MISSOULA — Once Missoula Sentinel switched to zone, it was over.
After coming back from a 10-2 deficit in the first quarter, the top-ranked Spartans were all knotted up with the No. 2 Helena Capital Bruins at 17 apiece at halftime.
Once Sentinel's zone was in place, the Capital girls' basketball team didn't make a field goal for the rest of the game, leading to Sentinel's 38-19 home victory Tuesday.
"We really clogged the middle, which I think was great for us," Spartan sophomore starter Lexi Deden said of Sentinel's zone. "We definitely played as a team. We were all clicking."
Deden paced all scorers with 10 points. Shelby Schweyen was right behind with eight, three coming on a 3-pointer right in front of Sentinel's bench to put the Spartans up by 12.
Neither Sentinel nor Capital's coach had ever skippered a game with as differing halves as this one.
In the first half, Capital made four field goals. In the second half, Capital's only two points came off free throws.
"In terms of points, I've never had a half like that," Capital coach Bill Pilgeram said.
Sentinel coach Karen Deden said one of her teams held an opponent to a single field goal in a half once, but never zero.
"We made some adjustments at halftime. The kids came out and believed in those adjustments and then just dug in real deep defensively," she said. "I can't credit them enough. Every single kid who played played their hearts out defensively, and offensively. I can't tell you how proud I am of them and their effort tonight."
She added: "For us, obviously we thrive off our defense. That defense sort of creates the offense, but I think tonight, the big thing is, we're long, even though we're not as tall as them. ... I feel like we use our length well. The kids played together well. They communicate well defensively as a unit."
The Bruins jumped out to an early lead thanks to senior Kacie Gross. The 5-foot-9 guard maneuvered her way into the lane repetitively and scored four of the first six points off free throws.
Gross finished the game with six points, all of which were free throws. She led the Bruins alongside junior forward Emily Kidder, who also had six points.
"I really liked our mindset in the first half. I thought we were aggressive," Pilgeram said. I thought we moved the ball. I thought we attacked the basket hard and I thought we executed well. That's how we got to the free throw line. We were attacking the basket and doing a great job."
He added: "I thought it was a very competitive basketball game and we did a lot of the things we wanted to do against a very good team and then all of a sudden in the second half, we just couldn't make a basket. We went to the free throw line more than double what they did and we just didn't make free throws and we just had a lid on the basket."
Capital finished the game with 22 free throw attempts compared to Sentinel's nine.
But the Spartans made up that difference on the floor in the second half.
Junior Spartan Emma Blakely jump-started the first half with a steal and ran coast-to-coast to take Sentinel's second lead of the game.
By the end of the third quarter, the Spartans had a nine-point lead. They carried that momentum through the rest of the game, dropping 12 points in the final frame.
"At Capital in Helena, we did the same thing," the 6-foot-1 sophomore Deden said, smiling. "They scored eight points (to start) and I feel like we were going to stay in it. We just got it."
Sentinel (14-1, 9-0) travels to the capital city to take on defending state champions and No. 3-ranked Helena on Thursday. Capital (12-1, 6-2) plays at Kalispell Glacier on Friday.