BOZEMAN — Coming off a road loss at Idaho State in which they scored just 14 points in the entire second half, the Montana State women appeared to carry their scoring woes into Saturday’s rivalry matchup with Montana.
Early perimeter tries by Tori Martell and Oliana Squires were off the mark. Shots from the usually reliable Claire Lundberg missed, also. The Bobcats clanged the first six shots they hoisted, which allowed the Lady Griz to break out to a nine-point advantage.
But MSU settled in, found its footing on both sides of the floor and dominated the game’s final 30 minutes for a 74-52 victory over the Lady Griz at Worthington Arena.
“All it takes is one play on the defensive end to get us started, and I think from there we just got rolling after that and shots started going in,” Squires said. “We focused in on defense and that led our offense.”
It was the Bobcats’ sixth win in their last eight meetings with Montana, and the 22-point margin is their largest ever in a victory over the Lady Griz.
Feeding off a deft screen-and-roll game, Squires scored 20 points and dished out eight assists, and Blaire Braxton added 13 points to lead MSU. Playing without forward Martha Kuderer, who was sidelined earlier in the week due to a concussion, the Bobcats also got key contributions from Halle Wright, and Madeline Smith and Gabby Mocchi off the bench.
“We had a little bit of a rough start. Really proud of how our kids responded,” MSU coach Tricia Binford said afterward.
“Oli really started establishing some tempo for us to get some transition things off our defense. And couldn’t be more proud of our centers and what they did producing (in the paint). Just how they attacked in the interior and Oli’s play off the bounce was fantastic.
“For us I think we’re obviously best when we get multiple people involved and I thought we were able to do that today.”
After falling into its nine-point hole, MSU adjusted into a zone defense, which gave the Lady Griz problems. Montana struggled to score wither inside or out, and shot just 16 percent in the second quarter and 26 percent in the third.
Sophomore Sammy Fatkin led Montana with 13 points while senior Jace Henderson scored just seven points on 2-for-6 shooting while fighting through early foul trouble.
“We definitely could have adjusted a little bit better to” MSU’s zone, Fatkin said. “It switched up a lot of our momentum. We just didn’t adjust well.
“I liked the shots that everyone was getting. Our shots just didn’t fall tonight. It’s kind of unlike us. We’ve just got to keep shooting the ball. We’ll be alright.”
It was a 20-5 scoring run that propelled the Bobcats in the second quarter. Squires utilized screens to get to the rim and either score or dish. Smith finished with 11 points. She and Braxton missed just three shots between them.
Squires also hit four 3-pointers. Her corner 3 late in the third quarter capped another big run that put MSU ahead by 19 points and effectively ended the competitive phase of the game.
“They weren’t really sure what they were doing on that pick and roll, and it’s easy to finish when your guard is finding you at the rim every time,” Braxton said. “Everyone was looking inside, and once you kind of get that going inside then you can start to work out(side). You get people collapsing and then shots start falling.”
“There’s nothing more frustrating than when you’re not scoring. It can affect your whole game,” Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen said. “We talked about composure and not letting that affect us. Oftentimes it can affect kids on the other end. You’re frustrated when you’re not making shots.
“But we’ve got to be better than that. I thought they got way too many open looks off screen and rolls and things like that where we just had miscommunication. That was disappointing on our end that we didn’t have better intensity.”
Lundberg and Wright each scored nine points for MSU, which finished the game shooting 47 percent (29 of 62) and hit nine 3s. Mocchi, stepping up in Kuderer’s absence, added eight points off the bench.
The Lady Griz made just 30 percent of their shots (21 of 70). Gabi Harrington and Jordyn Schweyen each scored nine points for Montana.
With the victory, Montana State improved to 11-9 and 6-4 in the Big Sky Conference, and broke a fifth-place tie in the league standings with the Lady Griz, who dipped to 10-9 and 5-5.
The Bobcats host Northern Colorado at home on Monday, a game that will be played at Shroyer Gym. Montana, which is in the middle of a stretch of five consecutive road games, travels to play Idaho on Thursday.