seniors especially as they did a good job in the huddle between the third and fourth quarter,” Woodin commented. “We refocused and played one of our better quarters on the road in a long time to secure the win.”
The Yellowjackets got off to a strong start, and constructed a 10-point lead midway through the first. After making two of their first four shots from the arc, MSUB went 0-for-10 on threes to close the half. The Wolves took advantage of the cold shooting by MSUB, keeping themselves within striking distance as halftime approached.
A layup by Grace Weeks with 3:01 left in the first helped MSUB equal its largest lead of the game to that point, up 28-18. It was the final points of the half for the ‘Jackets however, who watched WOU go on an 8-0 run to end the period and escaped to the locker room with a 28-26 lead intact.
Vanessa Stavish knocked down a trey just 10 seconds into the second half, helping shift momentum back to the visitors as the lead stayed in their hands early.
The Yellowjackets couldn’t distance themselves, and after a three by WOU’s Jasmine Miller and an offensive foul by MSUB the Wolves had the ball down just 37-36. A key to the Yellowjackets’ win was never relinquishing the lead down the stretch, as the Wolves failed to get over the hump. With more flare for the dramatic as the third quarter closed, WOU scored five straight points including a big three by Azorr to make the score 45-44.
Kane came out of the break flying, kicking off the game-defining run with a jumper before shoveling off a pass to Breen for a three. Cunningham’s big moment followed and the ‘Jackets took care of business from the foul line to stay three possessions clear the rest of the game.
“It was a hard-fought victory tonight,” said Woodin. “We got beat on the glass, but we kept fighting and made enough key stops and free throws down the stretch. We finally got some separation at the end.”
WOU, which entered the night with the top rebounding margin in the GNAC, dominated the glass at 52-38 on the evening. The Wolves had 19 offensive boards for 13 second-chance points, but were hampered by cold shooting at just 26.2 percent from the field (17-for-65) and 15.4 percent from downtown (2-for-13).
The ‘Jackets forced 16 WOU turnovers, almost a third of which came thanks to a career-high five steals by senior Lexi Prevost. MSUB protected the ball well with just a dozen giveaways on the evening.
THE BUZZ: Cunningham was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…the Yellowjackets are now 25-6 all-time against the Wolves and are 13-4 in road games…MSUB has won five in-a-row, nine of the last 11, and 14 of the last 16 dating back to 2010…the ‘Jackets have not lost in Monmouth since Jan. 5, 2013, a stretch of five straight road wins in the series…Prevost reached her previous career high of three steals on two occasions…Cunningham’s previous high in scoring was 11 points on Nov. 21, 2017 against South Dakota Mines, and her previous high in rebounding was eight on Nov. 10, 2017 against the Academy of Art.
NEXT UP: MSUB heads an hour north to challenge GNAC foe Concordia Saturday night in Portland. Tipoff against the Cavaliers is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. Mountain time, and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal.