The confetti that rained down from the rafters of Worthington Arena on Feb. 22 may have been a harbinger of things to come for Montana State. At least that’s what the Bobcats are hoping for.
Behind 18 points from senior transfer Fallyn Frieje and five other players in double figures, MSU cruised past arch-rival Montana 92-78 to extend its current winning streak to 11 games after defeating Portland State 98-67 earlier in the week.
More importantly the win secured the top seed in the Big Sky Conference tournament which is scheduled to be played March 9-14 in Boise, Idaho. The Bobcats, who have not lost a conference game since a narrow 69-68 setback Jan. 9 at home against Idaho, now sport a 15-1 conference record and improve to 19-6 on the season with the win.
Montana State has now won at least a share of the Big Sky regular season title for the third time in five seasons and extended its winning streak to four straight games over Montana. MSU has not lost to the Grizzlies at home since the 2014-15 season.
The current 11-game winning streak is the second-longest in school history and trails only 1987-88 team that opened the season with 17 straight victories.
The league-leading Bobcats play host to Sacramento State (Thursday) and Northern Arizona (Saturday). A win in either of those contests would give MSU the conference title outright. MSU defeated Sacramento State 85-48 on the road (Dec. 28) and downed Northern Arizona 72-64 on Dec. 30 in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Northern Arizona, which is in second place in the Big Sky standings, has just three conference games remaining and cannot catch MSU in the standings. NAU got past Idaho 70-67 in two overtimes before a 63-58 triumph over Eastern Washington last week to improve to 12-5 in conference play.
That leaves Idaho as the only team still in the hunt for a share of the conference title. The Vandals rebounded from the loss to the Lumberjacks to defeat Sacramento State 96-88 in the Vandals’ third game of the week. They downed Portland State 65-52 on Feb. 17 and now has an 11-5 conference record and must win each of its final four games in order to have a chance at tying MSU for the conference title.
Idaho, which entertains Northern Colorado and Southern Utah this week, plays at Weber State (March 4) and at Idaho State (March 6) in the final two games of the regular season.
Freije, who played her first three seasons at North Dakota before transferring to Montana State, also led the Bobcats with eight rebounds in the win over Montana. Oliana Squires, Darian White, Tori Martell and Blaire Braxton all scored 15 points to provide the balance for MSU, which also got 10 points from Madeline Smith to subdue the Grizzlies. Braxton and Smith both added seven rebounds to provide balance in that department as well.
Big Sky Conference Marquee Game of the Week
Northern Arizona at Montana State
When: Saturday, Feb. 29. 2 p.m.
Where: Worthington Arena (7,000)
Television: Pluto TV (channel 538)
Any championship season can be likened to a game of dominoes and Fallyn Freije has proven to be the missing piece to the puzzle as Montana State, despite its recent success in winning two of four regular season championships heading into the 2019-20 season, has come up short in advancing to the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons.
Securing the top seed in the Big Sky tournament is the next step that was necessary as MSU hopes to go dancing next month. An outright title followed by a conference tournament title will send the Bobcats to the NCAA tournament for just the third time in school history.
NORTHERN ARIZONA LUMBERJACKS: NAU is looking to solidify its hold on the No. 2 seed for the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament with a pair of wins this week in Big Sky Country.
The Lumberjacks have a trio of players averaging in double figures in scoring paced by Khiarca Rasheed (5-11, Jr., F), who is averaging 16.7 points and a team-leading 7.2 rebounds per game this season. She has connected on 156-310 (.510) field goals attempts and is shooting 76 percent (106-140) from the free throw line for Northern Arizona. Rasheed has also tallied 29 steals and 26 assists this season.
Jacey Bailey (6-0, RS, Jr., G/F) ranks second behind Rasheed in scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.3 rpg) on the year and has 31 steals to rank second in that department as well. She has also been credited with 40 assists for the Lumberjacks.
Nina Radford, (6-0, RS, So., F) is the third member of NAU’s scoring machine with 12.2 points per game and has chipped in with an average of 4.2 rebounds per contest. Her 87 assists are the second most on the team this season and she has tallied 26 steals on the season.
MONTANA STATE BOBCATS: Fallyn Freije (6-0, Sr., F), a serious contender for numerous postseason honors, is having a season for the record books in Bozeman. Despite playing just one season at MSU, she has a chance to leave the school among the leaders in several categories, including career scoring average, free throw percentage, free throws made and rebounding average.
She is currently leading the Bobcats in scoring at 13.6 points per game and in rebounding with 7.9 caroms per outing and is shooting 44 percent (125-286) from the floor and has connected on 73 of 98 (.811) free throws this season. She ranks third on the team with her 53 assists and has tallied 22 steals on the year.
Darian White (5-6, Fr., G) has already had an impressive freshman season by averaging 12 points per game for the Bobcats to go along with her 4.9 rebounds per outing, which ranks her third on the team. Another solid shooter, White has connected on 102 of 227 (.447) field goal attempts and has added 81 of 99 (.818) free throws to help in her scoring output this season. A steady performer on both ends of the court, White lead the team with 65 steals and is second with 75 assists.
Oliana Squires (5-8, Sr., G) is the third MSU player to average in double figures in scoring. She is adding 10.9 points per game, including shooting 81 percent (26-32) from the foul line. Her 77 assists leads the team in that department and she ranks second in steals (34) behind White’s team-leading 65 thefts.
Big Sky Conference Women’s Basketball Standings
|Team||vs. Big Sky||Overall||RPI|
Last Week’s Results
Idaho 65, Portland State 52
Eastern Washington 78, Sacramento State 73
Idaho State 55, Weber State 41
Montana State 98, Portland State 67
Northern Arizona 70, Idaho 67 (2-OT)
Southern Utah 64, Northern Colorado 50
Idaho 96, Sacramento State 88
Idaho State 71, Northern Colorado 55
Montana State 92, Montana 78
Northern Arizona 63, Eastern Washington 58
Southern Utah 82, Weber State 66
This Week’s Games
Northern Arizona at Montana, 7 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 537)
Northern Colorado at Idaho, 7 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 542)
Sacramento State at Montana State, 7 p.m.
Southern Utah at Eastern Washington, 7:05 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 534)
Idaho State at Portland State, 8 p.m.
Northern Colorado at Eastern Washington, 1:05 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 534)
Northern Arizona at Montana State, 2 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 538)
Sacramento State at Montana, 2 p.m.
Southern Utah at Idaho, 2 p.m., Pluto TV (channel 542)
Weber State at Portland State, 2 p.m., Pluto TV
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.