(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Despite cutting a 20-point halftime deficit down to a single point late in the second half, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team could not get over the hump Saturday evening at Johnson Sports Center and lost to Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Northwest Nazarene University 85-71.
A pair of free throws by Alisha Breen made the score 64-63 with six minutes left in the game, as the ‘Jackets rallied from a 48-28 halftime margin to nearly pull even. NNU came alive however, out-pacing MSUB 19-8 the rest of the game, as the ‘Jackets failed to gain the lead.
“I was really proud of all the effort it took for us to get back into the game, and the fourth quarter was played really well by both teams,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Over the last couple of minutes they made a couple key shots and we missed a couple, and they executed better in the last two minutes. Overall this was a great road trip for us, and our team continues to improve. We played a very positive second half tonight, and we are looking forward to coming home this week for two more GNAC games.”
Breen finished with a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double, making 11 of 14 free throws on the night. Senior point guard Rylee Kane had 13 points, six rebounds, and five assists, and Vanessa Stavish was one point off her career high with 17 points on 3-for-6 shooting from the arc.
NNU’s Lexi Tubbs was unstoppable for much of the night, finishing with a 27-point, 11-rebound double-double and making 5 of 9 threes in 38 minutes on the court. Danielle Jardine added 24 points and five rebounds, and Colette Gall was also in double figures with 10 points for the Nighthawks. NNU, which clinched a berth in the conference tournament last week, improved its chances at earning the No. 1 or 2 seed as it moved to 18-3 overall and kept pace with first-place Alaska Anchorage at 14-2 in GNAC play to stand just one game out of the top spot.
“We got into some foul trouble in the first half that altered our rotations, and we have to do a better job of defending without fouling,” Woodin said.
MSUB dropped to 17-9 overall and 10-6 in conference play, but remained in the fourth spot and is three games clear of the No. 6 spot with four games left in the regular season.
The ‘Jackets got off to a slow start in the first half, shooting 31.0 percent from the floor (9-for-29) and making just 2 of 9 threes over the first 20 minutes. Meanwhile, NNU seemingly couldn’t miss as the Nighthawks made 19 of 34 shots (55.9 percent) including 4 of 10 3-pointers. “The first half was a struggle for two reasons, one being that NNU was playing very well and offensively we didn’t shoot very well,” said Woodin. “We missed some shots we normally would make, and we dug ourselves quite a hole. We regrouped at halftime and made a goal to get under 10, and I give all the credit to our players as they fought really hard.”
The home team’s lead peaked at 19 points when Raquel Jardine converted a layup just after halftime, but the Yellowjackets broke out of their slump with a 31-point third quarter. After scoring just three points in the first half, Breen erupted for 13 in the third quarter and the ‘Jackets sunk five treys in the 10-minute period. Senior Lexi Prevost had three of those 3-pointers, contributing all nine of her points on the night during the run that got the ‘Jackets back into the game.
Breen knocked down the final shot of the period, a three from the top that pulled the ‘Jackets within two, down 59-57. MSUB had opportunities to tie or take the lead to open the fourth quarter, but the NNU defense held on and never gave up the advantage. Breen’s free throws that pulled it to a one-point game came after Kane had an assist and a jumper, and the ‘Jackets grabbed a defensive rebound on NNU’s next possession and held the ball with 5:54 to go.
Danielle Jardine drilled a jumper that pushed the score to a 3-point game however, and MSUB managed just six points over the next 4:30 of play. The Nighthawks took advantage of the lull and instantaneously reestablished a double-figure spread. Tubbs capped off her magnificent performance with a three with 1:36 to go, making the score 78-69 and all but ending MSUB’s chance at a comeback win.
Overall the ‘Jackets shot 37.1 percent from the field (23-for-62), made 7 of 20 threes (35.0 percent), and hit 18 of 22 foul shots. NNU meanwhile wound up shooting 50.8 percent from the field (31-for-61), 41.2 percent from long range (7-for-17), and sinking 16 of 23 foul shots. NNU had a 39-34 edge in rebounding, while each team committed a dozen turnovers on the night.
THE BUZZ: Kane was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 17-13 all-time against NNU and is 6-9 in games played in Nampa…Breen played the 119th game of her career, breaking the MSUB school record for most games ever…Breen passed Bobbi Knudsen, Kayleen Goggins, and Quinn Peoples who were all tied for first with 118 career games played…Breen now has nine career 10-free throw games, the third most in GNAC history behind Nicole Bozek (11) and Cody Burgess (15) both of the University of Alaska…NNU swept the season series, after handing the Jackets a 66-52 loss in Billings on Jan. 11.
NEXT WEEK: The Yellowjackets have their final home games of the season next week, hosting Concordia University on Thursday night and Western Oregon University on Saturday night. Thursday will be Think Pink Night with all fans wearing pink being admitted to the game for free, and Saturday will be senior night with MSUB’s five graduating players being recognized. Tipoff for both games is set for 7:30 p.m., as both are the second game of a doubleheader with the MSUB men’s basketball team.