MSU women’s basketball conference champs, compete in NCAA tournament

The MSU women’s basketball team ended a phenomenal season with a Big Sky Conference Championship win over Idaho State and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the first in 24 years, against the University of Washington.

The Bobcats went into the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Reno, Nevada as regular season conference champions after defeating Weber State on March 3 in Bozeman. After beating Weber State again 65-53 on the first day of the tournament, the Cats went on to beat Eastern Washington 61-59 in the semi-final game on March 10. The Cats played in the Big Sky Conference Championship game on March 11, where they beat the Idaho State Bengals 62-56 to become the postseason conference champions.

In the championship after a slow first quarter, the Cats came back from trailing 16-12 and scored 20 points in the second quarter. Senior Peyton Ferris scored nine points and senior Riley Nordgaard scored 11 with three three-pointers and a layup. Following three lead changes and two ties in the second quarter, the Cats went into the half ahead 32-28.

The Cats ended the third quarter down 39-38, but came back within the first minute of the fourth with a layup by Nordgaard followed by a jump shot and a layup by sophomore Annika Lai to give the Cats a 44-41 lead over Idaho. The Cats maintained the lead throughout the rest of the game and won 62-56 with a free throw by junior Hannah Caudill in the last 4 seconds.

Senior Margreet Barhoum said, “being Big Sky conference and tournament champions was truly an awesome experience. We all felt so accomplished and proud of our hard work.”

Nordgaard put up 16 points in the championship game and Ferris, who was named the Big Sky Conference MVP, scored 23. This victory won the Cats a spot in the NCAA women’s tournament for the first time since 1993. This win was also their 25th victory this season, a new school record.

The Cats, seeded at 14, played the University of Washington Huskies, a three seed, in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 18 at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, UW’s home court. The Cats put up 63 points against Washington, but could not keep pace with the Huskies and fell 91-63.  

The Cats started the game strong with a 4-0 lead over the Huskies in the first two minutes of the game due to a jump shot and two free throws from Ferris. After trailing 9-4 with 5 minutes left in the first quarter, Ferris and freshman Oliana Squires each scored three pointers to give the Cats a 10-9 lead. In the last two minutes, a layup by freshman Blaire Braxton followed by a jump shot by Ferris put the Cats within two points of the Huskies. Junior Delaney Junkermier shot a three-pointer with one second left in the first quarter to give MSU a 17-16 lead.

During a press conference following the game, Ferris said that, in regards to the first quarter, “there was energy … you go out and play hard and keep going at it. We played well and kept it close.”

“That was Bobcat basketball, that is what you saw in the first quarter,” Nordgaard said. “This team works really hard and returns from deficits or remains on top and I think that was showcased today.”

The Cats went into the half down 38-27 after scoring 10 points to Washington’s 22 in the second quarter. Washington maintained the lead in the second half, scoring 53 points to MSU’s 36. The Cats outshot the Huskies with a free throw percentage of .857 to Washington’s .815, while the Huskies held MSU to a field goal percentage of .324 to their .408. Washington had 51 rebounds to MSU’s 40, and 6 turnovers to MSU’s 14.  

Ferris tied her season best with 33 points, 16 points above her season average, while Nordgaard put up 10 and Junkermeier earned nine for the Cats. Ferris also out-scored Husky guard Kelsey Plum, the all-time NCAA scoring leader, who had 29 points in the game.

“I can’t think of a more exciting team or a more fun team to have coached,” Head Coach Tricia Binford said. “We promised that we would give a great effort, and we definitely left it all out there.”