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Magical MSU Billings run ends in Elite 8

Posted at 8:13 PM, Mar 19, 2018

(MSUB Athletics release)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Matching the greatest season in school history in 2017-18, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team bowed out of the Elite Eight with a 91-73 loss to No. 1 Ashland University Monday evening at Sanford Pentagon.

The Yellowjackets (25-12) tied the school record for wins in a season in 2017-18, and snapped a seven-game losing streak in Monday’s season-ending loss to the Eagles. The reigning national champion, Ashland (35-0) extended its NCAA Division II record winning streak to 72 consecutive games over the last two seasons.

Alisha Breen finished the game with 25 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists, and broke the MSUB career scoring record with her final two points of the night. Hitting two free throws in the fourth quarter, Breen ended her career with 2,001 points to pass hall of famer Alira Carpenter’s mark of 2,000 by a single point. Breen’s 791 points scored this season are an MSUB and Great Northwest Athletic Conference single-season record, and are the second-most in the NCAA Division II.

The Yellowjackets were in the hunt late in the game, trailing just 68-61 entering the fourth quarter. The nation’s leading offense, averaging more than 100 points per game and shooting better than 51.0 percent, rallied for a 23-12 final period which erased any hope for an upset by MSUB.

Like Breen, Ashland’s Jodi Johnson approached triple-double figures as she had 13 points, nine rebounds, and eight steals. Laina Snyder just missed a double-double with 22 points and nine rebounds, and Andi Daugherty had 20 points to go along with six caroms. Eagles point guard Renee Stimpert finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, and Maddie Dackin was also in double figures with 10 points.

Rylee Kane made the 125th and final start of her career, completing the second-longest streak of games started in GNAC history. Kane and Rebecca Kielpinski of the University of Alaska Anchorage (126 straight starts) are the only two players in conference history to start 100 percent of their team’s games during a four-year career. Kane had 10 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, and completed her career No. 4 in GNAC history with 563 career assists.

A slow start to the fourth quarter erased the Yellowjackets’ hopes of a come-from-behind win, as a 13-2 run over the first five minutes of the period made it an 81-63 ballgame. Ashland was never in danger of relinquishing the lead after that point.

Breen had 11 points by the end of the opening quarter, and the ‘Jackets trailed 22-18 after 10 minutes of play.

Vanessa Stavish drained a huge trey early in the second quarter, and after another bucket by Breen MSUB was down just 27-25. A jumper by Stimpert came in the midst of a 9-2 run however, and Coach Woodin called a timeout with his team down 36-27 and 5:54 to go before the half. Stavish finished the final game of her junior season with 15 points and six rebounds.

A corner trey by Dackin gave Ashland its largest lead of the half at 49-37, but Taylor Cunningham converted a three-point play on the other end to cut the deficit to single digits inside of a minute to go in the first.

Ashland burst out of the halftime break on an 11-2 run, distancing themselves to a 61-42 advantage over the first three minutes of the second. The ‘Jackets fought back and got within single digits entering the fourth, but ran out of gas as Ashland accelerated to keep its remarkable winning streak intact.

Overall MSUB shot 45.3 percent from the floor (29-for-64), but made just 6 of 20 threes (30.0 percent). The ‘Jackets also uncharacteristically struggled from the foul line, going 9-for-14 on Monday. Ashland meanwhile shot 44.3 percent from the floor (35-for-79), made 7 of 17 threes (41.2 percent), and hit 14 of 18 foul shots.

Ashland narrowly out-rebounded MSUB 44-40, but the ‘Jackets committed a season-high 26 turnovers against the Eagles’ pressure defense.

ENTERING ELITE TERRITORY: The 2017-18 Yellowjackets matched the 1998-99 squad, which advanced to the NCAA D2 Elite Eight in Pine Bluff, Ark. The two teams are the furthest advancing in women’s basketball school history.

THE BUZZ: Breen was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 0-1 all-time against Ashland, as Monday was the first-ever meeting between the teams…the double-double was the 18th of the year for Breen and the 25th of her career, which is 12th most in conference history…Kane finished her career with a streak of 103 consecutive games with at least one assist.