By JOEL CARLSON
For the second straight game a cold-shooting fourth quarter erased a win-worthy effort by the Montana women’s basketball team.
The Lady Griz led for more than 28 minutes and built a nine-point lead early in the third quarter, but Montana went 2 for 19 over the game’s final 17 minutes, 0 for 9 in the fourth quarter, to fall 61-52 to Montana State in Bozeman Saturday afternoon.
It was the fourth straight loss for Montana (11-9, 4-5 BSC), which lost in similar fashion last Saturday at Eastern Washington, when a 51-37 third-quarter lead turned into a 67-65 loss.
After building a 30-25 halftime advantage and taking a 43-42 lead into the fourth quarter, the Lady Griz got outscored 19-9 in the final period and finished the game shooting 26.5 percent.
“It was one of those games where if you shoot even 32 percent, you probably win. It just didn’t go our way, and it hasn’t been going our way for a few games now,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, whose team has lost four straight league games for just the second time in his 37-plus year career.
“We haven’t been getting any wins lately, but we’ve been playing well enough to win.”
The loss spoiled a gritty effort by a team that doesn’t have the weapons to match Montana State offensively, so Montana stayed in the game by getting it done on the other end of the floor.
The Lady Griz forced 12 first-half turnovers and held MSU’s leading scorer, Jasmine Hommes, without a point through the first two quarters to take a five-point lead to the locker room.
McCalle Feller scored 12 first-half points, Kayleigh Valley added nine, but neither would make a second-half field goal, and there wasn’t enough scoring support from their teammates to hold off Montana State for all 40 minutes.
Montana hit its first three shots of the third quarter, two from Mekayla Isaak, one from Haley Vining, but the Lady Griz would make just two more baskets the rest of the game.
Still, Montana led 43-42 after three quarters.
Montana State (15-5, 8-1 BSC), which remains in a first-place tie atop the Big Sky standings with Eastern Washington, a 100-83 winner at Sacramento State Saturday afternoon, took its first lead of the second half when Hommes scored inside to make it 44-43 early in the fourth quarter.
Her team wasn’t making baskets, but Valley was able to consistently get to the free throw line in the final period, and she put her team up 49-46 with 4:59 left. Montana’s final lead of the game wouldn’t last long.
Alexa Dawkins brought her team within one, and Riley Nordgaard put Montana State up for good when she converted a three-point play with just over four minutes remaining. The Bobcats, who shot 7 for 13 in the fourth quarter, closed the game on a 15-3 run.
“We had some open looks in the fourth quarter, but we didn’t make any of them, and the Cats finally found enough offense,” said Selvig. “Our defense was pretty good the whole game, but it’s tough to shut them down forever.
“Our offense came up short for us. They made some baskets in the fourth quarter, and we didn’t make any, and that’s going to be a problem. You can’t shoot 26 percent and win. I don’t care how well you play. You have to make more shots than that.”
Valley would finish with 17 points, 13 coming at the free throw line to mask a 2-for-9 shooting game. Feller was held to a pair of free throws in the second half and finished with 14. It was the pair’s lowest combined scoring output through nine Big Sky games.
Vining added seven points, Isaak six, and Alycia Sims ripped down a game-high 12 rebounds, her third straight game with 10 or more. Montana’s bench added just six points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The Bobcats, who were led by Peyton Ferris’s 16 points and had four players in double figures, average more than 73 points per game and needed 19 in the fourth quarter just to reach 61 on Saturday. Montana State held the lead for less than nine minutes.
“I’m proud of the effort,” said Selvig. “We played well but shot horribly. To lead for most of the game is a credit to us doing some other things well.
“We played tough. We played strong. It was an either-or game in the fourth quarter, and they made a couple more plays.”
Montana will host Sacramento State (7-12, 4-4 BSC) and Portland State (3-16, 1-7 BSC) next week.