Game Recap

MSU women gut out 18th straight Big Sky win in league opener against UNC


BOZEMAN, Montana — It may have been ugly, but the Bobcats remain unbeatable in the Big Sky, at least over the last calendar year.

At long last, the Montana State women’s basketball team opened up its defense of its Big Sky Conference title from a season ago on Thursday night at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. And defense was the name of the game for the hosts.

MSU shot just 30 percent from the floor and struggled to find any flow, yet still emerged with a 54-46 victory over Northern Colorado.

“It is great to be in the standings finally and even better to have a W in the win column,” Montana State 16th-year head coach Tricia Binford said following her team beginning Big Sky play last out of the league’s 11 teams because of an early bye and cancellations by Southern Utah last week. “It’s great to get this season started for these kids.

“(Northern Colorado second-year head coach) Jenny (Huth) and I were talking before the game asking how each other’s teams are doing mentally. It’s been a challenge for everybody. We are so grateful to get on the court and get ready to compete today.”

The win is Montana State’s 18th straight against Big Sky Conference play. Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of MSU’s last Big Sky loss, a 68-67 defeat on its home court at the hands of Idaho. After that loss, the Bobcats ripped off 17 consecutive victories that included a pair of wins in the Big Sky Tournament to earn a rematch against the Vandals in a league tournament title game that never happened.

Montana State freshman forward Katelynn Limardo (11) shoots a three point shot vs. Northern Colorado Thursday/by Brooks Nuanez

Instead, a team that tied a school record with 25 total wins and set a conference record with 19 Big Sky victories was left wondering what would have been as the Big Dance for both the men and women as cancelled abruptly last March avid the growing concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thursday, a Bobcat squad that went from following the lead of five seniors a year ago to a young team relying on rotation made up of two sophomores (Darian White, Kola Bad Bear) and five freshmen, including starter K.J. Limardo. Senior Tori Martell and junior Gabby Mocchi make up the rest of the starting lineup, the lead unit that helped clamped down on the Bears on Thursday night.

Both teams made less than one out of four shots in the first half as UNC built a 24-23 lead. The teams combined for three shot clock violations in the first quarter alone.

Montana State used an 18-11 third quarter to get some distance and never allowed the Bears to score more than the 15 points the visitors notched in the first frame on the way to a victory that moves the fresh-faced Bobcats above .500 this season and to 1-0 in the league standings.

“The win took a lot of effort and defense and for us to work as a team,” Bad Bear said after scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds. “In practice, we have been harping on our defense getting better and our communication and I think we really stepped it up tonight.

“Staying in drive lines, everyone guarding the ball, not just sticking to one player, everyone working together as a unit helped a lot tonight.”

Montana State sophomore guard Darian White (2) picks the pocket of Northern Colorado sophomore guard Alecia Whyte (21)/by Brooks Nuanez

Northern Colorado shot 28.6 percent (16-of-56) from the floor, including just 4-of-19 from beyond the arc and 10-of-16 from the free throw line. MSU true freshman post Lexi Deden snared eight rebounds and Martell added seven to lead an MSU charge on the glass that helped the Bobcats win the rebounding battle 44-36. 

“I can’t even tell you how excited and proud I am of us coming together defensively,” said White, one of the best thefts (3.1 steals per game) in the country. “Tonight we had something we haven’t really had this year. Seeing that on the defensive end and see our chemistry finally come together, defense is going to win us championships so I’m going excited to watch that continuing to improve.”

Along with Bad Bear, White is the other starter in the MSU starting lineup. The league’s reigning Freshman of the Year entered her sophomore year as a preseason All-Big Sky pick and then put up All-American caliber numbers during the non-conference. Thursday, the 5-foot-6 dynamo point guard was a bright spot for an MSU team that had just six assists on 16 made baskets.

White finished 4-of-9 from the floor and made all seven of her free throws on the way to a game-high 16 points. She was the only Bobcat in double figures scoring on a night where MSU went 16-of-52 (30.8 percent) from the floor, including 5-of-18 from beyond the arc.

“We couldn’t get the flow and we weren’t hitting our shots right away, so we were down from that,” Bad Bear said. “But Coach (Binford) told us work on defense and the offense will come to us. Tonight might have not been our night offensively but we have another chance on Saturday to prove ourselves.”

Montana State freshman forward Taylor Janssen (24) looks to create vs. Northern Colorado Thursday/by Brooks Nuanez

Northern Colorado sophomore Alisha Davis, like White a preseason All-Big Sky selection, scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Bears.

Montana State hosts Northern Colorado again on Saturday. Tip is scheduled for noon from Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“I’m excited for this Saturday even though it’s not like years before,” Bad Bear said. “We have a fresh memory of them. We just played them so we know their plays, their sets, what they are going to do, what they can potentially do. Having a fresh memory will help a lot on Saturday.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. 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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