Big Sky Conference

Reigning Big Sky MVP Smith carries UNC past Montana State

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Northern Colorado’s Savannah Smith scored a career-high 37 points to guide the Bears to an 84-73 victory over Montana State on Monday night in Shroyer Gym in Bozeman, Montana.

Smith, a 5-6 senior from Fort Collins, Colo., connected on 14-of-23 from the field, 6-of-13 from long distance and 3-of-3 from the free throw line to match the Northern Colorado (14-6, 9-2) single-game scoring record.

Montana State (11-10, 6-5) found itself down early as the Bears closed out the first quarter on an 11-0 run. Smith recorded 10 points in the opening frame as the UNC shot 57.9 percent from the field.

The Bobcats chipped the lead down to 37-30 at 2:19 mark of the second period on a Tori Martell free throw, but the Bears finished out the half with four unanswered points to hold an 11-point cushion at intermission.

MSU whittled the lead down to six points in the early moments of the third quarter on a Claire Lundberg free throw. Again, Northern Colorado responded rattling off a 10-2 run to take a 51-37 advantage at the 6:26 mark on a Smith jumper.

UNC built its largest margin at 82-63 in the fourth quarter, before MSU closed out the contest on a 10-2 run.

“It was pretty much not getting stops all night,” MSU head coach Tricia Binford said less than 48 hours after her team posted a history 74-52 victory over rival Montana. The 22 points marked the largest margin of victory in the 106 meetings in the rivalry for the Bobcats.

Montana State head coach Tricia Binford, pictured here last season with former Northern Colorado head coach Kamie Etheridge/ by Brooks Nuanez

“Every time we tried to make a bit of a run they countered. Savannah (Smith) is last year’s MVP for a reason. She’s a fantastic player. The first time we played them (a 79-66 MSU win in Greeley, Colorado), she put points on the board, but we kept everyone else in check. They had some other kids get going with four in double-digits. We got to make sure we get the other things off the board.”

Alexis Chapman 15, Micayla Isenbart 12 and Krystal Leger-Walker 10 each scored in double figures for the reigning league champions. The Bears, who earned a 10-seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament, shot 49.3 percent from the field and converted 11-of-27 from long distance.

Montana State, which gave up 14 offensive boards and committed 17 turnovers, found its touch in the second half shooting 44 percent from the floor, while going to the line 20 times.

“We had some mistakes pile up,” Binford said. “When you have mistakes great teams are going to find a way to exploit them, and, we couldn’t overcome that.”

Lundberg, who left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury, finished with 13 points. MSU freshman wing Halle Wright and junior center Madeline Smith added 11 points each. Freshman Gabby Mocchi posted a season-high nine points, all coming from beyond the 3-point line. Junior center Blaire Braxton added nine points and a team-high seven rebounds.

Montana State will play at Eastern Washington on Thursday night in Cheney.

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