BOZEMAN — Even if Tyler Hall had been fully healthy it might not have made a difference. UC Santa Barbara was too strong, too seasoned and too savvy for Montana State on Saturday at Worthington Arena.
Hall, the Bobcats’ star junior guard, is fighting through an ankle injury and was a game-time decision to play against the Gauchos. He did play and was much more himself, scoring a team-high 19 points in 31 minutes, which coach Brian Fish said was more production than expected.
But MSU’s defense collapsed, particularly in the second half, in a 91-69 loss. Leland King II scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Gauchos' charge.
“They had a purpose today, we knew what that purpose would be,” Fish said of UCSB. “We prepared for that, we just couldn’t get it done.”
Whether posting up or shooting from the perimeter, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound King was indomitable. He made 10 of 17 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He scored 17 points in the second half.
Gabe Vincent added 20, while Max Heidegger, the leading scorer in the Big West Conference, added 19 points. Moving the ball with precision, the Gauchos shot just under 57 percent and scored 38 points in the paint. It was UCSB’s seventh consecutive victory.
“Our defense today was awful. I don’t know how else to put it,” MSU forward Sam Neumann said. “Especially me personally. I didn’t do well on defense.
“The coaches are trying to find something that works for us, unfortunately we couldn’t (execute) it.”
From an individual standpoint, it was a bounce-back performance for Hall. He made 7 of 12 shots and didn’t look anywhere near as gimpy as he did Friday while being mostly limited to observation during practice.
Four days earlier in a loss at Central Michigan, Hall only played 11 minutes and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. He had aggravated his ankle injury — which was originally incurred on Nov. 15 — in a previous win at Milwaukee and his mobility became decidedly limited.
“He’d been improving even though he didn’t get to practice,” Fish said. “You could tell he was a little tired, but for the most part he was pretty active.”
So Saturday was a step in the right direction for Hall’s health, though that was of little consolation.
The Bobcats, who got 12 points off the bench from Joe Mvuezolo and 10 from point guard Harald Frey, have played a steady diet of games without much practice time. But the team now has an eight-day stretch through finals week in which it won’t play.
That will give the team some time to shore up its defensive issues. MSU, now 6-5 overall, will host Denver on Dec. 18.
“It all starts with defense. We need to be better,” Neumann said. “That’s going to be the emphasis this next week. We’ve got to get ready to play.”
“We need a lot of practice and we need to get after it,” Fish said.
Nobody on Montana State’s women’s basketball team wants to see its lengthy home winning streak come to an end. Naturally, there was a palpable sense of relief Saturday as the Bobcats edged Stephen F. Austin in overtime.
The 59-54 victory, which was the second half of a doubleheader at Worthington Arena, stretched the streak to 29 games, the second-longest active run of home success in Division I.
“The thing that was stressful was that we just never got into an offensive flow based on what Stephen F. Austin was doing to,” Bobcats coach Tricia Binford said, noting the Lumberjacks' aggressive backcourt defense.
“I told the players afterward that a sign of a really good team — even when you are struggling on one end of the floor — is you still find ways to get it done, and our kids certainly did that.”
MSU’s Rebekah Hatchard almost won it at the buzzer in regulation, but her sweeping layup try at the end of a broken play rimmed in an out.
Oliana Squires made a series of big shots in both regulation and overtime, none more important than her deep 3-pointer that gave the Bobcats the early advantage in OT. Squires finished with a career-high 20 points, and made six 3-pointers.
“I let my shots come to me. I didn’t force anything,” Squires said. “My teammates found me and I was able to get the ball off and hit shots.”
Hannah Caudill also made a key 3-pointer in overtime as MSU grabbed a six-point lead. Delaney Junkermier was held to one point, but she had a career-high 11 rebounds.
MSU (6-4) doesn’t play again until Dec. 22 at BYU.