By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com
The Montana women’s basketball team will open a four-game home stand this week when it hosts Idaho State and Weber State at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz will face the Bengals on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Wildcats on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The home stand will continue with games against Southern Utah on Saturday, Feb. 1, and Montana State on Monday, Feb. 3.
Where they stand: Montana is 9-6 overall, 3-3 in Big Sky Conference games and tied for fourth with three other teams. … Idaho State is 5-10 overall, 3-3 in league and one of the teams the Lady Griz are tied with. … Weber State is 4-11 overall and winless in Big Sky games at 0-6.
Coverage: Thursday’s game will be aired locally on KMPT 930 AM. Saturday’s game will be aired on KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FM. Tom Stage calls the play-by-play, with help from Dick Slater. Fans outside of listening range can catch the game on GoGriz.com’s All-Access page.
Trending, part I: After dropping tight games last week at North Dakota and Northern Colorado, Montana finds itself on only its second two-game losing streak in its last 47 games. … Idaho State, with recent tight wins at Southern Utah and at home Monday over Weber State, is on its second two-game winning streak of the season. … Back on Dec. 10, Weber State held a 24-point second-half lead at home over BYU. A win would have improved the Wildcats, who opened the season on a 48-game losing streak, to 5-3. Instead the Cougars rallied for a five-point victory, and that was the first loss of what has become Weber State’s current eight-game losing streak.
Trending, part II: Weber State snapped the 48-game losing streak it took into the season with a 107-25 victory over Walla Walla University in its season opener. But the Wildcats have not yet taken care of their Big Sky Conference losing streak.
Monday’s 60-58 loss at Idaho State, on a short jumper by ISU’s Rebecca Schrimpsher with 3.2 seconds to play, was WSU’s 44th straight loss in league. The Wildcats lost their final two Big Sky games in 2010-11, went 0-16 in 2011-12 and 0-20 last year and have opened 0-6 this season. Weber’s last Big Sky win came against Sacramento State on Feb. 26, 2011.
Weber State has also lost its last 32 Big Sky road games. The Wildcats’ last road win in league came at Northern Arizona on Feb. 11, 2010. Some perspective: Kellie Cole, Torry Hill, Carly Selvig and Jordan Sullivan were all high school seniors at the time.
What’s at stake: After losing a pair of games on the road last week at North Dakota and Northern Colorado, the Lady Griz slipped down the Big Sky Conference standings to the muddled chase group, which includes seven teams with either three Big Sky wins or three league losses.
Everyone is chasing North Dakota (11-5, 6-1 BSC) and Montana State (10-5, 5-1 BSC), who have created a two-game lead in the loss column on their nearest pursuers.
The upcoming four-game home stand is important because of what follows: six of eight on the road. Montana is 1-4 in its last five games away from Dahlberg Arena.
Missoula, unwelcome host: Montana and Idaho State have been playing since 1978-79 and have met 37 times in Missoula. On those trips the Bengals have won only twice, by five in 2000-01 and by seven in 2011-12.
Montana leads 64-8 in all games against the Bengals.
Weber State has had nearly as much trouble winning in Missoula. The Lady Griz hold a 34-4 advantage on the Wildcats at home, 62-11 overall.
That makes Montana 69-6 at home over this week’s opponents.
Why ISU isn’t fazed about playing in Dahlberg Arena: Bengals = road warriors.
After opening the season with home wins in early November against Black Hills State and Carroll, Idaho State played nine straight games on the road over the course of nearly two months. That included trips to Oklahoma State and Iowa.
With only one win in those nine games, the Bengals took their lumps, but they learned their lessons. ISU has Big Sky road wins already at Portland State and Southern Utah.
And even in its losses Idaho State was making an impression. Consider this from Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell, who said of ISU coach Seton Sobolewski and the Bengals after OSU won in Stillwater back in mid-November:
“They’re a well-coached team. That guy can coach anywhere. They were very well prepared and difficult to guard. They’re hard to prepare for, because you can’t scout them. They’re just reading what you do defensively.
“We told our players that the well-coached teams are going to make you go to second and third options offensively. They did that, and we hadn’t been forced to do that yet.”
For jinxing purposes: Montana and Idaho State have never played an overtime game in their 72 meetings.
Cooling off: The Lady Griz hit the road last week packing Big Sky Conference averages of 85.8 points on 52.1 percent shooting through their first four league games. Considering unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Notre Dame leads the nation at 51.7 percent and that Montana has not shot even 40 percent for a season since 2008-09, those numbers were not going to last, and they didn’t.
