Trailing 45-37 with only a few seconds left on the third quarter clock, Montana Western rallied with an 8-0 run to tie the game for the first time since it was 2-2 to open the contest. The stretch was capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Aniese Palmore – two of her three 3-pointers for the game.
An offensive foul by Columbia on its next possession, opened the flood gates as the Bulldogs outscored the Cougars, 16-3, to push its lead to 63-50 with less than a minute remaining. Columbia’s Raegan Wieser hit a 3-pointer with approximately 10 seconds left to lock in the game’s final spread.
“I challenged them at halftime and we talked a lot about what we have to do to score,” said Montana Western head coach Lindsay Woolley. “They’ve done this all year. When you get the confidence of winning some close games, I think it just carries over.”
All five starters for Montana Western ended the night in double-digits, led by a 17-point effort by Palmore. The senior guard has now scored 10 points-or-more in 10-straight games. Taylor Howlett was next for the club with 13 points, while Kaye Bignell posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
The two squads were even through the first 16 minutes of the opening half, before a steal and score by the Cougars sparked an 11-4 run to end the second quarter. With the run, Columbia held a 31-22 lead at the break.
Wieser, who entered the tournament as one of four Cougars that average better than 10 points per game, surpassed her season average with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including a 2-for-3 success rate from beyond the arc through two stanzas.
Both squads shot under their season averages in the first half, including only a 25.9 percent field goal percentage by Montana Western.
Despite the offensive struggles, Montana Western’s Cierra Lamey tallied nine first half points to lead the squad.
Columbia was led in scoring by Wieser, who ended the night with a game-high 18 points.
With the win, Montana Western advances to the second round for the first time since they defeated William Carey (Miss.), 67-51, in 2006. The Bulldogs (24-8) advance to play No. 2 Oklahoma City Friday at 10:45 a.m. MDT.
Montana Western and Oklahoma City have met once previously at the national championship. That contest, which took place at the 2001 tournament, was won by the Stars, 85-51.
The Cougars end the year with a 26-7 record and fall to 3-13 all-time at the championship.