Lady Dawgs outted in league semifinal

Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Lady Dawgs outted in league semifinal

Parting the red (and yellow) sea Montana Western forward Gracey Meyer creates space in the middle of the MSU Northern interior defense to get up a shot during her Bulldogs’ first-round win in Dillon last week at the Frontier Conference tourney. M.P. Regan photo

Things started well last Wednesday in the Frontier Conference tournament for the no. 17 University of Montana Western women’s basketball team.

But the second-seeded Lady Bulldogs’ league tourney abruptly ended a few days later the same way their regular-season league campaign concluded a week before—with a loss to Lewis-Clark State College.

The Western women staged a ferocious second-half rally in the quarterfinals of the Frontier tournament on Wednesday to blast past seventhseeded Montana State UniversityNorthern, 62-48.

“I want to congratulate MSU-Northern for winning—the first half of the game,” smiled Board of Regents Chair Casey Lozar at the opening of a regents meeting held the following day on the UMW campus, “and to congratulate the University of Montana Western Lady Bulldogs for winning their first playoff game.”

Down by three points at halftime, the Lady Dawgs more than tripled-up the Northern Lights in the game’s third quarter, outscoring their guests, 20-6, to establish an 11-point lead the Western women sustained in double digits for the rest of the contest.

“It was a good finish—definitely better than how we started. We brought a lot of energy in the second half,” said UMW freshman forward Gracey Meyer, who recorded a dozen points in the win.

“I thought we did a much better job of being more patient offensively in the second half,” said UMW Head Coach Lindsay Woolley of his team’s performance last Wednesday.

“And defensively, we weren’t doing a good job of playing together, or rotating and plugging the paint in the first half. We were just relying on our kids to be individual defenders. I thought for the second half we did a really nice job of working together as a unit,” said Woolley, winner of last year’s NAIA Coach of the Year award.

“Coach Woolley just told us, they were playing tougher than we were, and that the team that wants it more is the team that’s going to come out on top. So, we had some people step up,” said UMW sophomore forward Brynley Fitzgerald, who leapt up to new heights in the game.

The former BCHS standout scored a college-career high 24 points against MSUN while converting 5 of 8 efforts from beyond the arc.

“There are just some games when you feel it more than others, and I guess this was just one of those games,” said the 5-foot-11-inch Fitzgerald of her long-range shooting against MSUN.

“Northern is a team that is not going to pressure you much out there. They kind of packed the paint, so we were definitely looking for opportunities out there,” added Fitzgerald, whose outside shooting has added a major new threat to UMW’s offensive arsenal.

“Brynley has been playing with a lot of confidence and much better on the offensive end the last six or seven games,” said Woolley of Fitzgerald, who averaged better than 15 points a game in the four games before the Dawgs’ loss to LCSC.

“Hitting 3s opens everything up for her inside,” said Woolley of Fitzgerald, who has been regularly blowing past players to get to the basket over the past month.

“And we needed another perimeter shooting threat out there, and she has definitely stepped into that role.”

The Lady Bulldogs stepped into a bit of an ambush three days later on their home court, where no. 21 Lewis-Clark State College outscored them by 21 points across the first three quarters on the way to a 75-58 victory and a spot in the league tourney final against Providence that tipped off last night after the Dillon Tribune went to press.

Next up for the Lady Bulldogs, a long wait to see if they gain a spot in the NAIA Women’s Basketball Championship tourney set to start next week in Billings.

“I think we are probably in. They’re not usually a lot of movement between polls. We may drop a spot or two or three, but to be safely inside top 20 usually means you’re good to go,” said Woolley of his team’s chance to dance at the tourney in Billings, where the Lady Bulldogs waltzed all the way to the national title last year.

“We are excited to see who we will play,” said Woolley of a selection process that will conclude today, Wednesday, March 11, with the unveiling of the tourney brackets during the tourney bracket live on Facebook, starting at 8 p.m. MST.

“Maybe the most exciting thing about the national tournament is it gives our kids the chance to play against teams they haven’t played before. Our season is such a grind, playing every other team in the Frontier Conference three or four times,” said Woolley of the claustrophobic scheduling routine in the seven-team Frontier Conference.

“At least I know, we are not going to playing somebody else from the Frontier,” laughed Woolley, who believes up to four other teams—Lewis-Clark State College, Providence, Carroll College and tourney host Rocky Mountain College could gain covered national tourney bids.

“They have to give it two rounds at the national tourney before you can potentially play somebody from your league.”

See next week’s Dillon Tribune for a preview of the March 18-24 NAIA women’s tourney and preview of Montana Western’s first-round opponent.