The Wildcats put up a good fight against a pair of tough teams last week, but came up short as they fell to conference-leading Browning on the road Thursday and Class A top-ranked Hamilton at home Saturday.
The Cats led 11-10 with 2:45 to play in the opening quarter in Browning Thursday before a 12-0 Indians run left Columbia Falls in a hole it would not recover from. Columbia Falls pulled within six with four minutes to play, but Browning held on for a 57-46 victory.
“They turned up the pressure on us,” Cats’ head coach Chris Finberg said. “Our turnovers led to easy baskets for them and they also hit a few contested threes at the end of that first quarter. I have to give them credit. That’s their MO. They bring the pressure and create havoc.”
Turnovers plagued the Wildcats throughout the game as Columbia Falls gave the ball up 26 times, but did out-rebound the Indians, 34-28 in the contest.
Quintin Shriver led the Wildcats with 15 points and six rebounds in the loss while no other Columbia Falls player scored in double figures.
The Cats gave the Broncs all they could handle Saturday as Columbia Falls hosted top-ranked Hamilton. Down by as many as 15 in the contest, the Cats rallied to pull within two in the fourth quarter before falling to the visitors, 61-48.
“It was good to see us compete that well against such a tough team,” Finberg said about the loss. “We shot well, which helps. We just had the turnover bug again and it really hurt us at times.”
The Cats matched Hamilton shot-for-shot in the opening quarter as Shriver, Matthew Morrison and Lowell Panasuk all put in baskets. With the Cats down by three in the closing moments of the quarter, Shriver banked in a shot while being fouled and added the free throw to tie the game at 16-16 after eight minutes of play.
Drew Morgan, Logan Bechtel and Austin Green helped spark a Wildcat run in the opening minutes of the second quarter and a Morrison jumper put Columbia Falls on top 27-22 with 2:24 to play in the half.
The Broncs turned up the pressure in the final two minutes of the half, forcing a number of Wildcat turnovers and sparking an 11-2 run that left Columbia Falls trailing at the break, 33-29.
“They have some great athletes and good shooters that were able to capitalize on our turnovers,” Finberg said. “They are capable on going on big runs in a short amount of time, and that really hurt us.”
The Broncs continued to add to their lead in the third quarter, going up by as many as 15 before a Morrison jumper got the Cats offense started with 3:00 to play in the frame. Green hit back-to-back threes and Bechtel added a leaning jumper at the quarter buzzer to pull the Cats within five heading into the fourth quarter.
A jumper by Green and a free throw from Morgan cut the Hamilton advantage to 45-43 with 6:57 to play, but the Cats would come no closer as Hamilton’s pressure defense proved to be too much for the Cats down the stretch.
Morrison led the Cats with 13 points and seven rebounds in the contest while Shriver added 11 points, five steals and four assists and Green had 10 points.
Despite the losses, Finberg said his team played well and is making progress.
“These games were a step in the right direction,” he said. “I think we showed that we can play with the better teams. Now, it is just a matter of us playing up to our potential.”
The Cats will be back in action at Corvallis Thursday, at Ronan Saturday and at Polson Tuesday.
Hamilton 16 17 12 16 — 61
Columbia Falls 16 13 11 8 — 48
HAMILTON: Cam Rothie 7, Carson Rostad 5, Bridger Bauder 2, Tyler Chouinard 6, Hunter Omlid 12, Tanner Goligoski 12, Carter Kearns 17.
COLUMBIA FALLS: Austin Green 10, Drew Morgan 7, Lowell Panasuk 3, Quintin Schriver 11, Logan Bechtel 4, Matthew Morrison 13.
Columbia Falls 11 8 7 20 — 46
Browning 22 6 13 16 — 57
COLUMBIA FALLS: Quintin Shriver 15, Matthew Morrison 8, Logan Bechtel 7, Austin Green 7, Lowell Panasuk 4, Billy Barrett 3, Drew Morgan 2.
BROWNING: Stats not available