(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Opening its 2021-22 season on the right note Wednesday evening at the Fortin Center, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team topped rival Rocky Mountain College 59-50 in an exhibition matchup.
Cariann Kunkel led the Yellowjackets with a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double, while adding four assists, three steals, and committing just one turnover in her 30 minutes on the floor. “We have been practicing every day always getting better, so it’s nice to come out and play against people other than ourselves,” Kunkel said after the game. “The main thing is our defense, and our offense will come if we get those defensive stops.”
Addison Gardner chipped in 10 points, while Kortney Nelson had six points and four hard-fought rebounds in 25 effective minutes off the bench. “It was a great experience tonight to play in front of a crowd, and I thought our team really battled,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Our defense carried us tonight, and that’s what you need early in the season. This was a great team win.”
The Yellowjackets won despite making just 3 of 16 threes (18.8 percent), finding other ways to score on the quiet night from the perimeter. The Bears made just 1 of 13 threes (7.7 percent), and shot just 29.2 percent overall (19-for-65) compared to the Yellowjackets’ line of 39.0 percent (23-for-59).
A back-and-forth opening half ended with a bang, when true freshman Aspen Giese picked her attacker’s pocket, found Kunkel under the net, and watched as the latter converted the layup at the buzzer to give MSUB a 31-28 edge at the break.
The Yellowjackets shot a steady 41.4 percent (12-for-29) from the floor in the opening half, while the Bears hit at just 33.3 percent (9-for-27). RMC also had 11 turnovers in the opening half, leading to eight points off turnovers for the ‘Jackets.
The game stayed within reach for both teams until midway through the third quarter, when MSUB made its move towards a strong finish. After a layup by RMC’s Dominique Stephens evened the score at 35-35 at the 5:04 mark in the third, back-to-back buckets from Danielle Zahn and Kunkel gave MSUB a lead it didn’t relinquish the rest of the night.
Nelson converted a quick, turn-around jumper to give MSUB its largest lead at 45-38, then collected a rebound on the other end of the floor to bring the third quarter to a close. “She was so good,” Kunkel commented on Nelson’s performance. “She’s so hard to play in practice because she’s such a good defender.”
“Kortney is a great player,” Woodin said. “First of all her attitude is always positive, and she is a quiet assassin out there. She takes great pride on the defensive end. Her offense was really good tonight, and I thought she was a complete player.”
Kunkel took over in the fourth quarter, scoring six of the team’s 15 points and helping ensure the Bears never cut the deficit below five points the rest of the night. “Cariann’s second half was very solid, and she was good on both ends,” said Woodin. “Addison hit some nice shots, especially on the drive, and she does a lot of nice things for us. I thought we played a complete second half.”
N’Dea Flye led all players with 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting, while grabbing eight rebounds and adding three steals. Stephens led the way with 11 rebounds, but no other Bear scored in double figures and only five different Rocky players scored in the team’s first game of the year.
“Flye was really hard to guard, but I thought that Kortney did a good job on her,” Woodin commented on the Bear that posed the toughest defensive assignment.
The ‘Jackets won despite being out-rebounded 44-39, with the visitors’ leading returning rebounder from last year, Taryn Shelley, being limited to just 14 minutes due to foul trouble. Shayla Montague contributed five boards and chipped in five points, and Dyauni Boyce had four points, three rebounds, and three steals.
The 2021-22 regular season opens Monday afternoon as the Yellowjackets host Montana Tech at Alterowitz Gym. Tipoff is scheduled for noon in the annual Elementary School Game.