Jan 19, 2013 10:46 PM by KPAX/KAJ Media Center
MISSOULA - Montana State took over sole possession of first place in the Big Sky Conference with a 58-49 victory over Montana Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena.
The Bobcats and Lady Griz entered the game tied atop the league standings in the loss column.
Montana State (13-4, 7-1 BSC) jumped out to a 30-25 halftime lead, built its advantage to 14 points midway through the second half, then withstood a late Montana (11-5, 5-2 BSC) rally that saw the Lady Griz twice cut the lead to three.
Each time their lead was threatened, the Bobcats answered and in the process won their sixth straight game and knocked off Montana at Dahlberg Arena for the third time in four seasons.
Montana has built its foundation of success in winning eight of its last 10 on a number of consistent variables. The Lady Griz have defended well, they've limited their turnovers, they've been rock-solid from the line, and they've had superior bench production.
Montana limited Montana State to 32.8%, the sixth straight game the Lady Griz have held their opponent to sub-33% shooting, but the rest of that foundation crumbled under their feet Saturday.
For the first time this season Montana turned the ball over more times than its opponent, and the team that had been shooting 81.0% from the line in league play went a groan-inducing and game-changing 8 for 18 (.444).
And Montana's bench, which was outscored for the first time in 11 games, was rendered mostly ineffective. UM's reserves, who looked overwhelmed by Montana State's defense and had to have their minutes limited because of it, shot 1 for 15 and turned the ball over eight times.
On a day when Montana shot 30.2%, it added up to the team's first loss by more than two points since November.
"If you're going to shoot 30% [from the field] and 40% from the foul line, you're going to be very fortunate to win, and we obviously couldn't do it today," UM coach Robin Selvig said.
"The stats are pretty even, but they made free throw. They make 15 and we make eight while shooting the same number (18). That's basically the difference in the game statistically."
The difference beyond the statistics was that Montana State's defense turned Montana into a two-player attack: Baker inside and De Boer slashing to the basket. The pair scored 36 points on 15-of-32 shooting. Their eight teammates who saw action combined to make four baskets.
Though she missed three free throws and had six turnovers, Baker was mostly fantastic. She went 10 for 17 from the field and led both teams with 23 points and 12 rebounds, her fifth double-double in seven Big Sky games.
De Boer finished with 13 points.
Montana went up 15-8 seven minutes in when sophomore Maggie Rickman scored inside off a feed from sophomore Carly Selvig, but that was the high-water mark for the Lady Griz.
Over the next 10 minutes the Bobcats did to Montana what they Lady Griz had been doing to its recent opponents. MSU held Montana without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes.
Between Rickman's basket at the 13:26 mark that made it 15-8 and Baker's jumper with 3:55 to go that cut Montana State's lead to 23-19, the Lady Griz missed 15 straight shots and turned the ball over six times.
Baker scored 12 of Montana's first-half points, and Montana State went to the locker room up 30-25.
"It's frustrating when you can't score. We had a big night out of Katie, but nobody else really jumped up and made shots," Selvig said.
Both teams struggled offensively to open the second half, and De Boer cut the lead to 34-32 with her driving layup five minutes in.
Montana State then authored the game's decisive stretch. The Bobcats held Montana without a field goal for another six minutes and went on a 13-1 run to push the lead to 47-33 with nine minutes to play.
The Lady Griz would never have the ball while down one possession the rest of the way, but they weren't done either.
De Boer scored, and junior Torry Hill, who had her first game this season with more turnovers (4) than assists (3), hit a three to cut the lead to single digits, 47-38.
With Montana State struggling offensively, Baker scored six straight points to cut the lead to 47-44, and still 4:53 remained.
MSU's Latisha Adams, who scored a team-high 13 points and was a defensive thorn, particularly in the sides of UM's point-guard tandem of Hill and sophomore Kellie Cole, went coast-to-coast on the Bobcats' next possession to push the lead to 49-44.
Baker was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to trim the lead back to three, and that started the game's key sequence of events.
Montana State missed twice at the other end, but twice the Bobcats grabbed offensive rebounds. Rachel Semansky made Montana pay with an interior basket, two of MSU's 14 second-chance points off 14 offensive rebounds, that made it 51-46 with 3:25 to go.
The teams traded turnovers, and after a Lady Griz miss, Emily Allen hit the dagger, a 3-pointer that made it 54-46 at the 2:11 mark.
A De Boer three were the only points Montana could muster in the final two minutes, and the Bobcats scored their final four points from the line.
"It was not a good night not to make any shots," Selvig said. "Against a good team like the Cats, you've got to do the little things. If we have a good night from the foul line, we're probably ahead late, and the whole thing is different.
"We made a nice run when we got down 14, but we couldn't get it down to a one-possession game at the end. It just didn't seem like it was going to be ours tonight."