While the average student enjoyed a one-month hiatus from school, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams were busy representing the Blue and Gold on the hardtop. Both teams had impressive starts to their seasons, and with the large break, it is important to catch up with how both teams have progressed over the past month. Overall, they have continued to improve, and that momentum is ever present at home games for both programs. The women’s team has consistently great crowds and sit in first place in the Big Sky Conference standings. The men’s team has had some impressive early wins, resulting in a buzz that is quickly growing each game. Both teams are must-watch basketball, so after getting caught up, make sure to check out the next men’s home game on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 4 p.m. against Eastern Washington, and the next women’s home game on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. against Weber State.

Men’s

The energy felt in Worthington Arena at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse has slowly grown game-by-game. Anyone who has watched this team transition from a rehauled roster with representation from six different countries competing in non-conference play to a tough, defensive-minded team with spurts of offensive explosions has to be impressed. The Cats have shown that they can compete with anyone.

The Cats finished their non-conference schedule with a 6-5 record. They were able to pull out three straight wins to take home the Spartan Invitational trophy, highlighted by a game-winning half-court shot against UNC Greensboro by senior guard Harald Frey. The non-conference schedule also included a big win over South Dakota State in front of nearly 5,000 fans, the largest non-conference attendance in 20 years. 

First-year head coach Danny Sprinkle felt the schedule presented the Cats with a wide variety of styles, preparing the Cats well for the grueling 20-game schedule of the Big Sky Conference. The conference is as wide open as it has been in a long time, and it will come down to which team can get hot before the conference tournament. Each game will be a grind, and this is evident by the Cats’ early conference games. The Cats hang their hat on the defensive end, where they hold opponents to an average of 40.6% from the field, which is good for second in the Big Sky Conference. This continuued defensive emphasis will be important for MSU to continue their ascension up the Big Sky Conference rankings.

After a 15-point victory over Sac State to open conference play, the last five game results were a two point win, nine point loss, six point loss, three point win, and a one point loss — a testament to the balance of the Big Sky Conference this season. The early tests in conference play see the Cats sitting at 3-3, and 9-8 overall. Their matchup with Eastern Washington on Saturday, Jan. 15 will be an important momentum-builder, as both teams had a week off to prepare. Eastern Washington entered conference play with an impressive early resume, but since then the Eagles are 2-2, leaving much to be desired for a team with high expectations this season. Come out and support the Cats this Saturday and the rest of their home games. I promise you will not be disappointed. Go Cats!

Women’s

The play by the women’s basketball team has shown consistent improvement during the non-conference slate and throughout the early Big Sky Conference schedule. In head coach Tricia Binford’s 15th season at the helm, the women’s squad has lived up to their hefty preseason expectations. These included being preseason favorites to win the Big Sky Conference, senior forward Fallyn Freije receiving preseason conference player of the year, and a sense that this team wants a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

The difficult non-conference slate saw the Cats end with a 4-5 record. The team had a quality win at home against a solid UC Davis team and an impressive road win against Seattle U. The Cats played tough against the ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs and Texas A&M Aggies. The team has shown impressive fight against some of the top women’s teams in the country, proving they can compete with anyone.

In conference play, the Cats have had some dominant performances. The women’s first four conference games included a 37-point win, an eight-point win, 33-point win, and a 26-point win. Despite dropping their next game in a double-overtime thriller against Idaho by just one point, they bounced back with a convincing 11-point victory over Portland State, resulting in a 5-1 record and 9-6 overall record. The team has been impressive with their team-first mentality. This is ever apparent in the box scores of this team, as freshman guard Darian White, senior forwards Madeline Smith, Martha Kuderer, and Freije Fallyn, and senior guard Oliana Squires have all led the team in scoring in at least one game this season. 

With Binford’s impressive effort as leader of the program came news that she signed a three-year extension. Binford showed her enthusiasm for the extension by saying, “My family and I are so blessed and thankful to be part of such a special place as Montana State University, Bozeman, and the state of Montana. The support of the community, the inspirational leadership of President Cruzado, and the energetic and enthusiastic guidance of Leon Costello is second to none. I’m overwhelmed by the support shown to our program and the investment in our student-athletes.”

This team has proven capable of unselfish, stellar play that is must-watch basketball. The Cats have a special squad in Bozeman that deserves the continued support of the community. Come out and cheer for the Cats at the next two home games against Weber State Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., and Idaho State Saturday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. Go Cats!

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