BILLINGS — There was a semblance of normalcy Saturday for the Rocky Mountain College women’s basketball team with the return of head coach Wes Keller. It marked Keller’s first game on the sideline since January.
But the Battlin’ Bears were again without several players, and seasoned Providence took care of business with a 70-59 Frontier Conference victory at the Fortin Center.
Keller was reinstated from administrative leave on Thursday after what Rocky officials said in a press release was a thorough review of the program. Keller was initially placed on leave, sources said, based on some players’ complaints about his coaching style.
Sources also indicated that other players previously elected to sit out during Keller’s absence as a show of support for their coach. The Bears played Saturday’s game with a similar roster they used in their previous two games against crosstown rival Montana State Billings — which didn't include top contributors such as Kloie Thatcher, Shauna Bribiescas, Mackenzie Dethman and Izzy Spruit.
Neither Keller nor Rocky officials were available for comment after the game.
The loss was the seventh in a row for the Bears and dipped their record to 1-9 overall and 1-8 in the conference. It was Providence’s fourth straight win. The Argos, now 8-4 in their league-only schedule, led by as many as 22 points and seem to be peaking at the right time heading into the Frontier playoffs.
This is the final weekend of the regular season.
“Feeling pretty good about things,” Providence coach Bill Himmelberg said. “Right now we’re healthy and everybody’s kind of clicking a little bit. We’ve just got to continue to get better and make baskets. But I like our team right now.”
“We wanted to make sure we pressed and pushed the ball and got up and down a little bit, and I thought we did that really well,” Himmelberg said. “We didn’t run a whole lot of sets, but we just wanted to be crisp with the stuff that we were running.”
Steady point guard Emilee Maldonado made sure of that.
Maldonado scored 16 points and only had two turnovers in more than 36 minutes on the court. The 5-foot-5 senior hit three 3-pointers. She was aided by senior forward Parker Esary, who had 15 points and eight rebounds. Maddy Dixon added 10 points and seven boards.
Rocky’s players, showing the same competitive drive they used facing difficult circumstances in both games against MSU Billings, didn’t go quietly. The Bears outscored Providence 23-15 in the fourth quarter and cut the lead down to 10 points.
Freshman Kacy Horton hit four 3s and finished with a team-high 14 points. Dominque Stephens, a freshman post from New Zealand, had 13 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
Himmelberg and the Argos weren’t sure which players Rocky would have at its disposal, which he said made preparation more difficult. But they had a plan for that.
“We talked a lot about how this game was about us. It wasn’t about Rocky,” Himmelberg said. “So we really focused on ourselves. That’s been our focus most of the time. We just kind of said whoever’s out there we were going to take care of us and approach it that way.”
The Bears and Argos will conclude the respective regular season schedules Sunday with a 2 p.m. game at the Fortin Center.
The Frontier playoffs begin Thursday with men’s and women’s quarterfinal games at campus sites.