DILLON – Montana Western women’s basketball coach Lindsay Woolley has been around basketball long enough to know when things aren’t going as planned.
Despite the Lady Bulldogs opening up a 15-point lead on Montana Tech early in the third quarter of Thursday night’s Frontier Conference game, Woolley didn’t seem happy.
“I don’t like this,” he said from the bench after watching his team trying to cling to a suddenly-short lead with 7:24 left in the final quarter.
He had reason to be concerned.
Montana Western’s lead was down to three points, and that was after Hattie Thatcher tied the score with a layup.
The Lady Orediggers overcame a dismal first half before rebounding to score a 70-65 win over the Bulldogs. Western’s only loss at this point of the season was in an exhibition game.
Martha Dembek scored 27 points, Thatcher added 20, and the Orediggers got tough on defense at the right time.
“It’s huge,” Dembek said of the win. “It’s a conference game and they were undefeated. Plus it’s always tough to win on the road.”
The Tech men’s team was hoping for a similar comeback but it wasn’t happening against a tough and experienced Western squad.
The Bulldogs built a 21-point lead midway through the first half, on their way to an 88-67 win over the Orediggers.
“I thought we did a good job,” Western men’s coach Steve Keller said. “We always talk about winning the first five minutes of each half and we did a good job with that.”
The Lady Orediggers struggled to put points on the board in the early going. They connected on just 1 of their first five field-goal attempts on the way to a 25 percent clip (7 for 28) in the first half.
The Bulldogs didn’t seem to have that problem. Western passed the ball with efficiency, which opened up several in-the-paint looks. The Bulldogs converted on most of those high-percentage shots and were able to build a lead.
Aniese Palmore and Britt Cooper (Harrison High) led the Bulldogs with 10 points apiece in the first half.
Despite the slow start, however, the Orediggers were able to keep the scores somewhat close in the first half.
The Bulldogs built a 12-4 lead early in the contest, only to have the Orediggers trim that deficit to 2 points moments later. Dembek seemed to be the only Tech player with the shooting touch through the first two quarters, netting 11 by the intermission.
“I don’t think we were prepared as we should have been in the first half,” Thatcher said. “We didn’t execute our game plan that the coaches had set for us. We weren’t taking smart shots and we weren’t where we were supposed to be on defense.”
Montana Tech head coach Carly Sanon wasn’t arguing that point.
“We were a step behind on defense in the first half and couldn’t get anything going on offense,” she said.
Western took a 37-24 lead into halftime and it seemed as if their next win would come easy. The lead grew to 15 points when Aniese Palmore hit a 3-point shot from the right baseline with 7:39 to play in the third quarter.
Things started clicking for Montana Tech after that.
The Orediggers went on a 10-0 run to get to within 43-38. Palmore hit another 3 that helped the Bulldogs build their lead back to 10 points but it might have been too late.
The Orediggers had found their confidence and continued to outplay their rival.
A 10-1 spurt cut made it a one-point game – still in Western’s favor – late in the third.
The teams traded the lead back and forth during most of the fourth quarter.
A layup by Hatcher gave Tech a 56-55 lead with 6:28 to play but Western matched it with a layup by Kaye Bignell.
Dembek put the ‘Diggers back in front but Sierra Bignell scored to give the lead back to the Bulldogs with 5:36 on the clock.
Dembek and Sierra Bignell traded baskets but a pair of free throws by Callee Remsen, with 4:40 to play, gave Tech the lead once again.
Western’s final lead of the game came when Palmore sank two free throws with 2:02 left on the clock but a basket by Hatcher 19 seconds later gave Tech the lead for good.
Hatcher and Dembeck added two free throws apiece to give the Orediggers all of the room that they needed.
Sanon said that switching to a zone defense helped take the Bulldogs out of their rhythm. It came down to recognizing the adjustments that needed to be made, and executing.
“In this conference, you have to be good every night to win,” Sanon said. “This was a huge win. It’s good to win on the road and against a team that’s undefeated. It’s a confidence-builder.”
If there was anything in the men’s game that could have built some confidence for Montana Tech, it came in the first half.
The Bulldogs bounced out to a 32-11 lead but the Orediggers fought back with a 13-1 run that cut the lead to nine.
The Orediggers were unable to maintain that pace and the Bulldogs eventually stretched their lead back to 18 points by the end of the half.
Shyke Smalls led all scorers with 23 points, while teammates Zaccheus Darko-Kelly and Kooper Kidgell added 13 and 12 respectively.
The Orediggers were led by Chris O’Neill’s 13 points. John Chapman added 12 for Tech, with Lukas Vining and Sadiq Inuwa adding 11 and 10 points, respectively.