After a first half that saw them a bit dazed, a touch lethargic and trapped in perpetual rally mode, the Lewis-Clark State women must have realized this: Their days of devouring Canadian dupes are over.
So in the second half, they brewed up a fresh dose of resolve. With clutch buckets and well-timed defensive flourishes, LCSC bounced a bothersome Montana Tech team 80-66 on Thursday night at Warrior Gym.
The Warriors' Frontier Conference opener was probably more challenging than their previous six outings -- all laughers over clubs from north of the border -- combined. The Orediggers (6-12) pumped in 58.3 percent of their floor tries in the first half and led almost the entire period. That included a nine-point edge with about five minutes left.
But the 21st-ranked Warriors (13-4 after their ninth straight win) pulled within two by halftime, and took the lead for good on a Cami Kalbfleisch 3-pointer early in the second half. In the final three minutes of the game, L-C sped away with a 12-2 run.
"I thought that's how it kind of turned out: We made big plays," Warriors coach Brian Orr said. "We made big plays on the defensive end and we made some big plays on the offensive end. It kind of started with that back-cut lob pass from (BreAnna) Mulvey to Kendra (West)."
And that bucket -- the start of L-C's game-icing push -- was followed by a Kalbfleisch steal, which Jessica Foot cashed in for a top-of-the-key 3-pointer. Kalbfleisch then block a shot on Tech's ensuing possession, and West followed with a three-point play.
It was a encouraging yet maddening night for LCSC's defense. The Warriors forced 25 turnovers and, after the Orediggers' scorching first half, dragged them down to 39-percent shooting for the game. But on a handful of occasions, the Orediggers discovered wide-open pockets around the hoop, and chucked in easy layups.
"You played solid defense for 25 seconds," Orr observed, "then the last five seconds of the shot clock, you give up a layup.
"You know, you can't be discouraged by that," he added. "It's moving in the right direction. You just hope you're able to withstand (the defensive lapses)."
Six of the Warriors' eight active players scored double figures, led by freshman post Ashley Baker's 19. The aggressive around-the-basket play of Baker, West and backup center Elise de Groot landed Tech's insiders in foul trouble. That led to L-C's 20-for-27 showing at the line.
Melissa Ritter recorded a team-high 16 points for the Orediggers while Kaila Fowler nailed all three of her 3-point tries and finished with 14. As is its habit, Tech gave the Warriors problems.
"They always play us tough," said Orr, now in his third season at L-C. "I haven't had an easy game against Tech since the conference tournament in my first year."
NOTES -- Most of the evening, the Warriors ran a full-court press or some variety of half-court zone. But a momentary switch to man-to-man came at an inspired juncture. At about the 14-minute mark of the second half, Orr yelled, "Hey, Footie, right now!" His directions were to senior Jessica Foot, who got the Warriors in man. With the Orediggers accustomed to passing against the zone, they floated a soft dish to the right elbow. Foot picked off the ball, raced to the basket and was fouled. "(Foot) just made me look good," Orr said. "Hey, that's what it's all about. Coaches? It's the players who are the ones who make you look good."
MONTANA TECH (6-12, 0-1)
Cook 3-9 0-0 6, Powell 1-7 2-4 5, Alzeheimer 3-8 0-0 6, Ritter 5-8 6-8 16, Fowler 5-13 1-1 14, Phillips 1-2 0-0 2, Mengon 2-4 4-4 10, Clarys 0-2 0-0 0, Fryer 3-6 2-2 7. Totals 23-59 14-19 66.
LEWIS-CLARK STATE (13-4, 1-0)
Kalbfleisch 5-15 0-0 12, Mulvey 3-8 4-4 11, Foot 3-4 4-4 11, Baker 6-16 7-14 19, West 6-12 3-3 15, Wittmer 0-3 0-0 0, de Groot 5-9 2-2 12, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-67 20-27 80.
Halftime score -- MT 36, LCSC 34. Three-point goals -- MT 6-13 (Cook 0-1, Powell 1-6, Fowler 3-3, Mengon 2-3); LCSC 4-10 (Kalbfleisch 2-5, Mulvey 1-3, Foot 1-2). Rebounds -- MT 45 (Alzeheimer 13); LCSC 38 (Baker 11). Assists -- MT 16 (Powell 6); LCSC 18 (Foot 6). Total fouls -- MT 23; LCSC 17. Fouled out -- Mulvey. Technical fouls -- none.