DILLON, Mont. – With a 14-point lead in the first half and a 10-point lead in the second, the Lewis-Clark State College women’s basketball team was in good position to pick up a road win and punch a ticket to the Frontier Conference Tournament on Friday night. Montana Western had other plans, however, and overcame the Warriors down the stretch to take the game 66-65.
A win would have clinched a playoff spot for either team, but only Montana Western will be able to relax knowing that its postseason destiny is sealed. Lewis-Clark State now clings to the hope that Saturday—the final day of the regular season—will play out in the one and only way that will make its postseason hopes a reality.
“We played OK, but we didn’t play well enough to get the win,” said LCSC head coach Brian Orr. “The fact that we were up by double digits and squandered the lead is really disappointing.”
Carried by a double-double from Tanis Fuller and a decent shooting clip of 39 percent, the Warriors led from the 19:33 mark of the first half to the 8:44 mark of the second.
Nine offensive rebounds and an 11-5 advantage in second-chance points helped LCSC build a 34-26 lead by halftime. But the lead quickly faded away as Western shot 46 percent from the field in the second half to set the stage for another close finish for the Warriors.
LCSC had a 60-56 lead before Western’s Roxanne Thurman nailed a 3-pointer with 3:25 left in the game. Moments later, the Warriors saw their final lead slip away when Brittney Leibenguth nailed another trey to give the Bulldogs a 62-61 edge with 1:42 remaining.
Western then added two more, but LCSC’s Annie Kane responded with a layup to keep the lead at one, 64-63, with 25 seconds left.
On the next possession, the Warriors fouled to stop the clock and this sent Jenna Banks to the line. Banks made both free throws to push the lead back to three.
After a timeout, Lewis-Clark State inbounded the ball and Kelli Rice worked it up the floor before handing it off to Loree Hill. Hill, who hit a clutch 3-pointer in the final minutes in last week’s win over Rocky Mountain, hoisted a good-looking shot that went halfway in, rattled around, and then bounced out. The rebound landed in Fuller’s hands on the inside and she sunk a two but it wasn’t enough.
“It was almost symbolic of our season,” said Orr about Hill’s shot. “The ball was right there and then bounced the wrong way.”
The game stands as the ninth time this season that LCSC has lost by five points or less.
“I’ll shoulder the blame,” Orr said about his team’s tough luck late in games. “It’s something that we’ve needed to improve on all season long.”
Fuller led the Warrior effort with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Shelby Barnes, who went 3-for-4 from the outside, added 17 points off the bench, and Annie Kane had 10 points and eight assists.
“She (Fuller) had a helluva game, and Shelby played her best game since that opening weekend I think,” said Orr. “They did a great job on Annie Kane. They doubled her, but she still was able to find the open player.”
Western was led by Alecia Wilson who had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Sammi Bignell added 16 points, and Kaci Matthies had 12.
“They got into the paint and then they made good passes,” Orr said of the Bulldogs. “Their penetration offensively probably hurt us more than anything.”
LCSC had a 44-40 edge in rebounds and committed 11 turnovers to Western’s 13, however, the Bulldogs were benefited by more trips to the foul line. Western was 14-of-22 at the line, while the Warriors were 6-for-9—the second fewest attempts for LCSC this season.
The win moves Montana Western to 7-9 in league play (15-15 overall) and into fifth place in the conference standings. LCSC is now 5-9 (8-20 overall) and in seventh place.
“We knew going into tonight that we needed a win,” said Orr. “It’s extremely disappointing. Our team is really down right now. We have to find a way to put this one behind us and bounce back tomorrow.”
With one game remaining and with only the top six teams advancing to the conference tournament, the Warriors need two things to happen on Saturday to clinch a berth. First, they must travel to and defeat second-place Carroll (12-3, 18-8), and, second, Great Falls (4-11, 14-15) must travel to and upset sixth-place Rocky Mountain (6-9, 9-16).
Though LCSC’s hopes of defending its five-straight tournament titles are diminishing, the team will do its best to control what it can control on Saturday.
“We just have to try to do our part.”
Lewis-Clark State’s game against Carroll will tipoff at 4:30 p.m., PT, and links to free live coverage are available at www.LCWarriors.com.