Skylights deny Orediggers

Skylights deny Orediggers
Montana Tech’s Dani Urick goes up for a shot as MSU-Northern’s Payton Kehr, left, and Tiara Gilham defend Saturday night at the HPER Complex. Tech's Kaylee Zard is also pictured. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

Emotion was an expensive expenditure for the Montana Tech women’s basketball team, as results showed Saturday night.

The Orediggers’ 59-51 loss to Montana State-Northern came on the heels of what had been an exhilarating 66-57 home win over NAIA 21st-ranked Providence of Great Falls on Friday. (Stats)

“We couldn’t buy a bucket,” Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon said in the hallways of her school’s HPER Complex after the Saturday defeat in Frontier Conference competition. “The lid on on the rim. They shot well from the field and we didn’t.

“We didn’t have the energy to do it tonight. You’re coming off a big win against the No. 21 in the country and there was some fatigue. But a team trying to compete at that level needs be able to play back-to-back. We missed some bunnies. Our schedule is all over the map and we have to be ready to play.”

The outcome marked another win for former Butte High head girls basketball coach and one-time Montana Tech women’s hoops assistant Chris Mouat, who heads the MSU-Northern program. Mouat ran the Skylights through a practice Friday in the old Butte High gym.

It must have helped, but the victory didn’t come easy.

The Orediggers led 16-13 at the end of the first quarter. Mollie Peoples’ 3-point basket with 3 minutes, 7 seconds left in the period had made it a 16-11 spread, but Hailey Nicholson knocked home a bunny for the Skylights about a minute later.

Montana State-Northern then went ahead for good. Sabin Keo’s basket at 9:18 of the second cut the difference to a point and Jessica Curl sent the Skylights to the front with a short drive hoop inside the key.

Curl scored another layup off a pass from Gokce Aslan. Some work by Zard brought the Orediggers back, 19-18 on a drive, and then not quite three minutes later, 21-20 on a floater from near the free throw line.

By halftime, though, Northern had defended, shot, passed and rebounded well enough to build a 31-22 advantage, scoring the last 10 points of the half.

Sanon blamed inattentiveness, if not a touch of panic.

“It was our execution (more than the Skylights’ defense),” she said, pinning the cause. “We got bumped a little bit and got out of our offense instead of staying with it.”

Montana Tech lurked closely behind Northern the rest of the game, but was never able to pull even with the Skylights. Mesa Williams scored six of the Orediggers’ eight points in an 8-3 run to start the second half and narrow the gap to 34-30.

MSU-Northern answered with baskets by the Montana Lady Griz dropdown, Nicholson, and Montana Western transfer Tiara Gilham. The Orediggers cae back with a Dani Urick drive as she picked her way through baseline traffic, and two Zard free throws. A three-to-four-point difference remained until Sydney Hovde used a rebound basket and a free throw to widen the margin to 46-40 heading into the last quarter.

The battle continued.

Zard, playing on a hurt ankle, tallied six points in about four minutes to give her team yet one more challenge at the visitors. The score was 53-51, the Skylights’ favor, with 1:44 on the clock.

Gilham, the former Browning star, stuck back an offensive rebound for two pints and then turnovers gutted the Orediggers’ last chances. Aslan netted four straight freebies, icing the Northern win as Montana Tech needed to foul to stop time and gain possession.

Zard scored 20 points and yanked down nine rebounds in another strong all-around performance.

“Kaylee is a great player,” Sanon said. “She’s great in the post, a tough kid and she left everything she had on the court tonight.”

Fears were that might have been literal after going down to the floor under the basket late in the game. However, she gritted through the pain and, after being helped from the floor, returned to action only seconds later.

Urick was the only other Oredigger in double figures, scoring 11 points. Williams finished with six, Hailey Crawford and Peoples five each, and Tjaden Pallister four.

The loss put the Orediggers at 12-9 for the season and 2-8 in conference games.

Northern improved to 10-12 overall, 2-8 in the Frontier. Skylight leaders were Kehr with 15 points Aslan with 11 and Nicholson with 10.

Montana Tech will be home against Montana Western on Tuesday night.

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