BOISE, Idaho — The game was a microcosm of Montana State’s season-long bout with inconsistency.
The Bobcats shot their way to a second-quarter advantage over Portland State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament Tuesday at CenturyLink Arena. But just when MSU was sprinting to the semifinals, its perimeter touch disintegrated.
And so did its lead.
Sidney Rielly led four players in double figures with 18 points and Portland State ended the Bobcats’ season with a 68-56 victory. MSU hit eight of its first 10 3-point attempts and led by as many as eight midway through the second quarter.
But the Bobcats suddenly went cold by missing 10 3s in a row, and didn’t make another one until late in the fourth quarter. MSU also turned the ball over 22 times and didn’t get to the free throw line nearly enough.
MSU’s Oliana Squires and Martha Kuderer combined to hit five 3-pointers in the first quarter. But the Vikings made some key adjustments to their zone defense to commandeer the lead — and the game.
“It seemed like they got a little farther out on the 3-point line to stop us,” said Squires, who led MSU with 20 points but was forced into seven turnovers.
“We weren’t able to take care of the ball as well as we needed, and I think that’s credit to Portland State,” Bobcats coach Tricia Binford said. “I think they have a lot of length, and I thought they did a great job defensively, particularly in the second half where they got a little farther out there in the passing lanes on our guards.”
Courtney West added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Vikings, who hit 23 of 25 foul shots. Rielly made all 12 of her free throw attempts. The Bobcats, by contrast, made just 2 of 5 from the line.
PSU outscored Montana State 20-9 in the third quarter to break the game open.
The win sends the Vikings (23-7) on to the semifinal round where they’ll face top-seeded Idaho and the “Splash Sisters” duo of Mikayla Ferenz and Taylor Pierce.
The game was a rematch of the regular-season finale in Bozeman last Saturday, which PSU won 68-55. The Vikings prevailed in all three meetings between the teams this season.
“Coming in here, obviously being familiar with them, both teams are going to make some adjustments,” Binford said. “I thought for us, we tried to adjust a little more at getting Oliana involved more than just kind of the passing around the zone, so we were able to do some things where we set some screens for her to be able to get into the paint for us and to be a facilitator.
“I thought she did a fantastic job being scoring-minded. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I got our post play as involved as much as we needed to today, and we just weren’t able to get the touches in through the interior to keep that floor balanced.”
The Bobcats head home with a mark of 16-15. It’s the 12th consecutive season that MSU has finished with a record of .500 or better, but that was of little consolation at the end of topsy-turvy year in which the team lost leading scorer Claire Lundberg to an ACL injury and never strung more than two wins together.
“I’m proud of this team, how they battled this year,” Binford said. “We had some different adverse situations, and I thought the team continued to find ways to get better as a group and adjust to some of the injuries and those sorts of things that we’ve had.
“I just think that’s there’s a lot more in store for this young team. We won’t be young next year.”
Lundberg and reserve guard Maddie Shaide were MSU’s only seniors. Excluding any roster defections (or additions), the Bobcats will boast four seniors and two juniors for the 2019-20 campaign.
Kuderer and Lundberg transferred to Montana State from Seton Hall in 2017 but had to sit out last season due to NCAA rules. Kuderer should play a major role next year as a returning senior.
“We had a lot of new players this year, so I think we learned throughout the season how to play well together, so I’m just hoping we build off of that coming into next year, because we do have a lot of people returning,” Kuderer said. “I think we can just keep improving on what we kind of built this season.
“It was definitely my favorite year of college basketball so far, and I’m really happy to be here. Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that’s just going to be motivation for next year.”