RENO, Nev. — The ghosts of tournaments past were circling Montana State like vultures.
Had you told Weber State coach Bethann Ord that her team would take Peyton Ferris and Riley Nordgaard completely out of MSU’s offense and hold them to six combined points, she might think of it as a winning formula.
But that only set things up for Hannah Caudill and — at the right moment — Delany Junkermier. That duo hit the key shots to lead top-seeded Montana State to a 65-53 quarterfinal victory over the Wildcats at the Big Sky Conference tournament Wednesday at the Reno Events Center.
The Bobcats (23-6) avoided another upset and advanced to the semifinals, where they’ll face Eastern Washington on Friday. They also made amends for last year’s letdown, a buzzer-beating loss to ninth-seeded Idaho State, which put No. 1 MSU on an airplane back to Bozeman much earlier than anticipated.
“I just didn’t want to go home,” said Caudill, who grinded her way to a game-high 24 points playing through an illness. “It sucked last year, for lack of a better word. When the game started to get close I just had flashbacks of last year and I was like, ‘This is not happening.’
“And so I just brought myself together and I just tried to muster up all the effort I had and go out there so we didn’t have to go home. We could stay here.”
It was MSU’s first postseason tournament win since 2012, but it wasn’t settled until Junkermier broke out of a shooting slump by hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 1:14 left to give the Bobcats a 57-53 advantage.
From there, Caudill helped ice the game from the foul line. She went 6 for 6 from the stripe in the final 33 seconds. Caudill also made 6 of 12 3-point attempts to account for the offensive removal of Ferris and Nordgaard.
Weber State’s game plan was to surround Ferris, the league’s MVP, at all costs. As a result, Ferris shot the ball just three times and had only four points. Nordgaard was similarly vexed, and didn’t score until she made two foul shots in the final seconds.
It was a defensive tactic the Bobcats hadn’t seen all year, but they managed to push through it.
Nordgaard did plenty of the dirty work. She finished with 13 rebounds, five on the offensive end, and her penchant for diving for loose balls at one point forced her to depart to the locker room with an apparent injury (though she later returned).
MSU dominated the glass overall, pulling down 65 rebounds, including 21 on offense. Ferris had nine boards.
“That was a big part of (the game plan),” said Ord, whose team gave up 22 second-chance points. “We (had) to get the rebounds. No second-chance opportunities. We needed the second-chance opportunities.”
Left wide open for most of the game, Junkermier missed all eight of her previous 3-point tries. She picked the perfect time to hit her first.
“This entire season I’ve been struggling with my shooting,” Junkermier said. “My coaches as well as my teammates never told me to stop shooting.
“That last shot that I took, I was thinking about it for a while. You just have to have confidence when you’re a shooter when you’re being left wide open. You’ve got to shoot it.”
Caudill looked like she was ready for intravenous fluids at the postgame press conference. But she found enough energy to keep the Bobcats afloat throughout the game.
She had nine first-quarter points — all on 3s. The Bobcats trailed by as many as 10 in the second quarter, but a 13-3 burst before halftime tied the game 31-31. And in a push-and-pull second half, the Bobcats had more weapons.
Now it’s on to the next challenge in the semifinals. MSU swept the regular-season series with Eastern Washington. The Eagles beat reigning champion Idaho in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
“I’m just extremely proud of our kids for finding a way to get it done,” Bobcats coach Tricia Binford said. “These kids are tough. They’re resilient. I do feel like there was a little bit of tenseness, tightness, but I’m glad we were able to pull this off so we can hopefully play a lot more relaxed on Friday.”