By Brad Griffin
No. 1 seed Missouri Western simply out-played the No. 8 seed Montana State â€“Billings (22-10) Friday night en route to their first NCAA tournament win since a 2001 first-round victory.
The host Griffons (30-3) cruised to an 80-59 win over a Montana State – Billings team that they had already defeated 75-56 on Dec. 2. The win moves Western to a perfect 16-0 at the MWSU Fieldhouse this season.
â€œI just liked the way our kids played hard and competed,â€ Western coach Josh Keister said. â€œI thought we were sharp tonight. We passed the ball well. At halftime we had 14 assists to five turnovers.â€
The score was 3-3 in the early minutes, but unfortunately for Montana State (22-10), thatâ€™s about as close as they would get all night long. Missouri Western dominated the paint in the first half with 30 of their 47 first-half points coming from inside, including 12 from senior Inga Buzoka.
â€œMy teammates find me real well,â€ Buzoka said. â€œI post up and they just throw me the ball.â€
The Griffons were also strong in transition, outscoring the Yellowjackets 17-0 in points off of turnovers in the first-half alone, with many of those points coming off assists from Tiffany Davis, who had 11 on the night to go with her 10 points and seven steals.
â€œWhen I get the ball in my hands, if I have my teammates in front of me we do a better job of scoring offensively in transition,â€ Davis said. â€œWe just like to run, and thatâ€™s the way we play.â€
At the end of the first-half Western enjoyed a comfortable 47-31 lead.
When all was said and done, the lady Griffons were led in scoring by Ashleigh Curry with 22 points, five more than her season average. Buzoka finished with 16 points on 8-10 shooting and five rebounds, receiving some well-deserved rest in the second half.
Missouri Western shot an outstanding 61.8 percent from the field in the first-half, and finished the game with 50 percent. While there was no doubt the offense was clicking, Keister mentioned that in the NCAA tournament, it will be the Griffonsâ€™ ability to guard that will allow them to keep winning.
As for Montana State â€“ Billings, there two best players were still able to put up fairly good numbers against the Western defense. Forward Michelle Lieber did her best to keep the Yellowjackets in the game with 26 points and 14 rebounds, her 13th double-double of the season. But, the Heartland Conference Player of the Year was held to 10-21 shooting, under her nation-leading average of 70.3 percent from the field. Sophomore guard Alira Carpenter scored 15 points in the first-half but managed only two points after the break.
â€œCarpenter was great the first half, but Yanique took it a little personal and guarded her tough the second half,â€ Keister said.
With their first NCAA tournament win since 2001 in hand, the Missouri Western Griffons can begin to look ahead to a second-round South Central Regional game against a tough and physical Texas A&M Commerce team, which upset MIAA powerhouse Emporia State 81-77 prior to the Missouri Western game.
â€œWe actually recruited a couple of their kids and know how good they are,â€ Keister said. â€œObviously when you beat Emporia State youâ€™re doing something right.â€