BOZEMAN — After a blistering first half, Hannah Caudill and the Montana State women’s basketball team were stuck in a rut and unable to score against a Wyoming squad intent on snapping the Bobcats’ lengthy home winning streak.
But when it counted, with 6,012 fans providing full-throated support in the inaugural Bobcat School Day game, Caudill and MSU made enough plays to pull out a 50-46 victory Wednesday at Worthington Arena.
The win was the Bobcats’ 28th consecutive at home, a continuation of the second-longest such streak in Division I (trailing only UConn). It also served as the 200th victory for longtime MSU coach Tricia Binford.
And it happened in front of more than 5,000 K-8 students visiting Montana State from Billings, Butte, Helena and places in between.
“It (felt) like a championship experience,” Binford said of the boisterous atmosphere.
Caudill finished with a game-high 17 points, though she was held to only five in the second half as the Cowgirls toughened up on defense.
Yet it was Caudill who made two key free throws with 13 seconds left to give the Bobcats a three-point cushion. And after Selale Kepenc’s game-tying 3-point attempt was blocked by Madeline Smith, Delany Junkermier added another foul shot with three seconds left to seal it.
Caudill hit four first-half 3s as MSU bolted out to a 31-16 halftime lead. But Wyoming didn’t go away.
“I don’t know what it was,” Caudill said. “We didn’t show as much effort and energy. We didn’t talk as much on the defensive end. We had some lazy plays. That’s what the difference was from the first half to the second half.”
It was a Treasure State homecoming for Wyoming senior guard Liv Roberts, a Missoula native who helped Sentinel High win three Class AA titles from 2012-14. The Bobcats, who toughened up on defense in their own right, limited Roberts to eight points on 4-of-13 shooting in 35 minutes.
Roberts, who said “it’s always a blast” to come home to Montana to play, is working her way back to full strength after tearing her ACL last February in a game against rival Colorado State.
“Credit to them for playing really well defensively,” Roberts said. “We really struggled from the field. That’s another thing we have to overcome.”
Wyoming held the Bobcats to just five third-quarter points. Marta Gomez and Bailee Cotton made consecutive shots to pull the Cowgirls within two in the fourth quarter, but that was answered by driving shots by MSU’s Delany Junkermier and Rebekah Hatchard.
UW’s Taylor Rusk made a 3-pointer from the corner with 14 seconds left to trim MSU’s lead to 47-46, but Caudill and Junkermier closed the scoring from the free throw stripe.
The Bobcats survived by “getting the stops we needed, hitting the free throws when we needed (and) getting penetration from our guards when we needed,” Binford said.
“The difference for us is we took care of the ball in the first half and we didn’t take care of it in the second half, so that’s really why our third quarter was as bad as it was. But at the same time it’s good for our kids to see the tale of two halves and what kind of team (we are) capable of becoming.”