(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – On the night Montana State University Billings honored the reigning NCAA Division II West Region Champion women’s basketball team, this year’s squad did not disappoint as it opened the 2018-19 campaign with a 73-65 win over visiting University of Providence Friday at Alterowitz Gym.
It didn’t take sophomore point guard Hannah Collins long to top her collegiate single-game scoring best, as she nearly doubled her previous mark of 15 with a 29-point showing. The Great Falls native made 10 of 16 shots from the floor, including 4 of 7 threes in an efficient 31-minute effort.
“We are just trying to get some chemistry out there on the court, and we were very excited in our first game at home,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We can really shoot the ball well from the perimeter, and when we make shots we really spread the floor well.”
Junior Taylor Cunningham matched her personal best with a dozen points, and Vanessa Stavish was also in double figures with 10 points and a career-high eight assists. “We came out hot, ready to go today,” Stavish said after the game. “Games like this are good for us, because it will make us learn what it feels like to finish close games.”
A well-rounded MSUB effort proved to be enough to combat an impressive performance by UP’s Emilee Maldonado (22) and Parker Esary (19), who combined for 41 of their team’s 65 points in the game. Jenna Randich was also in double figures for the visitors with a dozen points, and she led her squad with five assists.
The Yellowjackets started the season 1-0, and won for the second time this week after Tuesday’s 63-62 exhibition triumph over Rocky Mountain College. Friday’s game was an exhibition for UP, which remained 5-0 after topping NAIA 14th-ranked The Master’s College 62-59 on Thursday.
“They have a feisty group, and a talented point guard in Maldonado,” Woodin said. “She is extremely hard to guard, and Parker inside and Randich on the perimeter are very good. They have a nice team and are well-coached, and we knew we would have our hands full.”
Collins helped her team set the tone early, as she drained a long jumper to end the first quarter and promptly started the second with a layup to push UGF head coach Bill Himmelberg to call a timeout. The two key plays helped the ‘Jackets establish their first double-figure lead at 18-8, on a night where they never trailed overall.
UP cut it to 25-22 with 2:50 left before the break, and Coach Woodin called his first timeout. MSUB responded with good defense, with steals by Stavish and Cunningham leading to a quick 7-0 run to reestablish a 10-point advantage.
Though the Argos trailed 32-23 at halftime, they gave themselves a chance with an 18-17 advantage in the third quarter.
Maldonado and Randich kept their team in the game, twice connecting for key threes midway through the fourth. Maldonado’s trey with 5:49 left cut it to 56-51, but it was the closest UP got down the stretch as the ‘Jackets finished the night strong.
The ‘Jackets shot a solid 42.9 percent from the field (27-for-63) in their opener, but made just 8 of 22 3-pointers (36.4 percent) and 11 of 16 foul shots (68.8 percent) on the night. By contrast, UP shot only 36.4 percent from the field (20-for-55), and made just 5 of 18 treys (27.8 percent). The Argos were solid from the foul line, where they recorded nearly one third of their points by going 20-for-24.
The 6-foot-3 Taryn Shelley had a solid debut for the ‘Jackets, scoring eight points and hauling in a team-best six boards on a night where MSUB was drastically out-rebounded 45-29. MSUB made the difference with its scrappy defensive play however, as the team had 17 steals to generate a whopping 24 UP turnovers. The Argos meanwhile had just one steal in the game as the ‘Jackets protected the ball well with just 11 giveaways.
HONORING THE REGIONAL CHAMPS: Prior to Friday’s game, the Yellowjackets honored the 2017-18 NCAA D2 West Region Champion team, which tied a school record by going 25-12 and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in school history.
THE BUZZ: Collins was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 11-12 all-time against Providence and is 10-4 at home…Emily St. John made her collegiate debut, playing seven minutes…senior Taylor Edwards’ four steals were a career high, as she bettered her mark of three which she had reached on three previous occasions…Stavish’s eight assists were her career high, topping her previous mark of five on Nov. 15, 2014 against Western State…freshmen Addison Gardner and Shannon Reny made their collegiate debuts Friday as well.
NEXT UP: MSUB has its first road trip of the year next week, as it travels to Chadron State College in Nebraska next Friday and South Dakota School of Mines next Saturday. Both games will tip off at 5:30 p.m. local time, and live video and live statistics will be available online through www.msubsports.com.