By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
BUTTE - It was an outright beating.
The University of Montana-Western Bulldogs outshot, out-rebounded, outhustled, outscrapped and generally outplayed the Montana State University-Northern women's basketball team on Monday night. The Bulldogs cruised to an easy 80-54 win over the Skylights in semifinal action of the Frontier Conference women's tournament.
With the win, Western advances to tonight's championship game and will face fourth-seeded Lewis-Clark State, which upset top-seeded Carroll College, 72-71, in the other semifinal.
Northern led only once in the game. The Skylights grabbed a 2-0 lead on a score from Brettney Vermandel inside.
But that was it for Northern. Western retook the lead on a jump shot by former Havre High standout Alyssa Matter and a three-pointer by Megan Schmitz to take a 5-2 lead. The Bulldogs never looked back, outscoring Northern 18-6 over the next five minutes to take a 23-8 lead.
"We came out with high energy, forced a few turnovers and got some easy baskets early on," said Western head coach Kevin Engellant. "We knew we had to come out early with intensity to match up with Northern's athleticism."
While Western was the aggressor, Northern looked tentative, a step slow on defense and out of sync on offense.
"I thought we were really focused before the game and knew what we had to do," said head coach Mike Erickson. "We came out just flat and they were just going right past us. Nobody had a good game."
Down 15 points before the opening jitters even had time to wear off, Northern was fighting for its collective life. And Western wasn't about to let up. It didn't matter what defense the Skylights played. The Bulldogs simply picked it apart. Man-to-man? Western drove past them. Zone? The Bulldogs buried three-pointer after three-pointer. Western rolled to a 49-24 lead at halftime.
"I don't know if it was the elevation or what," Erickson said "But we don't have any excuses because they're playing in the same place. We just played with no will. We're a better team than we displayed tonight. I think we were embarrassed more than they are down."
Northern shot an icy 32 percent from the field in the first half and committed 11 turnovers that led to 14 points for Western.
Things got only marginally better for the Skylights in the second half. Northern was finally able to put together back-to-back baskets for the first time since early in the first half. Still, every time the Skylights tried to put together a run, Western answered with clutch baskets of its own.
"We shot the ball with confidence and did a good job of executing in our half-court offense," Engellant said. "When you're shooting that well, it's easy to play with confidence."
The Skylights' only run of the second half came at the 15:18 mark as they put together nine consecutive points to cut the lead to 58-38. But Western answered almost immediately with an 8-0 run of its own to push the lead back to 68-42.
"We just wanted to put them away," Matter said. "We haven't been real good about doing that this season. But we did tonight."
Indeed, Western sank 10 of 12 free throws down the stretch to keep the big lead. Conversely, Northern was an anemic 8 of 20 from the free-throw line for the game.
"They beat us in every facet of the game," Erickson said. "Western knows what it takes to win a championship. You can't just win on athleticism. You have to win on fundamentals at this level and we didn't do that."
Western had four players in double figures, led by Katherine Sunwall's 18 points and 13 rebounds. Hillary Taylor added 17 points on a variety of drives and jump shots. Megan Schmitz added 12 points on four three-pointers, while Jamie Buell added 10 points.
Northern was led by Jessi Reome with 11 points, but the Skylights failed to place another player in double figures.
The Skylights end their season with a 21-13 record.
"I called timeout with one minute left to get Anna (Bateman) out of the game because she was in total pain," Erickson said. "But I looked at the rest of them and told them to remember this feeling tonight. Remember how bad it hurt because it should motivate them for next year."
Montana St.-Northern (21-13)
Valgardson 2-6 3-7 7, Pullin 3-9 2-5 8, Bateman 3-10 0-0 7, Mohamed 2-6 2-4 6, Vermandel 1-2 0-0 2, Johnson 1-2 1-2 3, Reome 5-12 0-2 11, Lohse 1-2 0-0 2, Buffington 0-0 0-0 0, Heggem 2-7 0-0 6, Darlington 0-0 0-0 0, VanDyke 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 21-60 8-20 54
Matter 3-6 2-2 9, Schmitz 4-9 0-0 12, Taylor 6-11 4-4 17, Buell 2-9 5-6 10, Sunwall 8-15 2-4 18, Scott 2-9 0-0 6, Suhr 1-2 0-0 2, Gradert 2-3 2-2 6. Totals 28-64 15-19 80.
Halftime-Western 49, Northern 24. 3-point goals-Northern 4-16 (Pullin 0-2, Bateman 1-6, Reome 1-4, Heggem 2-4), Western 9-25 (Matter 1-3, Schmitz 4-7, Taylor 1-1, Buell 1-6, Scott 2-7, Suhr 0-1). Fouled out-Gradert. Rebounds-Northern 34 (Valgardson 8), Western 43 (Sunwall 13). Assists-Northern 12 (Valgardson 3, Bateman 3), Western 15 (Matter 4, Buell 4).
Total fouls-Northern 15, Western 19.