Lady Griz Pick up Steam for Big Sky Tournament (Photo Gallery)

By JOEL CARLSON |Photos by KYLIE RICHTER

After two weeks of up-and-down performances that cost it a shot at a Big Sky Conference regular-season championship, Montana appears to have things squared away at just the right time.

The Lady Griz got another double-double from Jordan Sullivan, Torry Hill reached 1,000 career points, and Montana will take a three-game winning streak into next week’s Big Sky tournament after posting an 83-66 victory over Northern Arizona Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.

Montana (20-9, 14-6 BSC) shot 57.1 percent in the first half to build a lead, then steadily pulled away in the second half to finish the season 10-0 at home in league games. Montana was the only team in the league to pull that off, and it was a first for the Lady Griz since going unbeaten in 2008-09.

The Lady Griz went up by 11, 60-49, on a pair of free throws by Maggie Rickman with 11:49 to play and held a double-digit lead the rest of the way despite a pair of 25-point scoring games from the Lumberjacks’ Amanda Frost and Brittani Lusain.

“We had a pretty nice lead, but we were never able to be super comfortable, because Frost can go off and they can score points in a hurry. They are not an easy team to defend,” said UM coach Robin Selvig.

“We just kind of kept our noses to the grindstone and wore them down. I don’t have any complaints.”

Montana reaches 20 wins for the 29th time in 36 seasons under Selvig and finishes a game out of first place in the final Big Sky Conference standings.

The Lady Griz will take either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed into next week’s tournament at Grand Forks, N.D. If Southern Utah wins Saturday night at home over Northern Colorado, No. 3 Montana will face No. 6 Montana State on Thursday. If SUU loses, No. 2 Montana will face No. 7 Sacramento State.

But that’s next week. In the here and now, Montana is rolling, and a big reason for that is the resurgence of Sullivan, who was playing like a Big Sky MVP candidate in January, fell off in February and is now back to looking like a player who could carry a team in the postseason.

She had 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 15 rebounds in Thursday’s 87-76 win over Sacramento State, then added 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 11 boards Saturday for her fifth double-double of the season and sixth of her career.

“It’s nice to see her come back to life for us,” Selvig said. “That’s the Jordan we had early in the conference season.

“She’s always going to board it for us, but she just couldn’t make a basket for a while there. Now she’s back to shooting it with confidence.”

McCalle Feller’s 11 first-half points, on 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range, helped Montana build a 43-37 halftime lead, an advantage that could have been nine had the Lady Griz not allowed Lusain to dribble up the court in the final seconds and get off an uncontested 3-pointer, which she knocked down.

But Sullivan scored 14 of her team-high 22 points in the second half and the Lady Griz turned it over just twice in the second frame while outscoring NAU 40-29.

The only real drama, and all 3,614 fans seemed to be tracking it, was whether Hill would reach 1,000 career points in her final home game.

She needed 17 and had six at the break on 3-of-4 shooting. It took 17 second-half shots to get there, but a runner in the lane with 2:10 left made her the 30th player in Lady Griz history to reach 1,000. She finished with 17 points.

“That’s a nice deal for her,” Selvig said. “We had a nice crowd today. I think people wanted to come out and recognize both Jordan and Torry.”

Though it wasn’t all rosy for Montana. Northern Arizona out-rebounded the Lady Griz 46-33, 17 of which came on the offensive end. That came two days after Sac State grabbed 19 offensive boards.

Montana had out-rebounded nine of 10 opponents entering this week’s games, but Montana State was +6 on Monday, Sac State grabbed more offensive rebounds than any opponent this season outside of Temple, and Northern Arizona was +13 on Saturday.

Raven Anderson grabbed 18 of those rebounds, Lusain added 11.

“We’ve been a pretty good rebounding team, but the last few games have not been our best in that area,” Selvig said. “I think we’re going to have a little rebounding practice the next couple of days.”

Frost, who will finish as the Big Sky’s leading scorer this season, and Lusain combined for 50 points. Their teammates could only generate 16 more.

Lusain, an impressive freshman who was relentless in attacking the basket in the second half, got to the line 11 times. Frost’s points were so quiet that they caught Selvig off guard when he scanned the final statistics after the game.

“Here I thought we did such a good job on her, but that’s why I’m so impressed by her,” he said. “She didn’t go wild and do stuff out of offense, but she still got 25 points.

“That’s the mark of a pretty good scorer when you’re surprised to see how many they scored.”

Feller totaled a career-high 14 points for Montana and helped the Lady Griz bench outscore NAU’s reserves 25-5. She finished 4 of 6 from 3-point range as Montana went 9 for 22 (.409) from the arc, the team’s second straight game with nine triples, a number that hadn’t been reached since Feb. 1.

Carly Selvig had 5 points, 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots, and Montana defended NAU into 21 turnovers, the second-highest total by an opponent this season.

Northern Arizona finishes its season with a 9-20 record. The Lumberjacks tied for ninth in the Big Sky with Portland State. Both had 6-14 league marks.

In other Big Sky games Saturday afternoon, Montana State won 81-63 at home over Sacramento State, Idaho State won 79-64 at home over Portland State, and Eastern Washington won 68-60 at Weber State.

That sets up a tournament matchup on Thursday between No. 4 Eastern Washington and No. 5 Idaho State. The other quarterfinal games on Thursday won’t be determined until Southern Utah hosts Northern Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Cedar City, Utah.

Updated Big Sky standings, minus the league’s final regular-season game:

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