With just over one month remaining before the start of the Big Sky Conference tournament it appears to be a three-team race for the top spot in the league standings.
Current league leader Montana State got its fifth straight conference triumph with a 66-61 win over arch-rival Montana to improve to 9-1 in conference play. The Bobcats have not lost against a conference foe since a 69-68 loss on Jan. 9 at home against Idaho.
Lauren Orndoff’s 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds left in the game proved to the game-winner as Northern Arizona remained in the hunt for the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament by defeating Idaho 71-70 on Feb. 1 in Moscow. It was the second straight win for the Lumberjacks, who defeated Sacramento State 85-65 two days earlier.
Northern Arizona led 68-63 with two minutes remaining in the game before the Vandals, the defending regular-season champions, went on a 7-0 run to take a 70-68 advantage with 16.6 seconds to go on a 3-pointer from Gina Marxen, who nailed a trey a short time earlier to pull her team to within 68-67.
After an offensive call against the Lumberjacks, Idaho had a chance to seal the win. A pair of missed free throws allowed NAU to mount its comeback. Caitlin Malvar drove on the defense before passing to Orndoff to cap the dramatic finish and hand Idaho its first home loss in seven games.
Malvar led four ‘Jacks in double figures with a career-best 18 points, including four 3-pointers to tie her career high in that department. Jacy Bailey, who had three treys of her own, finished with 13 points, while Khiarica Rasheed added 11 points of her own and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds in the triumph. Morgan Gary reached a career-high 10 points to reach double figures for the first time in her career.
Marxen finished with a game-high 22 points for the Vandals. Teammates Lizzy Klinker and Beyond Bea chipped in with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Idaho, meanwhile, fell off the pace for the conference lead with the setback to Northern Arizona and is now 7-2 in the league. The Vandals had won five straight games before the narrow setback to the Lumberjacks last weekend. They play three times this week beginning with Monday’s game at home against Sacramento State and will play host to Montana State on Feb. 6 before travelling to Montana for a Feb. 8 date against the Grizzlies.
NAU, which sits in third place in the conference standings heading into this week’s play, is now 7-3 in Big Sky play. The Lumberjacks play at Eastern Washington on Feb. 3 before entertaining Idaho State and Weber State later in the week.
Portland State, Montana and Idaho State are tied for fourth place in the league with identical 6-5 records.
Big Sky Conference Marquee Game of the Week
Montana State at Idaho
When: Thursday, Feb. 6, 7 p.m.
Where: Cowan Spectrum
Television: Pluto TV (Channel 542)
MONTANA STATE BOBCATS: MSU, which is averaging 73.5 points per game this season, is being paced by newcomer Fallyn Freije (6-0, Sr., F) and two other players who are averaging in double figures in scoring.
Freije, who played her first three seasons at North Dakota before transferring to Montana State, has started all 18 games for her new team and is averaging 12.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season to lead the way in both categories. A two-time Big Sky honorable mention selection while at UND, Freije has added 40 assists to rank third on the team in that department and is second on the team with eight blocked shots.
Darian White (5-6, Fr., G) is another newcomer who is scoring in double digits for the Bobcats. She enters this week’s game against Idaho with 11.4 points per game in her first collegiate season and her 4.8 rebounds per game are the third-most for a Bobcat this season. White also leads the team in assists (54) and steals (44).
Oliana Squires (5-8, Sr., G) is right behind with 11.3 points per game for the Bobats and is averaging 2.8 rebounds per contest. She ranks second on the team with 47 assists and is tied for second with 25 steals on the season for Montana State.
IDAHO VANDALS: Idaho is being led by a trio of standouts who are accounting for more than half of the Vandals’ 62.9 points per game. Gina Marxen (5-8, SO., G) leads the way with 13.6 points per game this season and is averaging 4.2 rebounds per contest to rank fifth on the team in that department. Marxen is also leading the team with 71 assists and her 15 steals in the third-most on the Vandal squad this season.
Beyonce Bea (6-1, So., G/P) is second the team with 12.3 points per game and is third with six rebounds per outing. She is also third on the Vandal squad with 35 assists so far this season. Lizzy Klinker (5-10, Sr., G) is also in double figures in scoring with 10.9 points per game and leads the Vandals with 6.9 rebounds per game this season. Her 17 steals leads the way for the Vandals on the year and her 24 assists in the fourth-most in that department.
Big Sky Women’s Basketball Standings
|Team||vs. Big Sky||Overall||RPI|
Last Week’s Results
Idaho 71, Southern Utah 56
Northern Arizona 85, Sacramento State 65
Northern Colorado 63, Eastern Washington 42
Idaho State 59, Northern Colorado
Montana 62, Portland State 55
Southern Utah 87, Weber State 71
Idaho State 73, Southern Utah 54
Montana State 66, Montana 61
Northern Arizona 71, Idaho 70
Northern Colorado 69, Weber State 65
Sacramento State 74, Eastern Washington 67
This Week’s Games
Northern Arizona at Eastern Washington, 7 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 534)
Sacramento State at Idaho, 7 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 542)
Montana at Eastern Washington, noon, Pluto TV (Channel 534)
Idaho at Northern Arizona, 6:30 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 539)
Montana State at Idaho, 7 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 542)
Weber State at Sacramento State, 8 p.m.
Eastern Washington at Montana State, 2 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel
Idaho at Montana, 2 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 537)
Weber State at Northern Arizona, 2 p.m., Pluto TV (Channel 539)
Southern Utah at Portland State, 3 p.m., Pluto TV (532)
Idaho State at Sacramento State, 3:05 p.m.
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.