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Hannah Caudill

Hannah Caudill and Montana State host Big Sky rivals Eastern Washington and Idaho this weekend.

BOZEMAN — Coming off a conference championship-winning season, the Montana State women's basketball team no longer finds much consolation in the conventional “weekend split."

The Bobcats, an eclectic mix of veterans and newcomers, started last week’s road trip on the right foot with an 83-68 victory over Weber State in their Big Sky Conference opener Thursday night, but then saw an opportunity slip away two days later in a 67-59 loss at Idaho State — a game they led in the fourth quarter.

MSU swept six weekend series last season on the way to a 14-4 conference record (21-10 overall) and its first outright regular-season Big Sky crown. Losing wasn’t the norm, and it’s not expected to be this year, either.

“A lot of teams would be happy with that split,” coach Tricia Binford said. “I just think for us it was a little sour taste.”

Against Idaho State, the Bobcats (8-4, 1-1) sought retribution for the way things ended last season: MSU had the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament in Reno, Nev., only to lose in the quarterfinals to the ninth-seeded Bengals on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

The rematch was no better.

“It’s never fun to lose, especially going 0-2 the last two times we got to meet up with (Idaho State),” MSU forward Riley Nordgaard said. “I know I wasn’t super happy about it, I know the girls weren’t. It was a pretty quiet bus ride.”

ISU pounded the Bobcats on the glass, out-rebounding them by a 53-38 margin — including 18 offensive boards — while outscoring them by 10 in the final period to pull away.

The Bobcats are one of the top rebounding teams in the Big Sky, which led Binford to point out how uncharacteristic the difference was.

In advance of this week’s home games against Eastern Washington (Thursday) and Idaho (Saturday), MSU is recommitting to rebounding.

“It’s just getting back to the drawing board,” said Nordgaard, who didn’t shirk her responsibilities while leading the team with nine rebounds on Saturday. “It’s doing the little things — being strong, being physical and being aggressive, and letting that carry over to how we play and how we compete.”

But that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Eastern Washington (6-6, 1-0) is a precarious matchup, led by Delaney Hodgins’ league-leading 18.6 points per game. Hodgins has taken on a larger role this year after the graduation of her sister, Hayley, who ended her career last season as the Eagles’ all-time leading scorer.

Delaney Hodgins is complemented by teammates Tisha Phillips and Ashli Payne, who both average double-digit points.

“The core three have definitely picked up the load from a scoring standpoint," Binford said. "They’re still dangerous, and defensively I think they’re doing a great job. For us, getting spread out, were just going to have to do a great job of being in place and making sure we finish on the glass.”

Peyton Ferris saw her string of 10 consecutive double-digit games come to an end against Weber State when she scored just six points in 12 minutes before fouling out. Ferris answered against Idaho State with 16 points and seven assists, but fouled out in that game too.

Ferris, a physical forward from Twin Bridges, has fouled out of four games so far this season.

The Bobcats instead got 20 points from point guard Hannah Caudill against Weber State, and 13 each from Delany Junkermier and Annika Lai off the bench.

On Saturday the Bobcats will host reigning Big Sky tournament champion Idaho (5-7, 0-1). The Vandals visit Worthington Arena after a stop Thursday to face Montana in Missoula.

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