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BUTTE — After splitting the regular season series 1-1, Butte and Bozeman were destined for a rubber match in the Eastern AA girls basketball divisional tournament.

And while their most recent meeting required overtime, Thursday’s tournament opener was a game of catch-up for Butte. Bozeman’s halftime lead of 30-17 gave way to a confidence-boosting 38-23 win.

“It was a good feeling going in that we had split,” Bozeman coach Erika Gustavsen said. “I felt like we had pretty good confidence coming in. Both teams knew what we were going to get."

The Hawks were led by Alex Carey’s 14 points, nine of which came in the second quarter. Butte pulled to within eight toward the end of the quarter, then deployed a full-court press, a tactic used earlier in the period by the Hawks to fluster the Bulldogs’ ball handlers.

Butte’s version of the defense could have closed the gap to three, but back-to-back Bozeman turnovers ended with zero points for Butte. From there, the Hawks took complete control and never let Butte closer than within nine points late in the fourth quarter.

"We missed a wide open layup and forced a shot the next possession off a steal," Butte coach Maury Cook said of the stretch. "(We needed) a couple breaks here and there and the ball just didn’t bounce our way."

While Butte attempted to battle back, Bozeman's length showed with the Hawks turning away close shots in the paint to keep momentum. Offensively Bozeman's post players turned eight offensive rebounds into easy points, and their 5-of-11 showing from 3-point range never allowed Butte to keep pace.

“This was definitely a defensive night tonight,” Gustavsen said. “We made it really difficult for them to get open looks … to hold a team to 23 points, you can’t complain about that.”

“It just came down to execution,” Cook said. “We didn’t get enough looks at the basket. They played great defense … Seemed like when they got the offensive board they were scoring, and that’s something we can’t let happen.”

Ayla Embry nearly matched Carey’s scoring output for the Hawks, notching 12 points on the strength of 3-of-6 shooting from deep.

One of those 3s came in the final minute of the second quarter, while Butte continued to press after its missed opportunity to close to within three.

“Ayla came alive in second and third quarter,” Gustavsen said. “Overall we had really good ball movement, created open shots and we knocked them down.”

For Butte, Aspen Lovshin scored 11 points and Ally Cleverly had six. 

The top four teams move on to the Class AA state tournament. Bozeman next plays top-seeded Billings West in the semifinals, Butte needs a win in the consolation bracket Saturday to avoid elimination and move on to state.

Cook noted his side showed its inexperience coming into the tournament, with a roster largely composed of players not yet used to bigger stages.

Still, there were promising stretches of Thursday’s opener, and with jitters potentially out of the way, the Bulldogs’ goal of moving on hasn’t changed.

“We want to go to state,” he said. “These kids have got to come out and be ready to go.”

Bad Bear leads Senior to semifinals

Billings Senior upended Billings Skyview, 60-35, to move on in the Eastern AA girls tournament. 

Kola Bad Bear led all scorers with 17 points despite sitting for much of the fourth quarter. 

The Broncs meet Great Falls CMR in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday.

Great Falls CMR moves on 

Great Falls CMR moved on to the semifinals with a 42-34 win over Great Falls High in their quarterfinal matchup Thursday.

The Rustlers jumped out to a 25-9 lead after the first half to coast to the first-round win.

Addison Gardner had 20 points for the Rustlers in the win. The Bison were led by Erin Hocker’s eight.

Butte boys fall short in upset bid

Butte High, seemingly always on the cusp of an historic boys basketball comeback, nearly pulled off an all-time great against Great Falls in the opening round of the Eastern AA boys basketball tournament at Ross J. Richardson Gymnasium Thursday night.

Behind Kendall Kynett’s 17 points, Great Falls led the entire game, leading by as much as 26-6 in the second quarter.

Butte stormed back in the fourth quarter, but after cutting the deficit to three with 14 seconds to play, the Bison evaded the foul for a full 11 seconds. Kynett then hit one of two from the line, sealing what could have been an opening-round upset for Butte.

“Again, we showed what tremendous effort we can give,” Butte coach Luke Powers said. “If we can put it together for four quarters, we can compete with anybody. Great Falls High, no joke about it they’re a damn good basketball team. “

Butte’s Clay Ferguson drew a charge with just over two minutes to play, sending the crowd into an uproar and injecting new hope into Butte.

Trevyn Roth capped a 9-5 run with a 3-pointer, followed by a steal and layup, to have Butte down 42-39 with 30 seconds left. The Bison proved their worth at the line in the waning moments, keeping the Bulldogs from completing the comeback.

Kyle Winkler had nine points for Great Falls. Kash Kelly recorded nine points and seven boards for Butte.

Great Falls plays Bozeman in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday. 

Senior tops West in quarterfinals

Senior forward Slade Cobb connected on one of two free throws with 3.3 seconds to play Thursday night, boosting Billings Senior over rival Billings West 53-52 and into Friday's semifinals.

The fourth-seeded Broncs will take on top-seeded Great Falls CMR at 6:30 p.m. 

The free throw by Cobb, who fouled off the ball, snapped a 52-all tie. West's Jesse Owens' half-court heave in the final seconds was no good.

Connor Kieckbusch led the Broncs with 19 points. He was followed by teammates Brooks Zimmer (13) and Braxton Haws (10). Cobb finished with seven.

West's Cade Tyson led all scorers with 22 points. He knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game at 52-all. Jesse Owens tossed in 11 points.

Bozeman battles past Skyview

Mack Anderson had 16 points to lead four Bozeman scorers in double figures, and the Hawks smothered Billings Skyview to win their opener at the Eastern AA divisional.

Ryan Lonergan (14), Robbie Simpson (12) and Ryan Simpson (10) joined in on the offensive show for Bozeman, which shot 55 percent from the field.

Bozeman faces Great Falls High in Friday’s 8 p.m. semifinal, while Skyview faces Butte at 5 p.m. in loser-out play.

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