Rachel Semansky took the lead when Montana State needed it most.
Semansky steered the Bobcats’ ship into calmer waters Saturday with a 28-point, 11-rebound performance to help secure a much-needed 69-65 victory over Weber State in Bozeman.
The win snapped MSU’s six-game losing streak, a run of futility that was threatening the Cats’ postseason prospects. It was the sixth double-double of the season for Semansky, a senior forward from Highwood.
“We knew if we wanted to snap the streak and get out of our funk that it would be the upperclassmen that would have to lead the way,” Bobcats coach Tricia Binford said. “We relied heavily on Rachel and we did a nice job getting her the ball.”
The Bobcats held a comfortable second-half lead over winless Weber State, but the Wildcats went on an 18-2 run to close the gap late.
If you think MSU’s losing streak was bad, Weber State came in winless in 42 consecutive games dating back to December of 2011, and hadn’t won a league contest since the 2010-11 season.
Obviously, it would have been a demoralizing loss for the Bobcats.
Semansky, though, took over late with a couple big baskets — including one with 12 seconds left that ended the threat.
Prior to their losing streak, the Bobcats had won seven in a row and shot to the top of the Big Sky Conference standings. But now, MSU (15-10, 9-7) sits in fifth place in the league with a key game against first-place Montana coming up March 2 in Bozeman.
As for Semansky, she’s played big all year.
Semansky averages team-highs of 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and her .578 shooting percentage leads the Big Sky and ranks in the top 15 in the nation.
The Bobcats will need the same production from Semansky down the stretch.
The Big Sky schedule is lean this week on the men’s side of things — there are just two games on the schedule — due to the annual ESPN BracketBusters event.
Every Big Sky team will participate in this year’s BracketBusters lineup.
Montana travels to face Southern Conference opponent Davidson on Saturday. An intriguing matchup, it will be one of 13 televised games (ESPNU, 1 p.m.). Montana State will host South Dakota of the Summit League on Sunday. It will not be televised.
Davidson (19-7, 14-1 SoCon) has been one of the top mid-major programs in the nation of the course of the past decade. The Wildcats won 25 games last season and made the NCAA tournament. They won 29 games in back-to-back years in 2007 and ’08.
Davidson nearly made the Final Four in 2008 but lost by two points to eventual national champion Kansas in the Elite 8. The Wildcats were led that year by high-scoring guard Stephen Curry.
This is the 11th and final year of the BracketBusters event, which pits NCAA tournament hopefuls from mid-major or non-power conferences against each other on the final weekend of February.
ESPN announced in December that it will discontinue the event after this season.
It ended with a thud.
Montana’s 27-game winning streak against the Big Sky Conference was halted last Thursday in an 87-63 thumping at Weber State, a game that was played in front of 7,494 fans at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.
The Grizzlies were never really in the game, falling behind by double digits in the first half. From there, Weber State cruised.
Of Montana’s 27 straight wins against the league, 25 were in the regular season. That broke the longstanding record of 24 set by Weber State from 1968-69 to 1969-70.
The Grizzlies also saw their 14-game winning streak end; it was the second-longest active streak in Division I. The loss was also UM’s first on the road against a Big Sky team in 12 tries.
The Dee Events Center is a tough place at which to win. Montana hasn’t won a regular season game there since 2004.
“The streak is over and it ended in a real crash,” Griz coach Wayne Tinkle told The Missoulian afterward. “The test now is to see what we’re made of. We’ll see what our maturity is all about. We’ve been dodging bullets here for a little while. Tonight it caught up to us.”
UM, now 19-5 overall and 15-1 in the conference, bounced back two nights later to beat Idaho State 61-54. It marks the second straight year the Grizzlies have won 15 conference games.
Kenzie keeps going
Kenzie De Boer’s big week helped Montana remain atop the Big Sky women’s standings.
The De Boer-led Lady Griz beat both Weber State and Idaho State at home last week to improve to 19-6 overall and 13-3 in the league, a half-game ahead of second-place Northern Colorado.
De Boer, a senior guard from Lynden, Wash., averaged 21.5 points, five rebounds and three steals in the two games.
Against ISU on Saturday, De Boer had 24 points (including 12 in the opening seven minutes), five rebounds and four steals. She shot 9 for 16 from the field, including 3 for 3 from 3-point range. It was her fifth 20-plus-point game of the season.
The two-game performance earned for De Boer a share of the Big Sky’s player of the week honor Monday. She shared the award with Northern Colorado’s D’shara Strange, who broke UNC’s career record for steals last week.
Around the league
Weber State’s Davion Berry and Northern Colorado’s Derrick Barden shared the Big Sky men’s player of the week award Monday. Berry averaged 17 points in three Wildcat wins. He had 16 points and six assists in the win over Montana. Barden averaged 21 points and 10 rebounds in two UNC victories. … Idaho State sophomore Chris Hansen made a school-record nine 3-pointers in an 87-51 win over Montana State on Saturday. Hansen was 9-of-11 from 3-point range, which is the sixth-most made by a Division I player this season. It tied for the fifth-most made in a game in Big Sky history. … Seven bids are available for this year’s Big Sky postseason tournament. Montana and Weber State have each secured a bid. Essentially, seven teams — North Dakota, Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado, Montana State and Eastern Washington — are fighting over the final five spots.