BILLINGS – Wait a minute. Are you supposed to take defense seriously in all-star games?
For the Montana girls contingent of the Midland Roundtable basketball series, the answer was ‘yes’ the past two days.
Montana rolled up an 84-35 win over Wyoming Saturday night at the Rocky Mountain College Fortin Center, giving the Treasure State a weekend sweep of their rivals to the south. Coupled with a 61-37 win on Friday, Montana took a 31-13 lead in the series and has won the last five meetings.
Coach Wes Keller said he stressed defense ever since the all-stars gathered together on Wednesday. The players must have heeded, because the 37 points allowed Friday and then 35 points on Saturday were the fewest-allowed in the series since it began in 1997. In fact, the games marked the first two times a team had been held under 40 points.
“We took a lot of pride in our defense,” Belt’s Dani Urick said. “Our goal was to get stops and score, gets stops and score. That’s what we really put a big emphasis on.”
Five players scored in double figures for Montana, led by Kailee Oliverson’s 14. Jordyn Schweyen of Missoula Sentinel scored 12 points, Urick and Dillon’s Brynley Fitzgerald added 11, and Shainy Mack of Three Fork’s finished with 10.
The game was scoreless for the first 5:41 — they play 10-minute quarters in these games — so the 84-point output turned out to be pretty good, at least in the eyes of Keller, who liked the way his team found the open player.
“What stands out to me about this group is how unselfish they are,” he said.
Montana didn’t exactly light it up in the first game of the series. In fact, the 61 points scored on Friday marked the second-lowest total by a winning team in the series. (Montana scored a 57-55 win in 2014).
Oliverson, a Twin Bridges standout who was named the Northern Sports Network’s Miss Basketball before the game started, said the Montana team wanted to put on a better show for the home crowd. Montana didn’t let up at the end, either, outscoring Wyoming 29-4 over the game’s final 6½ minutes.
“Tonight we just wanted to make a final statement,” said Oliverson, who is headed to the University of Nevada to play in the Mountain West Conference. “It’s our last game playing in front of a Montana crowd for most of us, and our last game playing together. We just played off of each other and made the best out of it.”
Christy Dick of Casper Natrona led Wyoming with nine points. Emmery Wagstaff of Evanston added eight points.