BILLINGS — Nobody would have faulted Rocky Mountain College for having a somber locker room, even after one of its biggest wins of the season.
The Battlin’ Bears opened the Frontier Conference women's basketball tournament with an easy 72-46 win over Montana State-Northern on Tuesday at the Fortin Center.
But in the process, senior guard Alecia Chamberlin went down with a right foot injury 26 seconds into the fourth quarter. Chamberlin, a Miles City product and the only Rocky player to start all 31 games, did not return.
After Chamberlin was carried into the locker room after the game, the mood lightened.
“She was the first one to celebrate and we followed her lead,” said senior center Markaela Francis. “She was the first one to cheer.”
And there was plenty to cheer about.
Third-seeded Rocky (20-11) advances to the semifinals where it will play at No. 2 Carroll (23-7) on Friday. The Saints advanced with a 59-50 victory over Montana Tech.
The other semifinal has No. 4 Lewis-Clark State, a 71-57 winner over Providence, playing at regular season champion and top-seeded Montana Western.
The win also gives the Battlin’ Bears a second straight 20-win season, believed for the first time in program history.
With Francis dominating inside and Justyn Juhl dropping 3-pointers from the outside, Rocky broke to a 23-8 first quarter lead against the Skylights. Francis and Juhl scored the Battlin’ Bears first 14 points.
Francis had 12 of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter.
“I was making layups. There’s a change,” she said with a laugh. “We make jokes about that all the time.
“We were making the extra pass and the posts were getting in good position. We stressed this week making good passes. That’s our game, play inside-out.”
Francis finished an efficient 9 of 12 from the field with seven rebounds.
“We talk about paint touches,” said Rocky head coach Wes Keller. “We want to get the ball in the post and if the other team collapses on them, kick it out and make the open 3. If not, our posts go to work.”
Juhl added 16 points, including three 3-pointers and a couple of pretty drives to the basket in the fourth quarter.
“Justyn is just an animal,” said Francis. “She’s the best shooter on the team. And she has the size to take the ball inside, she’s very hard to guard.”
The Skylights (13-18) got within seven early in the second quarter but the Battlin’ Bears responded with an 8-2 surge, including two baskets by Brooke Jones. The second score was a Francis-to-Chamberlin-to-Jones sequence.
Chamberlin finished with a career-high eight assists.
“That was a test,” said Francis of Northern’s challenge. “To see if we could take a punch. To see if we could come back and we showed that we could.”
Nine players scored points for Rocky which led by as many as 28 late in the game.
Allix Goldhahn led the Skylights with 13 while Sydney Hovde added 10.
NOTES: Keller said Chamberlin would have X-rays taken of the injury on Wednesday. She is Rocky’s leading scorer. … The Battlin’ Bears played Carroll three times during the regular season, losing twice. “We’ve got to handle our business and not worry who we play,” Francis said. “We sometimes get caught up in that, worrying about the other team. We have to play our game.”