By Bruce Sayler
DILLON — Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon sat on the steps outside the Orediggers’ locker room at Straugh Gym Tuesday night and pinpointed the problem while looking at a stack of statistics.
“The difference was we turned the ball over 14 times in the second half,” she said in studious moments following Montana Western’s 64-56 win over Montana Tech. “They put on pressure and we played on our heels. When we broke the press, we didn’t move the ball as well as we needed against their zone defense. We fought hard, but weren’t good on some fundamentals.” (Stats)
The game launched the Frontier Conference part of the Montana Tech women’s basketball schedule and marked the first installment of what will be a three-game league series between the rivals this season.
It was a game that the Orediggers seemed to be in control of, albeit tenuously, in earlier moments. However, the advantage melted in the fire of a 13-0 Montana Western run in the second quarter that helped the Bulldogs forge a 33-all halftime tie.
“It was a battle from the tip,” Sanon said. “And, I think it’s going to be that way in every Frontier Conference game this season. We had some short (open shots) and some (3-point) shots with good looks in that run. You put a lot of pressure on your defense, though, when you can’t get a shot to fall.”
Such was the case for Montana Tech in the key Bulldog surge. Montana Western star Brianna King was held scoreless in the first quarter thanks to a rotating defense Sanon spread between Hanna Sparks, Hailey Crawford and Kaylynn Coverdell to guard the reigning conference “player of the week,” Every shot tried by every player in the opening frame was contested. Fiercely, the tempo had been set.
King still had only two points, scored on a short drive to the hoop, 3 ½ minutes into the second quarter. A minute later, Kourtney Coverdell drilled a 3-pointer for Montana Tech to widen her team’s lead to 25-16.
Then King tallied on a pullup jumper and the explosion fuse was lit. Sparks missed two free throws on the Oredigger end, and King scored the next four points. Darby Schye tossed in a pass from Sierra Bignell and Torri Anderson was found open by Paige Holmes. Anderson cashed in for the trey, then King connected on a difficult pullup. The shot capped the surge and Montana Western owned a 29-25 lead.
King wound up with 16 points in the quarter. The teams played to the halftime stalemate, much because of baskets by Montana Tech players Sammy McGree and Crawford to end the half.
“I thought they played harder than us, especially in the first quarter,” Montana Western head coach Lindsay Woolley said. “And, they were more aggressive on the boards. They were ready and I don’t think we were. That’s on me. I’ll have to do a better job of getting us ready next time.”
Going to the zone defense in the second half, Woolley said, was important to his team’s win, as was letting King go perform with more floor time after the first quarter.
“It’s hard to score when you’re sitting next to me on the bench,” he quipped. “We played a lot of zone in the second half and I think that might’ve thrown them off a little bit.”
Another surge gave the Bulldogs the lead for good in the third quarter. Montana Tech held a 40-39 edge after Monica Landdeck hit a free throw with 6 minutes, 43 seconds left in the period. Britt Cooper answered for the Bulldogs with two made foul shots and then King scooped up a loose ball and drove for a layup. She finished the game with 24 points. Cooper next knocked down a pullup and then King finagled a steal-and-layup. Western owned a 47-40 bulge.
The quarter ended with the Bulldogs ahead, 50-44. They increased the margin 54-44 on two straght Sierra Bignell baskets.
Sanon pointed to an errant pass intended for an open Kourtney Coverdell under the basket as being a missed opportunity to fend off the Montana Western spree.
“We had shots and if we’d have executed, we wouldn’t have had the turnovers,” she said. “That would’ve helped us.”
Montana Tech bounced back with a six-point run on a steal and layup by Sparks, a jumper by Kaylee Zard off of a Landdeck pass, and on a 15-footer by Kaylynn Coverdell.
The Orediggers got no closer. Montana Western led 64-56 in the waning seconds and clinched the win when King tipped a Montana Tech pass to teammate Jill Jacobs to allow the Bulldogs to dribble out the last few ticks of the clock.
The pace after intermission was much faster than before it, but a little wilder, too.
“It got a little sloppy,” Woolley said. “But, it was a rivalry game, too, and anybody could’ve won it.”
Sanon attributed it to the nature of the contest.
“There were likely jitters for the first conference game,” she said. “Then, the pressure played in the second half sped things up a little bit.”
Montana Tech wound up being charged with 21 turnovers. Landdeck led the team in scoring with 11 points and Shay Potter was next with 10. The Orediggers shot a chilly 33 percent from the field, 25 percent from the 3-point line.
Cooper scored 15 points to back King in Montana Western’s scoring totals. The Bulldogs committed 20 turnovers and shot 41 percent, also less than spectacular.
However, both defenses were unrelenting.
The win gave the Bulldogs a 7-1 season record and they will play at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho, on Thursday.
Montana Tech fell to 8-3 and will be home against Lewis-Clark State on Saturday.