Montana State was one of two Big Sky Conference teams that hadn’t played a league game heading into Thursday night. The Bobcats made the most of its Big Sky opener relying on defense to lift them to a 54-46 victory over Northern Colorado in Worthington Arena.
“It is great to be in the standings,” said Montana State 16th-year head coach Tricia Binford. “And, even better having the ‘W’ in the win column to get this season started for these kids. It’s been a challenge for everybody and we’re so grateful to get on the court and compete.”
Both squads struggled in the opening half with its offense as Northern Colorado (2-8, 1-4) shot 32%, while Montana State (4-3, 1-0) went 28.6% from the field. The Bears held a 24-23 advantage at intermission.
“(UNC) was such a great opponent for us to have after the conclusion of our preseason,” Binford said. “We really were able to take away some key areas that were exposing some weaknesses that we had to get better at- those areas were post defense and rebounding. We really challenged the kids going into this week and those were steps in the right direction today.”
The Bobcats used a strong third quarter to get some breathing building a seven-point lead following a Taylor Janssen bucket with 4 minutes, 32-seconds left in the frame. A Leia Beattie three-pointer with 16-seconds left gave MSU a 41-35 cushion heading into the final stanza.
Montana State took its largest lead of the contest at the eight-minute mark as Darian White’s triple gave the Cats 46-37 lead. The Bobcats held off the Bears down the stretch as UNC closed to within four points with 24-seconds remaining. White closed out the game going four-of-four from the line.
White paced all scorers with 16 points, including a seven-of-seven effort at the stripe. She also added four rebounds and two steals. Also contributing were Kola Bad Bear and Tori Martell with nine and eight points, respectively.
For the game, MSU shot 30.8% from the field, while holding UNC to 28.6%. The Bobcats won the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Bears 44-36. Freshman Lexi Deden led all players with eight rebounds, while Martell added seven.
Northern Colorado was paced by Alisha Davis with ten points and six rebounds.
The Bobcats will face UNC once again on Saturday at 12 p.m.
“They’ll be fresh on our minds,” Binford chuckled. “Playing back-to-back helps with the ability to prepare. Obviously, we have some adjustments to make.”