Oliana Squires

Montana State's Oliana Squires drives for a layup during Saturday's Brawl of the Wild against Montana at Worthington Arena in Bozeman. The Bobcats defeated the Lady Griz 74-52 to improve to 6-4 in league play while Montana fell to 5-5. 

BOZEMAN — The Big Sky Conference season is halfway done for the Montana Lady Griz and Montana State Bobcats. After Saturday’s 74-52 win by Montana State, the Bobcats sit at 11-9 overall and 6-4 in conference while the Lady Griz fell to 10-9 and 5-5.

So, now that we’ve hit the halfway point, how do both teams sit at this point of the conference season?

Beginning with Saturday’s victors, Montana State is now alone in fifth place in the Big Sky. After opening league play with two wins, the Bobcats have traded wins and losses from that point.

But Saturday’s win was another step in the right direction for the 2017 Big Sky champs. And MSU coach Tricia Binford is excited with where the team is going.

“I think our team has so much capability and so much potential and I thought the crowd got to see that today,” Binford said. “If you look at a couple of our losses, we had some double-digit leads against Portland State and Eastern Washington. You’d like to go back and say, ‘Hey, can we finish those stronger?’ and we’re in a completely different situation.

“There’s so much season left and going into it we talked early on with this team that this team is going to be peaking later because we have so many new faces to be gelling together.”

After a slow start in the opening quarter against the Lady Griz, the Bobcats caught fire as the game went on and looked as formidable a team as the Big Sky has to offer. The win marked MSU’s sixth in its last eight contests with Montana.

The Bobcats host Northern Colorado on Monday before hitting the road to take on Eastern Washington and Idaho on Thursday and Saturday.

“I think our kids are as hungry as ever right now,” Binford said. “This is the time of season where you need to start separating yourselves and getting yourself into a top seed.”

For the Lady Griz, their season has been equally sporadic but streakier. After starting the season 3-0 in league play, Montana dropped its next three contests before a win over Idaho righted the ship. That followed with a loss against Idaho State and a win over Weber State.

This season has not been without its injury issues too. Taylor Goligoski was lost to a knee injury, Sophia Stiles redshirted after a knee injury last year and Madi Schoening has also appeared in one game this year due to a nagging foot injury.

And to add insult to injury, promising freshman Katie Mayhue was lost to an ankle injury on Saturday. Montana coach Shannon Schweyen did not elaborate how serious Mayhue’s injury was but said she’d been “nursing” it and landed on it and “it just kind of popped on her again.”

“We’ve had three starters lost to injury and it’s been an ever-changing evolution for us,” Schweyen said. “We’re constantly having to kind of shuffle girls around. I think the second half, as long as we can stay healthy, we can get a little more dialed in to who we are and what we have and our rotations.

“I love this team and I think they’re playing hard. I’m confident they’re going to bounce back from this.”

“We’re excited. Things are getting better as the season goes on,” Montana guard Sammy Fatkin added. “I think we’re ready for the rest of the season. We’ve improved a lot already and so we’re looking to the rest and we’re definitely going to finish strong.”

After Saturday’s loss to MSU, the Lady Griz have two more games to complete on this five-game road trip. They will head to Idaho and Eastern Washington on Thursday and Saturday and host three home games after that.

Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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