Big Sky ConferenceMontana State Bobcats


Rigorous season comes to end for Montana State women in Big Sky semifinals

Katelynn Limardo
Posted at 3:08 PM, Mar 12, 2024

BOISE, Idaho — The gas tank finally hit empty for the Montana State women's basketball team Tuesday afternoon.

A unique and challenging season came to an end for the fourth-seeded Bobcats in a 56-39 loss to No. 1 Eastern Washington in the semifinal round of the Big Sky Conference tournament at Idaho Central Arena.

Decimated by injury earlier in the year and seemingly running on fumes, the Bobcats still managed to make it to the doorstep of the conference title game. They just didn't have enough to escape top-seeded EWU.

"Eastern Washington was really, really good today," MSU coach Binford said. "A lot of pressure. We brought our defense again today but I felt like we lost (our) legs."

The Bobcats shot just 25.9% from the floor and made 3 of 22 3-point attempts. MSU won a game in which it had a similar stat profile the day before in the quarterfinals against Nothern Colorado, but Eastern Washington got 16 points from Jacinta Buckley and 12 more from Big Sky MVP Jamie Loera while shooting 46.8% as a team to pull away.

Montana State's season — the Cats finished 17-16 — was complicated by injuries throughout the year.

Notably, season-ending ailments to leading scorer Lexi Deden (knee) in November and 6-foot-6 Lindsey Hein (foot) in January came after the loss of projected starter Dylan Philip earlier in the preseason. Katelynn Limardo also missed time after suffering a neck injury against Montana on Jan. 20.

Those calamities forced Binford and the coaching staff to tinker with the lineup and use younger players who otherwise wouldn't have been rushed into the lineup.

"Never seen anything like it, first of all," Binford said of the season that was. "We were creating a new identity. We had a pretty good core of returners and we had a lot of freshmen. When it first started hitting us was after our second exhibition game when we had Dylan Philip go out. All of a sudden we're throwing in Natalie Picton and Izzy Bunyan into the starting point guard and backup point guard role. And we're throwing them into one of our most difficult preseason schedules ever.

"We started to get a little bit of rhythm in the Cancun tournament, and that's when we lost Lexi Deden. And then you're having Marah (Dykstra) and Taylor (Janssen) have some different pieces. We're pulling Ella (Johnson) out of redshirting we're pulling Lea (Boulanger) out of redshirting. And then Lindsey had the injury ... we had some (other) starters going in and and out for other injuries.

"We just couldn't afford to have mistakes on the floor. We were always in a situation where we had a little room for error. And our kids battled through that and they took a lot from us. We were extremely hard on them. And they continued to respond every time."

Against EWU on Tuesday, Limardo led the Bobcats with nine points while Madison Hall finished with eight. Picton and Janssen had seven each.

But the shots just wouldn't fall. MSU was 14 for 54 from the field and finished their two tournament games with a sub-30% shooting rate.

Still, the Bobcats believe they made strides in 2023-24, and their younger players got valuable experience they might not have acquired in a "normal" season.

"Being around these girls and being able to watch them grow, I think next year is going to be super special," said Hall, who will join the MSU coaching staff next season as a graduate assistant. "I'm just here for the ride. Absolutely, I'm super excited."