UMW point guard Brianna King leads team into national tournament today at Billings

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King for a season

Montana Western point guard Brianna King led the Lady Bulldogs to the NAIA Division I National Tournament with a spectacular season that earned her Frontier Conference “Player of the Year.” The Lady Bulldogs play today at 1:45 p.m. J.P. Plutt photo

She led the league in scoring and her team to a berth in the national tournament.

For that, and numerous other accomplishments during her stellar 2017–18 campaign, University of Montana Western’s Brianna King earned Frontier Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, the league announced last week.

“She is definitely deserving of it,” said Montana Western Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lindsay Woolley of King, who averaged 18.9 points per game this season for a Lady Bulldogs team that also placed Britt Cooper and Cierra Lamey on the all-conference roster.

“Obviously, she had a great yearscoring, making big plays down the stretch, and that came with the team having success,” added Woolley of his 5-foot-5-inch point guard who helped the Lady Dawgs to a 24-8 overall record and second-place finish second in the Frontier Conference with a 13-5 league maårk.

More importantly, King played a huge role in helping the Western women for the second consecutive year, earn an at-large bid to the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament set to be played March 14–20 at the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in Billings.

“The players are still excited to get to go to the national tourney,” said Woolley, who last season shepherded the Lady Dawgs to the program’s first national tourney appearance in a decade.

Seeded fourth in their tourney’s Duer Bracket, the Western women will play their opening-round game in the 32-team, single-elimination competition against fifth-seed Dillard today, Wednesday, March 14, starting at 1:45 p.m. MST.

“We haven’t had the chance to watch much of them,” said Woolley of 24-5 Dillard, the New Orleans-based team that gained the no. 19 ranking in the final NAIA Coaches poll that put Montana Western at no. 14 when it was released last Wednesday.

“It looks like guard play is their strength. They have four players who score in double figures,” added Woolley of the Bleu Devils, who feature a quartet of players averaging between 11.1 and 13.9 points per contest.

With four players grabbing 4.8 and 6.1 rebounds per game, Dillard also takes a balanced team approach to the battle of the boards, as well as perimeter defense, where the Bleu Devils led the nation by harassing opponents into shooting under 23 percent from beyond the arc.

But the Western women also featured one of the nation’s top defenses this season, limiting opponents to just 55.5 points per game.

Forwards Britt Cooper and Cierra Lamey played big roles in the Dawg defense and offense while distinguishing themselves as all-conference selections.

An honorable mention all-conference honoree last season, the 5-foot-11-inch Cooper got promoted to the Frontier’s second team for her efforts this season, when she proved secondbest in the league in rebounding (7.8 rpg) and blocking shots (1.3 bpg), while contributing 8.8 points per contest.

“She’s got good hands and something else you can’t coach—good instincts and good court sense,” said Woolley of Cooper, a junior out of Harrison who plays tough defense in the low post, usually against taller players, and twice this season hauled down an astounding 16 rebounds in a game against a Frontier foe.

A multi-sport local legend for her exploits at BCHS, Lamey continued to emerge as a force on the next level this season for UMW.

“She has worked extremely hard and we’re all happy for her success,” said Woolley of the 5-foot-11-inch junior, who transferred to UMW last season after spending her freshman year at MSU-Billings.

“And I’m confident she will have a good national tourney,” continued the UMW head coach of the Wise River product, who averaged 9.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in the 2017–18 season—and showed she could go off for more, when needed, as evidenced by her 37-point outburst across a pair of league games in February that helped earn her Frontier Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week honors.

King remained the consistent standout for the Dawgs and the entire conference this season, picking up five Frontier Conference and one NAIA Player of the Week awards.

“She handles the ball as well as any girl I’ve seen at this level,” said Woolley of King, who went off for more than 30 points four times this season and set the school’s single-game scoring record with 37 points against Eastern Oregon in November.

“She is such a gifted scorer, but not a selfish player,” continued Woolley of his star point guard, who averages almost 3 assists per game.

A hard-nosed, end-to-end defender who disrupts opposing offenses even before they have a chance to get into their halfcourt sets, King snared 2.3 steals per game during the season.

“We ask a lot of her,” said Woolley, “and she delivers.”

If King and her teammates deliver a victory over Dillard today, they would play in the second round in Billings on Friday, starting at 10:45 a.m. (note: the tourney bracket released by the NAIA includes a misprint that lists that game time as 10:45 p.m.). That Sweet 16 round game would pit the Dawgs against the winner of the first-round matchup between 3-point-shooting specialists Faulkner and Campellsville, the no. 3 ranked team in the NAIA.

“We’re somewhat familiar with Campbellsville because we played them in past,” recalled Woolley of a December 2014 meeting between his team and the Lady Tigers, who posted a 28-5 mark this season.

“But we have to win in the first round before we think too much about who we might play down the line,” said Woolley, whose Dawgs last year advanced to the national tourney’s second round, where they led late before falling to eventual national champion Oklahoma City.

“Most of our kids have played in the building and we’d like to think playing in the national tourney last year will help us,” said Woolley, who travelled with the team to Billings on Monday.

“We’re just trying to keep our players fresh and relaxed,” said Woolley, whose Dawgs last played on March 3 in the semifinals of the Frontier Conference playoffs.

“This will be their biggest break between games since the start of the season.”

The University of Montana Western will play an opening-round game against Dillard in the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship tournament today, Wednesday, March 14, starting at 1:45 p.m. The fourth game of the day, the UMWDillard showdown could see its tipoff time pushed back if earlier games run longer than expected.

For regular updates on the tomorrow’s game and any other contests Montana Western competes in at the national tourney this week, check MPRegan@Dillon_Tribune on Twitter or the Dillon Tribune website.