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Montana State Bobcats control Lady Griz, clinch share of Big Sky Conference title

Posted: 6:41 PM, Feb 22, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-23 01:21:01-05
Montana State Bobcats

(Editor's note: Montana State University media release)

BOZEMAN – Montana State’s ball movement early led to confetti movement late, as the Bobcat women’s team beat Montana 92-78 in Worthington Arena Saturday afternoon to clinch a share of the 2020 Big Sky Conference Championship.

The Cats shot 47 percent, built a double-digit lead on the first possession of the second quarter, and were never threatened in sweeping the season series against UM. Bobcat coach Tricia Binford said her team’s unselfishness was the key. “Our ball movement the last couple weeks has been really sharp,” said the 15th year head coach. “We haven’t let the ball stall, and kids have been shot-ready, and made the right play for who’s open.”

Montana State celebrated its third Big Sky regular season championship in the last five seasons amidst a flurry of confetti following the game, and Bobcat players, coaches, and staff members snipped pieces of the net. The win was MSU’s fourth straight against the Lady Griz, was the fifth straight against UM in Worthington Arena, and marked the program’s first back-to-back sweeps of Montana since the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons.

The Bobcats hit a dozen three-pointers, finished 16-21 from the free throw line, blocked seven shots, and scored a dozen points off Montana’s 13 turnovers. MSU’s offense received a jump-start early, when supersub Tori Martell nailed a three-pointer at the 5:18 mark. That pushed MSU’s lead to 12-5, and with the first quarter about to expire Madeline Smith grabbed a Lady Griz missed shot and pushed the ball ahead to Darian White, who found Martell for a triple to give MSU a 23-14 lead at the quarter’s close.

Binford said Martell’s shooting provided a needed jolt. “She was a very big spark,” Binford said of Martell, who scored 15 points, all from three-point range, while adding three assists and a steal.

Montana State’s solid shooting came in sharp contrast to the 2-for-22 start in the Cat-Griz contest three weeks ago in Missoula. “When you’re getting the matchup (zone) and we shot 2-for-22 (against it to begin the game) at their place, to be able to start off hot today was a big deal. Getting a good start and building momentum from there I thought was a really big hit for us.”

MSU dug itself a hole in the earlier game, frustrated by the Lady Griz matchup zone defense, but Saturday the Cats seemed to be running downhill all day. “We went into this game not worrying about whether they’re in the matchup or going man,” Binford said. “We just focused on executing our actions and I thought the kids did that. They kept the ball moving and found each other.”

When Oliana Squires hit a three-pointer on an inside-out assist from Smith near the midway mark in the second quarter, the Bobcats led 39-18. Smith’s layup with 2:14 to play before halftime pushed the lead to 23, but an 8-0 UM run to close the half left the cushion 46-31 at the intermission.

Binford praised her team’s mindset. “I like that we were attack-minded,” she said. “I thought the energy built off our crowd, it kept getting rowdy, it kept getting louder, and when we get attack-minded to protect our teammate and pick up the ball pressure everything else solves itself.”

A lion’s share of the credit for Montana State’s early offensive explosion, Binford said, lie on the other end of the floor. “Offense comes when you’re really focused on getting stops and getting out to run. That’s when Darian White and Oliana (Squires) get going and our posts try to get something early in transition. I like that they’re keeping the game plan simple right now and just playing ball.”

Senior Fallyn Freije led a remarkably balanced Bobcat offense with 18 points on Saturday. White, Squires, Martell, and Blaire Braxton each scored 15 points, while Smith added 10. Freije led all playes with eight rebounds, but Smith and Braxton each snagged seven. Smith blocked three shots and White added four assists. Emma Stockholm scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds to pace the Lady Griz, who shot 40.9 percent on the afternoon. Montana out-rebounded the Cats 45-to-38, snagging 20 offensive boards.

Montana State extended its win streak to 11 games overall, the second-longest in program history after the 1987-88 team’s 17-game streak to begin that season. The win boosted MSU’s record to 19-6 overall, 15-1 in Big Sky play, matching the most league wins in school history with two weeks remaining in the regular season. Montana fell to 14-11 overall, 9-7 in the league.

Montana State hosts Sacramento State on Thursday at 7 pm, and entertains Northern Arizona for Senior Day on Saturday at 2 pm.