Game Recap

Idaho State runs away from Montana late, stays in 1st place


MISSOULA, Montana — As Estafania Ors ripped Willa Albrecht at half court for the latest bate and steal by the Idaho State Bengals, the force of Ors crashing the passing lane on the way to ISU’s latest transition lay-up left Albrecht looking out of sorts while laying on the Dahlberg Arena belly down on court.

The scene was an affirming moment that symbolized the multitude of reasons why Idaho State is the favorite in the Big Sky Conference this season. And the Lady Griz, while objectively more in sync under interim head coach Mike Petrino, still have steps to take to be in consideration among the top echelon of the league.

Ors, an All-Big Sky talent playing in her fifth year after missing her expected senior season last year with a knee injury, is one of a group of Idaho State veterans who have exerted their will on the rest of the league this year. Albrecht, a talented but raw true freshman out of Billings West, is symbolic of the gap the once-mighty Lady Griz still need to close.

That Ors steal into an easy lay-up was Idaho State’s 10th theft on an evening where the visiting Bengals forced 13 turnovers. But miscues were hardly the problem.

The host Montana Lady Griz closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run to cut the margin against the first-place visitors to 10 points. But the Bengals affirmed they are indeed the team to beat in the Big Sky Conference, getting right in assertive fashion by winning the fourth quarter 29-9 on the way to a suddenly dominant 79-49 victory at Montana on Thursday night.

Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski during the 2020 Big Sky Tournament/ by Brooks Nuanez

“We still have a tremendous respect for this Griz program and the history here,” Idaho State 12th-year head coach Seton Sobolewski said. “We never take coming here very lightly. We have had so many close games over the years with coach (Robin) Selvig.”

The Bengals entered the game having lost two of three, a skid that ended a 14-game winning streak that garnered Idaho State national attention. ISU was on the wrong side of a 73-56 loss at Idaho on February 13 that snapped the 14-game surge.

Four days later, ISU downed Montana State 69-59 in Pocatello. But in the return trip to Bozeman on Saturday, the defending Big Sky champion Bobcats rallied to force overtime on the way to an 88-81 win.

Thursday in Missoula, the Lady Griz trailed 16-15 at the end of a competitive and clean first quarter. ISU dominated the second quarter, not allowing the Lady Griz to get anything going offensively in building a 36-25 halftime lead.

The Bengal lead swelled to 50-32 with five minutes left in the third quarter before the Lady Griz mounted what would ultimately be their last run. Then the Bengals laid down the hammer, moving to 13-2 in league play and officially eliminating Montana State from title contention to repeat as league champions.

The dominant final 10 minutes also helped Sobolewski’s team get right with the final three games of the regular season, including a rematch Saturday in Missoula, approaching for the now 17-3 Bengals.

“To play well in the fourth quarter…it’s the second game we’ve had a hard time with lately,” Sobolewski said. “It’s the second game at Idaho, the second game in Bozeman we lost. That’s the one I’m really concerned about. Can we play well in the fourth quarter in the second game.”

Montana interim head coach Mike Petrino in 2021/by Brooks Nuanez

The Lady Griz entered the game on a five-game winning streak, it’s first of at least that duration since Robin Selvig was the head coach. 

Two days after the release of “The House That Rob Built” – a critically acclaimed documentary archiving the history of Selvig and UM’s rise to the nation’s elite women’s basketball program – that streak ended by a team trying to establish itself as one of the Big Sky’s modern titans.

Callie Bourne, facing off against Idaho’s Beyonce Bea during the 2020 Big Sky Tournament/ by Brooks Nuanez

Following the first frame, ISU all-conference candidate Callie Bourne helped the Bengals take over. Bourne, who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, helped lead a charge that aided in ISU winning the second quarter 20-10, the first of two dominant frames that dropped UM to 9-6 in league play.

“She had a tremendous performance,” Sobolewski said of Bourne. “Probably close to a career night for her. She came out and hit some buckets early, hit some jumpers and it seemed to roll from there.”

Bourne’s powerful and assertive style was the catalyst for an Idaho State team that played without senior combo guard Dora Goles. The team’s leading scorer rolled her ankle in shoot around.

In her absence, the league leaders didn’t miss a beat. ISU guard Diaba Konate continued to build her all-league resume by scoring 17 points and snaring three steals.

Senior Delaney Moore finished 7-of-9 from the floor for 14 points. And Ors scored 13 points while grabbing six rebounds as ISU shot 56 percent, including 12-of-13 in the fourth quarter, to win going away.

“We got schooled by the first-place team,” UM interim head coach Mike Petrino said. “They are not in first place by accident.

“That’s the only team that stepped out of conference and beat a Power 5 team (Kansas State). They have the credentials, the talent, the experience. Give all the credit to them.”

UM junior Abby Anderson, pictured against NAU early in 2021/ by UM athletics

Idaho State’s defensive scout proved to be accurate. Montana posts junior Abby Anderson and sophomore Carmen Gfeller have  “emerged as the best 1-2 punch in the Big Sky”, Sobolewski said before praising Anderson’s individual improvement.

Early, Anderson got out in transition for two lay-ups. But in the second quarter, Sobolewski and his staff decided to adjust to double  team the post, particularly when Gfeller caught the ball. ISU started jumping passing lanes and went on runs.

By the final buzzer, the trio of those Lady Griz posts plus junior point guard Sophia Stiles once again were the key contributors. Gfeller led UM with 15 points but it took a 6-of-17 shooting effort to get there. She also only had three rebounds.

Anderson finished with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go with eight rebounds. But the 6-foot-2 athletic junior did not score or grab a board in the final frame. Stiles scored five of her 14 in the fourth quarter.

The rest of the Lady Griz scored six points, including four from reserve forward Kylie Frolich. Nine Lady Griz who played did not score or grab a rebound.

“We can learn a lot from this game and playing that team,” Petrino said. “I can learn a lot from them, our players can learn a lot from them. It only counts as one loss. No matter how you get beat, it only counts as one game.”

Photos attributed. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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