For the second consecutive season, the women’s basketball team fell short of a Big Sky championship after falling in the championship game to Montana State, 62-56, Saturday afternoon in Reno.
ISU went 19-14 overall this season and earned the six-seed going into the conference tournament.
Last season, the Bengals won 18 games, came into the tournament as the nine-seed and lost to Idaho in the championship game, 67-55, after leading at halftime.
Last season, ISU needed a last-second shot from Juliet Jones to beat top-seeded Montana State in the quarterfinals. This season, Saylair Grandon sank a last-second shot to upset Northern Colorado in the quarterfinals on the same end of the floor as the Jones game-winner.
“Our coach just wanted us to hold the ball and wait to get a good, open-look shot,” Grandon said following the Northern Colorado win. “When I had the ball at the end, it was just reading the defense. It just felt like it should be taken.”
The Northern Colorado win saw five lead changes and had no team lead by more than four points at any point of the game in a matchup between the top two scoring defenses in the conference.
Northern Colorado came into the conference tournament as a three-seed and won its first ten conference games of the season, earning a first-round bye.
Portland State upset North Dakota in the quarterfinals, a team ISU lost to twice this season by a combined score of 128-118, setting up a semifinals matchup with the Vikings Friday evening. North Dakota and Eastern Washington were the only teams in the Big Sky the Bengals didn’t beat this season.
Eastern Washington was bounced into the semifinals by Montana State, another game that needed a last-second shot to determine the winner.
In the semifinals, the Bengals were the high-seed to the Vikings as Portland State was the seven-seed coming into the conference tournament and the Bengals held the Vikings to 34 percent from the field.
The win meant ISU would play in the conference championship for the second consecutive season, playing for the rights to go to the NCAA tournament.
As was the case last year, the clock struck midnight on the Bengals in the second half. ISU led the Bobcats at the end of the third quarter, but a strong fourth quarter by Montana State enabled the Bobcats to acquired their largest lead of the afternoon in the fourth quarter.
Last season, the Bengals led the Vandals 26-23 at halftime but were outscored 20-8 in the third quarter, digging themselves into a hole they were never able to climb out of.
ISU has gone 6-2 the last two season in the Reno Event Center, the best mark in the conference.
The Bengals will lose two seniors from this year’s squad in April Dawson and Freya Newton. Newton was named the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year.