RENO, Nev.-UND has had some memorable moments as a Big Sky Conference member, notably the 2014 league title and subsequent NCAA Tournament appearance.
As UND closed its run in the Big Sky on Monday night, the final 5 minutes of the first half against Montana State likely will not be remembered
The Bobcats used a decisive 18-0 run in the final five minutes of the second quarter to down UND 68-58 in the first round of the league tournament at the Reno Events Center.
The game was the final Big Sky contest for UND, which now turns its attention to its upcoming membership in the Summit League.
"I'd like to thank the league for giving us a Division I home," said UND coach Travis Brewster. "It's been good. It's a good foundation for us, to be able to win two regular-season conference titles and going to the NCAA Tournament one year. That's pretty neat. But it's about our student-athletes and the experiences they get by playing in the conference. And the league has allowed our athletic department to grow."
UND's last game in the league came down to a rough five-minute stretch. A series of turnovers and some timely Montana State 3-pointers helped the Bobcats turn a 21-18 deficit into a 36-21 advantage at the half.
"If you look at the turnovers, we had 13 in the first half and 16 for the game," said Brewster. "We have to be able to put together two good halves. That's been our Achilles' heel all year. But I was pleased with how hard we worked."
Montana cashed in those turnovers for 20 points-all in the first half.
Much as it has been this season, it was a tale of two halves for the Hawks. In the second half, UND surged behind another monster performance from Lexi Klabo, who ended with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Two Fallyn Freije free throws with 4:36 to go cut Montana State's lead to 56-53. But the Bobcats scored the next eight points, two on deadly 3-pointers from senior Delany Junkermier, who finished with 15 points.
"We came out with good energy and our intensity was good in the third quarter," said Klabo, who scored 31, 29 and 24 points in her final three games of the season. "They hit some big shots and some of our shots didn't fall."
Freije added 11 points and was the only other UND player in double figures. She hit a 3-pointer with 5:40 left in the second quarter that gave UND a 21-18 advantage.
"They made some great offensive reads," said Freije of the Bobcats' surge in the second quarter.
Montana State started the game making only one of its first 10 shots. But the Bobcats found the shooting touch in the second quarter as Rebekah Hatchard (18 points) and Junkermier started the 18-0 run with a combined seven points. Also, Montana State (16-14) scored on three straight UND turnovers, the third miscue leading to a 30-21 lead.
UND, however, came out strong in the third quarter, led by back-to-back 3-pointers by Mikayla Reinke and some strong inside play by Faith Dooley.
Klabo, however, largely carried the comeback, which came as no surprise to Montana State coach Tricia Binford.
"Lexi Klabo is a (Big Sky) first-teamer for a reason," she said. "We had trouble finding an answer for her but we were able to make plays down the stretch."
UND's offseason will be spent preparing for the Summit. UND loses only one senior as it prepares for a new home.
"There was growth for us this year," said Brewster. "But sometimes growth is slow."