BUTTE — Slipping a hastily set screen, Brianna King zeroed in on Montana Tech’s Hannah Sparks.
The Montana Western guard raised a single hand and blocked away a 16-foot jump shot, corralled the loose ball and sprinted down the court, weaving in and out of players and flailing limbs. Finally reaching the hoop, she heaved up a shot with her right hand, giving the Bulldogs a double-digit lead late in the first half.
The Orediggers would get no closer and the No. 24 Montana Western women’s basketball team moved its win streak to six, taking the latest game of the rivalry against Tech 67-56.
“I was just trying to get the rim, I hit a few three’s but mostly I was looking to draw a foul or finish,” said King, who finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists. “It’s just another game and we’re really trying to take this game-by-game.”
Having the scoring prowess of King — whose 17.7 points per game ranks 14th in the NAIA — is certainly impactful, but the defensive efforts of the entire Western team have been impressive. During the win streak, the Bulldogs are allowing just 53.4 points per game — not far off their season-long scoring defense average of 55.8, which is the ninth best in the NAIA.
Western’s defense was certainly biting against Tech and forced 15 turnovers and blocked five shots.
“Really the last two months it’s been consistent just in terms of finding ways to win, whether it’s limiting field goal percentage or turning people over,” Bulldogs’ head coach Lindsay Woolley said. “We’ve been able to do both. I think sometimes it’s hard to consistently do the same thing all the time, so we’ve found a variety of ways to win defensively.”
When Tech was able to get the ball inside, it did have a bit of success, however, as center Shay Potter had 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting. She also had 10 rebounds (three offensive) and was a force against anyone Western was throwing at her.
Outside of Potter, the Diggers struggled and shot just 33.8 percent from the field during the game, including 23.5 percent from behind the arc.
“We shot 10 more times they did and lost,” Tech head coach Carly Sanon said. “Once we get it inside a few times, their defense will start to collapse and our shooters can rhythm up. But we have to make shots to win games.”
The Orediggers certainly had their chances and Western’s lead was just 11 entering the fourth quarter. Even so, Tech could never hit the shot it needed to really shift the momentum and soon King and Britt Cooper slammed the door shut on the game with several timely buckets.
“We started the quarter with three straight stops, and I was thinking, ‘okay, we got the stops, now we need to score’ and we just weren’t scoring,” Sanon said. “We just didn’t have those shots that we needed to get the break and get within eight or seven and really put the pressure on them.”
With the win, Western moves to 17-6 (7-4 Frontier) and is just one game behind Carroll College and Rocky Mountain, who are both 8-3. Tech is now 13-10 (3-8 Frontier) and in sixth place, two games up on Montana State-Northern.
“We have to continue to get better and continue to get some contributions from our bench kids,” Woolley said. “We just have to continue to tweak things and continue to look for ways to get better.”