Postseason play is finally here for the fourth-ranked Montana Western women's basketball team.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season 24-3 with a 15-3 mark in Frontier Conference play. But when No. 22 Lewis-Clark State (20-10, 9-9) enters Straugh Gymnasium at 7 p.m. Friday evening, the most important part of the year for the Bulldogs will finally be here.
A year ago Western was bounced by Rocky Mountain College in the Frontier Conference championship, but rebounded to make it all the way to the NAIA national semifinals. That tournament will again be held at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark and it's one the Bulldogs are virtually a lock for at this point.
Seeding, however, is still important and winning the Frontier Conference title could potentially lock them into a No. 1 seed. On the same flip of the coin, falling in the semifinals could drop them to a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. That's getting a bit far ahead, though Western will only need two wins to take the tournament title.
Lewis-Clark State boasts a solid squad and is one of the teams that has beaten the Bulldogs this year. It happened fairly recently (Feb. 15) and took place in Dillon, though it was the second night of a back-to-back for Western.
Josilyn Blackman leads the Warriors with 12.8 rebounds and 7.7 rebounds. Hailey Turner isn't far behind in points, averaging 10.2 points per game. The Warriors pass the ball well, averaging 16.3 points per game and have a 1.2 assist/turnover ratio — both those marks nationally rank in the top-10.
But Montana Western has a bonafide player of the year candidate in Bri King. She finished the regular season averaging 22.3 points per game and has 73 total steals. King's individual scoring average ranks No. 4 in the nation and her 603 points are sixth-most.
Western also has a strong cast around team, which is reflected in many of its team stats. The Bulldogs are No. 2 in field goal percentage (46.7 percent), No. 4 in scoring defense (50.8 points allowed per game) and No. 7 in scoring margin average at +21.6 on the year.
Western is also strong from behind the arc, hitting nearly 36 percent of their tries from 3-point range. Those numbers are all good for postseason play and there's certainly plenty of motivation that goes beyond the stats as well.
Doors open at 6 p.m. for the game, with adult ticket prices set at $10 and $8 for UMW students. Children five and younger will get in free, as will the first 200 UMW students through the doors on Friday.
KDBM AM 1490 will have the radio call, which also can be streamed online. Live video will be streamed on the Montana Western Athletic's YouTube page.