DILLON — The Montana State-Northern Skylights are not that same team that No. 3 Montana Western routed a few weeks back by 34 points.
Northern returned two key players, Tiara Gilham and Hailey Nicholson since then, and when the sides met Thursday night at Straugh Gymnasium, the Skylights had long stretches of promise despite the Bulldogs running away with a 64-47 win.
“They’re doing nothing but getting better, and I think that was really our focus,” Western coach Lindsay Woolley said. “Obviously with Gilham and Nicholson back, and both of them getting more comfortable and in better basketball shape, that team is just going to get better. And they’re going to be a nightmare at the end of the year.”
Peyton Kehr’s back-to-back 3s for the Skylights nearly brought that nightmare already. Her quick six points toward a team-high 14 cut the Western lead to nine points midway through the third quarter, but Bulldogs point guard Bri King responded, as she seemed to do anytime Western was in need of a spark.
She weaved for layups on consecutive possessions, then made a cross-court pass for a Paige Holmes 3. Next time down, she buried a 3 of her own.
“Bri is almost always going to respond because she’s competitive and obviously highly skilled,” Woolley said.
It wasn’t the first stretch of the game King simply took over, either. The Bulldogs launched a 19-6 lead after the first quarter, and King started the second frame scoring at ease, recording eight-straight points to push that lead to 19. She finished with a game-high 19 points.
But while the Western (15-1, 6-1 Frontier) lead grew to begin the second quarter, the Skylights showed its promise as the first half waned.
The Skylights closed on an 11-3 run as Western settled for long jump shots and Northern (9-10, 1-6) pressed for looks at the rim.
“And it was is frustrating because we give them a lot of freedom offensively to play, but I thought we had a four or five minute stretch where we didn’t move the ball,” Woolley said. “It was a one-pass shot, no-pass shot. And ultimately, that’s bad offense. Unless you’re making those shots, you can’t sustain it.”
Cierra Lamey began the game shooting 3-for-3, and her output was sustained. The senior tallied a double-double with 17 points and 10 boards. She shot a slick 7 of 11 from the field and five of her rebounds were on the offensive end.
After her, Shannon Worster had 12 points, hitting 5 of 7 field goals.
“She was really good, attacking the rim and finishing,” Woolley said of Lamey. “She’s such a good shooter when she’s open … and I thought Shannon was really good tonight playing with confidence and poise and was really good finishing around the rim too.”