GREAT FALLS -- For all the questions the Missoula Sentinel girls' basketball team had going into state -- or at least appeared to have -- the Spartans' first-round game Thursday was one emphatic answer.
Sentinel steamrolled to a 23-point first-half lead and a 50-29 victory while saying, yes, these Spartans are still the favorites for the State AA title at Great Falls' Four Seasons Arena.
"The kids believe," Sentinel coach Karen Deden said. "They're working hard and they know it's defense that's going to work for us."
The Sentinel D' held West to 12.5 percent shooting (2 of 16) in the first half as the Western AA champs crafted a 16-1 advantage before the Golden Bears knew what hit them.
The Spartans (20-1) endured their first and only defeat in their regular season finale two weeks ago when yet another key piece was lost for the season. That makes two starters to ACL injury, a third to a preseason transfer and a fourth off the bench injured just weeks before basketball practices began in the fall.
But for as good as Sentinel's stars are, there's always another jersey awaiting playing time in Deden's crew.
It started with Jordyn Schweyen, who scored 10 points in the first half, but the Spartans flexed their depth from there. Emma Blakely notched 10 to back up Schweyen's 12 total points, Kayla Daily added eight and Kylie Frohlich had seven.
"We definitely knew we had to work together and in practice we worked on our cuts," Daily said. "(Our confidence) is pretty high and we're ready for tomorrow."
Friday brings Great Falls CMR, the No. 2 seed out of the East that topped Helena Capital in its opener. That game is slated for 8 p.m.
West (13-7) was led by Ambreya Windy Boy's eight points and Shayla Montague added seven.
"Stuff we practiced the past couple of days, for whatever reason, just didn't complete our gameplan and execute it very well," West coach Charlie Johnson said. "State tournaments sometimes do that to players. They get nervous and what you work on and try to do just goes out the window and by that time the floodgates are open."
Bozeman 51, Glacier 47
Defending champion Bozeman held off Kalispell Glacier 51-47 in the opening round. Amber Tarabochia scored 17 points and Riana Rogers and Ashlyn Lewis each had nine points for the Hawks (15-6).
Glacier (8-14) tied things 44-44 when Anna Schrade hit a 3-pointer with 1:28 to play. Rogers answered though with her own three from the left corner with 46 seconds left in the game.
"We had a play drawn up and it wasn't necessarily -- the three is an option," Bozeman coach Erika Gustavsen said. "Ri came in clutch and knocked down that three."
Schrade scored 19 points for the Wolfpack.
Helena 37, Senior 29
The state's top two scoring teams endured a grueling and low-scoring battle in Thursday's State AA girls' basketball tournament, but No. 2 seed Helena prevailed with a 37-29 victory over Billings Senior.
The Bengals, who averaged 57.4 points in the regular season, led just 20-11 at halftime.
"It was definitely different than what we're used to," said Helena's Kamden Hilborn, who led her team with 14 points. "We're used to scoring way more than 20 points a half. I think just the intensity of state -- we were nervous, just trying to get in the flow was different for us."
Third-seeded Senior (13-7), which averaged 51.2 ppg, cut the Helena lead to two points, 29-27, with 4:15 to play and Helena left the door open after a Taelyr Krantz layup made it 31-27. The Bengals (18-3) missed the front end of back-to-back 1-and-1 free throw trips.
CMR 47, Capital 39
The Great Falls CMR girls looked right at home in their first State AA tournament game since 2012.
The second-seeded Rustlers (15-6) powered past Helena Capital 47-39 to reach the state semifinals after never trailing against the Bruins.
CMR went on an 11-0 run to close the third quarter, but a 16-point lead was whittled to just six twice. Both were because of Shelby VanHemelryck 3-pointers.
"They're a good team and I think we got a little bit too passive for our liking," Rustlers coach Brian Crosby said. "It's a good lesson, but then our kids responded -- made some shots, made some free throws."
Both Akasia Denton and Tristin Achenbach scored 13 points to pace CMR. Achenbach also grabbed 11 rebounds.
VanHemelryck topped the list for Capital (14-8) with nine points, all of them coming in the fourth quarter on a trio of triples.