DILLON — The No. 20 Montana Western women’s basketball team bested Rocky Mountain College for a third time this winter, 76-47, on Tuesday evening in the Frontier Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Bulldogs (23-7) advance to face No. 15 MSU-Northern, the second seed led by Butte native Natalee Faupel, in the semifinals at 7 p.m. on Friday in Havre.
After scampering away from the Battlin' Bears each time during the regular season, Western coach Lindsay Woolley said the difference Tuesday night was making shots.
“They mixed it up a little defensively, but I feel like they handled that well,” Woolley said. “We shot it well. Anytime you’re making 3’s against zones it’s a huge difference. I think our bench also scored close to 30 points, which they haven’t done all season.”
Western solidified its win with a solid offensive third quarter with help from Aniese Palmore.
The senior, who is fourth in the Frontier in scoring average, hit her first 3-pointer of the night to open the frame. Palmore followed with two more treys to push Western’s lead to 39-20, ending the frame with a jumper and a bonus bucket to give the Bulldogs a 27-point lead.
Rocky shot just 26 percent from the field and missed 14 of 36 free throws on the night.
The Battlin’ Bears finally hit their first field goal of the second half with a jumper from sophomore Alecia Chamberlin, but their only other field goal of the frame came on a 3-pointer from junior Hailee Farstveet at the buzzer.
The gap proved too much for the Battlin’ Bears to overcome in the fourth.
Western was led by Palmore with 14 points and a team-leading seven rebounds. Senior Taylor Howlett came off the bench for 12 points and a team-high five assists. The Bulldogs shot 42 percent from the field, including an 11-of-24 effort on 3-pointers.
Rocky (14-17) coach Wes Keller said the Battlin’ Bears “got outplayed in every facet of the game.”
“Give them credit, they played extremely well,” Keller said. “I feel like we got down and didn’t fight and compete and that’s disappointing to see. … I felt like we were just a step slow all night, offensively and defensively. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency and Western just flat out took it to us.”
The Bulldogs got off to hot start in the opening quarter.
Rocky jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead after junior Keisha Engelhardt’s first 3-pointer of the night, but the Bulldogs attacked the paint during an 8-2 run to back back the lead and never looked back.
Rocky never found its shooting groove. The Bears hit a jumper with 6:38 left on the clock, but didn’t hit another field goal until there were 45 seconds remaining in the quarter. Western took a 19-10 lead into the second period.
Western’s only flawed quarter came in the second, when it was was held without a point for the opening six and a half minutes before Dillon native Cierra Lamey broke the spell at the free-throw line. Rocky chipped away at Western’s lead from the line, and a 3-pointer from Farstveet pulled the team within two points.
But the Bulldogs finally found their offensive spark in the final four minutes of the half. Western ended the quarter with three treys, including Lamey's at the buzzer that built an 11-point halftime cushion.
The Battlin’ Bears were led by Farstveet with 14 points and a team-high seven boards. Engelhardt chipped in 11 points and two steals.
Now, the Bulldogs will focus on preparing for their semifinal against the Skylights (12-6, 22-7). Northern beat Western in all three meetings during the regular season, including a 57-53 win in Dillon on Friday that locked up its first-round bye.
“We just have to go in there prepared with determination and aggressiveness,” Lamey said. “It’s a tough crowd, and a tough team as well. I think we’ll be determined and focused just to get the job done.”