North Dakota held Montana to 32.3 percent shooting and came back from a nine-point second-half deficit to win 62-57 last Thursday in Grand Forks, and Northern Colorado limited the Lady Griz to 35.8 percent shooting to rally out of an early 18-5 hole and win 57-54 on Saturday in Greeley.
But there was also this: North Dakota had a 49-31 rebounding advantage over Montana, including a 28-11 edge in the second half as UND came back from a 45-36 deficit.
And this: North Dakota got to the line 31 times to Montana’s eight.
And this: After trailing 18-5 early on, Northern Colorado held Montana to three field goals over the final 10:30 of the first half to even the score by halftime, then shot 50 percent in the second half to build what would become a nine-point lead.
And this: Montana had 17 turnovers and 12 assists at North Dakota, the first time all season the Lady Griz had more turnovers than assists in a game. They then did the same thing at Northern Colorado, turning it over 17 times while assisting on 14 baskets.
Despite all that, there was this: Montana was within three in the final minute in both losses.
And this: Kellie Cole went 4 for 7 from 3-point range in the two games and is now 17 for 23 (.739) from the arc in Montana’s last seven games. Her hot streak has raised her season percentage from 3-point range to 50 percent (25 for 50). … If Cole had five more makes this season (to make her eligible for the NCAA statistics) with the same percentage, she would be tied for second nationally.
Things to feel good about: At 8.3 per game, Montana ranks 17th nationally in 3-point field goals and 28th nationally in 3-point percentage (.367). UM hit 10 threes against both North Dakota and Northern Colorado. … Despite last week’s ball-handling issues, the Lady Griz still rank 13th in the nation and first in the Big Sky in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.29). … Torry Hill leads the Big Sky in assists during league play at 7.0 per game. … Senior Jordan Sullivan has shot 50 percent or better the last five games and is now shooting 48.0 percent. Sullivan shot .362 as a sophomore and .372 as a junior. … Sullivan’s hot hand extends to the 3-point line. She’s gone 10 for 14 from the arc the last five games. … Hannah Doran is back practicing after missing last week’s road trip (concussion). … Kayleigh Valley had the breakout offensive game everyone’s been expecting at Northern Colorado: 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers in three attempts. … Montana forced 25 North Dakota turnovers and 18 by Northern Colorado, more than the Lady Griz committed in either game.
Things to be concerned about: Is Montana becoming too reliant on the perimeter jump shot? The Lady Griz were outscored 54-18 in the paint on last week’s road trip and three of the team’s starters — Hill, Carly Selvig and Maggie Rickman — did not attempt a single free throw in two games. … The bigger trend: Montana has been outscored by 67 points this season from the free throw line. The Lady Griz have not been outscored by their opponents from the line for a season since 2002-03. … Montana has attempted 179 free throws this season. The next lowest total in the Big Sky: Eastern Washington’s 253. The Big Sky leader: North Dakota with 433.
Who to watch for Thursday: With nearly half of Idaho State’s roster made up of freshmen, recognizable names are few, but the Bengals’ leading scorer should be familiar. Senior guard Lindsey Reed is averaging a team-high 14.9 points per game. She had 22 in Monday’s two-point win over Weber State. … The player whose name you’ll likely know by 9 p.m. on Thursday: Jessica Tingey, a 6-1 senior forward who is averaging 11.8 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting a team-leading 49.6 percent.
Who to watch for Saturday: Sophomore guard Desiree Ramos is averaging 13.1 points per game. Senior forward Amanda Hughes is averaging 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. … In Monday’s loss at Idaho State, sophomore guard Regina Okoye scored a team-high 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
Big Sky Conference tilt-a-whirl:
Because it’s never too early to think about March Madness: In ESPN.com’s latest bracketology, Charlie Creme has North Dakota making the NCAA tournament field as a No. 13 seed and playing No. 4 Baylor in Waco, Texas.
Speaking of ESPN.com and jinxes: After last week’s glowing piece by Graham Hays on the success Sacramento State has had under first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad, the Hornets’ losing streak reached three with losses at Portland State, 83-80, and Eastern Washington, 78-65.
How ‘bout those Vandals: It won’t be a Big Sky Conference member until next season, but Idaho is leading the Western Athletic Conference at 6-0.
Non-Montana game of the week: North Dakota plays at Sacramento State Thursday night. Polar opposites meet for the first time this season. UND wants to play the game in the paint and at the free throw line and rebound you into submission. The Hornets defend the entire court and are partial to the 3-point line. North Dakota has turned the ball over more times this season than any Big Sky team outside of Northern Arizona. Expect that to be the difference in a Sac State victory that tightens up the Big Sky Conference race.
Montana Sports Information