SEATTLE — For one quarter, the Montana State Bobcats matched the Washington Huskies basket for basket.
The Big Sky Conference champions traded scores with one of the best teams in the nation, and with a three-pointer from guard Delany Junkermier at the quarter horn, the Bobcats held a one-point advantage over the Huskies in their first round NCAA Tournament tilt at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“Every single time we had a breakdown, they made us pay,” said Washington head coach Mike Neighbors.
To start the second, Kelsey Plum hit two free throws on the first possession of the quarter, and the Huskies didn’t trail the rest of the night.
Despite a career-high 33 points from Peyton Ferris to lead all scorers, Plum’s 29 and Chantel Osahor’s nation-leading 28th double-double, with 16 points and 19 rebounds helped the Huskies easily overcome a sloppy first quarter in a 91-63 victory. Aarion McDonald and Natalie Romeo also finished in double figures for the Huskies, with 15 and 11 respectively.
Washington will play Oklahoma on Monday night with a Sweet 16 bid on the line.
“It is always hard to finish a season on this note, but at the same time we promised that we would give a great effort and we definitely left it all out there,” said Montana State head coach Tricia Binford.
Early on, neither team could get shots to fall, with both Montana State and Washington shooting under 35 percent after one quarter. But at least defensively, Binford was happy with the pressure the MSU defense was applying.
“It felt like we made them work for a lot of the shots that they got and the energy was fantastic,” Binford said. “Our effort was very solid.”
Forward Riley Nordgaard, who finished with 10 points, had another phrase for it.
“That was Bobcat basketball,” she said, “and things got away from us.”
While Washington began to pull away in the second, it was Ferris who single-handedly kept the Bobcats within striking distance.
The senior had all 10 of her team’s points in the quarter, as the Huskies took an 11-point lead into the half, after a 3-pointer from Plum with seconds remaining.
Though Neighbors said there was some rust early, the two-week lay-off from the team’s last game — a 70-69 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament — became a benefit as the game went on.
“We had to really fight to hang around in the first quarter and then it progressively started becoming an advantage to us that we were rested,” he said. “By halftime, it was a big part of it.”
Into the third quarter, the Bobcats stayed close, and trailed by just eight after a jumper from Oliana Squires with 5:27 to go. But a 12-2 UW run over the next three minutes effectively put the game on ice.
Washington outscored Montana State 28-16 in the fourth quarter, leading by as many as 31 in the final period.
“It was a great atmosphere and a really, really good basketball team,” Neighbors said. “We had to play very, very well to win because they were very, very well prepared and executed very well.”
Awaiting the Huskies on Monday night is Oklahoma, which beat the UW in close games both 2014 and 2015.
“They’re a very good team,” Plum said. “They’re moving well without the ball. They play together as a team. It’s not a one-man show out there. They all can shoot it They call can drive it. We have got to guard everybody.”
That game is set for a 6 p.m. PT tip-off on ESPN2.
With the win, Washington will face Oklahoma for the third-straight season. The two programs played a home-and-home series, with the Sooners winning both matchups, 90-80 in Norman in Nov. 2014, and 71-68 in Seattle in Dec. 2015 … With a 3-pointer in the first quarter, Natalie Romeo hit the 1,000-point mark for her career … After the team’s post-game press conference, Montana State head coach Tricia Binford hugged university president Waded Cruzado, who made the trip to see the team. Binford on the response from Bozeman: “Our fan base has been fantastic all season long and it is one of the things my family truly appreciates about Bozeman the most. It is why we love it at Montana State. We are family and our family is the entire community, the university, the athletic department, and to have that crowd there was very, very exciting.”