BOISE, Idaho — For the second time in three years, the Montana State women's basketball team is headed to the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship game.
No. 2 Montana State topped No. 6 Idaho 73-67 at Idaho Central Arena on Wednesday evening.
Katelynn Limardo led MSU with 17 points while Leia Beattie and Darian White each added 16 points and Kola Bad Bear had 15.
It was the third straight year these two programs were set to meet at the Big Sky Tournament as Idaho and MSU were set to play in the 2020 championship before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the remainder that tournament down. UI then beat MSU in the semifinal game a year ago.
"Gosh it was one of the first thoughts I had in my mind when we went into the locker room to celebrate," Binford said about what this win means for the 2020 team. "We were celebrating with our administration, that time, and with our president without the realization that it wasn't going to come through for us to have the opportunity so part of this is for that squad.
"This squad is going to be ready to go. They're super excited and they've earned this. They worked for it and it's going to be a battle, NAU is playing very well."
Montana State (21-12) raced out to a 14-4 lead, but Idaho trimmed that deficit to 22-18 by the end of the first quarter.
The Vandals (14-18) opened the second quarter on a 9-0 run, and they eventually built a 45-35 lead with 4:07 left in the second quarter. But as they did on Tuesday in the quarterfinal against Weber State, the Bobcats found their footing, and White scored the final seven MSU points of the quarter to bring the Bobcats within 40-39 at the break.
"I think initially our nerves were really getting to us, like this is the game to get to the championship and we all wanted this," Limardo said. "So I think at the beginning we were a little bit late on just getting to the ball but as the game went on we knew that this is what we wanted and I think we all bought into that."
The second half was back-and-forth between the teams as Idaho led most of the way. Limardo got hot from beyond the arc late in the third quarter though as she knocked down back-to-back triples at the end of the third as Idaho still led 56-55.
Limardo knocked down four 3-pointers including one in the fourth quarter to give MSU a brief 60-59 lead. Bad Bear tied it 62-62 at the 7:47 mark, and a 3-pointer from Beattie made it 65-62 Bobcats with 6:58 to play. From there, MSU didn't convert another field goal the rest of the game.
Idaho led 67-66 with 5:25 left to play, but both Limardo and Bad Bear went 1 for 2 at the line to give Montana State the lead for good. Beattie added two more to make it 70-67 and MSU held on to complete the victory.
"I can't even describe to you the feeling," White said. "I am so pumped, but I'm also not trying to overlook anything. I'm excited that we made it this far but we still have one more game and we have a lot to prove and a lot to work on still. Just having that mindset and not overlooking NAU or anything like that. I think we're going to be ready."
Gabby Mocchi added seven points and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds for MSU. Kalispell native Tiana Johnson finished with eight points and six rebounds for the Vandals.
The Bobcats will play No. 4 Northern Arizona for the Big Sky title at 1 p.m. on Friday.