Western women top Rocky

By 
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Lady Bulldogs were playing a long way from home coming off a lengthy holiday break and missing arguably their most important cog.

But the well-oiled, retooled machine that is the University of Montana Western women’s basketball program just kept rolling.

The defending NAIA national champion UMW Lady Bulldogs used their opportunistic defense and offense to cruise to an impressive 79-66 victory over Rocky Mountain College in Billings on Monday evening.

“I didn’t think we were in great shape, but we were in good enough shape,” said UMW Head Coach Lindsay Woolley of his team’s fitness level coming off a three-week break.

“Towards the end of third and into fourth quarter, our defense turned things up a notch to see the game out,” added Woolley of a critical 4-minute-23-second interval that saw his team take a game tied, 50-50, to a 58-51 advantage after harassing Rocky into shooting 0 for 5 from the field and coughing up three turnovers, despite missing Frontier Conference Defensive Player of the Year Paige Holmes.

A minute and a half later, the hosts mounting frustrations with Western’s defensive prowess led to a barreling offensive foul by Rocky’s Kloie Thatcher, who ran over UMW’s Sydney Sheridan on the way toward the basket in a move that looked more like something you’d see on a football special teams tackle or on a bowling alley.

Sheridan bravely held her ground before getting knocked down to it, then picking herself up and carrying on. And just 11 seconds later at the other end of the floor, Mesa King took a slick pass from fellow UMW forward Brynley Fitzgerald to put the Bulldogs up 10 points.

Rocky never got closer than to the outskirts of a run’s distance after that, as the Lady Bulldogs continued to effectively protect their basket and win the battle of the boards.

“I challenged our kids in practice to rebound better, and they responded, especially Brynley Fitzgerald,” said Woolley of the 5-foot-11-inch forward who led UMW with a seasonhigh 15 rebounds, while also scoring 19 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field.

Shainy Mack led Western’s scoring efforts with 22 points on 8 of 13 FG shooting, while Sheridan contributed 14 and King chipped in with 10, as the visitors hit better than 48 percent of their field goal attempts and put eight players in the scoring column.

“I think we are a team that has to be balanced in scoring, with different players leading us every night,” commented Woolley, who has eight players occupying the interval between averaging 4.2 points per game and Fitzgerald’s team-leading 14.8 ppg.

The Western women continue to put in a balanced effort preventing other teams from scoring, as they flustered Rocky into 23 turnovers.

“Our kids were getting aggressive and getting into passing lanes. Our defense right now is about trying to make teams play at a high tempo that they are probably not used to,” said Woolley, whose Lady Bulldogs used relentless defensive pressure all over the court on Monday against Rocky to grab 14 steals, one below their season per game average.

“At times on defense, we look really good, but other times we don’t look good at all,” laughed Woolley, of the high-risk, highreward defensive approach his team is taking this season.

Even with their senior leader Holmes out indefinitely with injury, the Lady Bulldogs look capable of sustaining success as the conference season gets into higher gear due to the depth they enjoy because of a fresh crop of emerging players to complement their solid foundation of veterans.

“That is why you have players on the roster—to play them when you need them,” said Woolley, who led UMW to the NAIA national title in 2019.

“We will have some kids come in tomorrow and play more than they are used to,” said Woolley, who would also be missing Jenni Weber when his Lady Bulldogs took the floor for a rematch with Rocky last night after the Dillon Tribune went to press.

For a recap of the Montana Western women’s second game against Rocky, and the Lady Bulldogs’ home doubleheader in Dillon this weekend against Montana State University-Northern, see next week’s Dillon Tribune.

WESTERN 79, ROCKY 66

UMW team and individual stats Points (79) – Shainy Mack 22, Brynley Fitzgerald 19, Sydney Sheridan 14, Mesa King 10, Natali Denning 5, Jenni Weber 4, Jayden Winslow 3, Lily Gopher 2. 3-Point Shooting (8-25) – Fitzgerald 3-6, Mack 2-5, Sheridan 2-6, Winslow 1-5, Weber 0-2, King 0-1. Rebounds (35) – Fitzgerald 15. Assists (20) – Sheridan 6, Fitzgerald 4, Mack 4. Steals (14) – Mack 5, Sheridan 3. Blocks (2) – Sheridan 2.

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