Bears Rally Late, Stun Lady Griz at Dahlberg Arena

By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

Northern Colorado trailed by 10 points with eight minutes remaining Saturday afternoon against Montana at Dahlberg Arena, where the Lady Griz had won 23 straight games against Big Sky Conference opponents. A perfect situation for a pair of never-say-die UNC seniors.

Stephanie Lee’s 3-pointer with 39 seconds left tied the game, and D’Shara Strange’s step-back seven-footer with 2.6 seconds remaining won it as the Bears fought their way back for a 52-51 victory.

The dynamic twosome scored the Bears’ final 10 points, and Northern Colorado (13-11, 7-6 BSC), which trailed 44-34, became the first Big Sky team since Montana State on Jan. 19, 2013, to beat Montana (17-7, 10-3 BSC) on its home floor.

How large of a role Montana played in Northern Colorado’s comeback can be debated, but the Lady Griz certainly had a hand in it.

Robin Selvig

Head Coach Robin Selvig shows his frustration with a call by the officials. Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula.

Montana made just two baskets over the final eight minutes, had an unforced turnover with 55 seconds remaining while up three and hit one of two free throws with 20 seconds left in a tie game, which allowed Strange to play hero.

After back-to-back timeouts by Northern Colorado with 10 seconds left, the Bears got the ball to Strange at the top of the key. She went left, which is her stronger drive side, and softly put a shot off the glass to give Northern Colorado its first lead since the 6:02 mark of the first half.

“It wasn’t an easy shot, but you figure they were going to spread it out and have her go to the hole,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “It wasn’t a layup. She had to fade and shoot over (Maggie Rickman). She made a good play.”

With 2.6 seconds left, Montana opted to throw it full court, and the inbound pass found Kayleigh Valley at the top of the key. She shoveled it to Kellie Rubel, whose open but rushed shot from 15 feet hit the rim, hit the backboard and hit the rim again before falling off.

It was a game that never should have come down to a final shot.

Montana led 23-21 after a tight, well-defended first half, and the second half remained close until back-to-back 3-pointers by Shanae Gilham, one from the right wing, one from the left, put the Lady Griz up 44-34 with eight minutes left.

That’s usually the death knell for a visiting team, but not one with unshakable seniors.

With Montana in the opening stages of its end-game scoring drought — the Lady Griz finished the game missing seven of their final nine shots — the Bears scored seven straight points to let the crowd of 3,220 know they weren’t done quite yet.

After Northern Colorado cut the lead to 46-45 on a pair of Lee free throws with 2:30 remaining, Carly Selvig finished a sweet left-handed baby hook in the lane to up the lead to three.

Lee missed the front end of a one-and-one on UNC’s next possession, and two free throws by Rubel put Montana up 50-45 with 1:34 left.

Strange hit a jumper to cut the led to three, and after Montana’s unforced turnover, Lee connected on a 3-pointer, just her 14th of the season, from right in front of the UNC bench to make it 50-50 with 39 seconds remaining.

BBQKayleigh Valley missed for Montana at the other end, but she grabbed her own rebound and got the ball to Maggie Rickman, who was fouled with 20 seconds left.

Outside of giving up the offensive rebound, Northern Colorado couldn’t have scripted it any better. Rickman is a 53 percent free throw shooter, and her first shot was long. Her second bounced in to make it 51-50. And the one-point margin changed everything.

“Since it’s a one-point game you can’t be too aggressive,” said Selvig about his team’s defense against Strange in the closing seconds. “And there was enough time that if we’d run and doubled her, they could have had an open shot.

“That’s how these things go. When it comes down to little things like that, you’ll stay awake all night thinking over a whole bunch of things.”

Montana out-rebounded Northern Colorado by 10, but the Lady Griz shot 30.5 percent, its worst percentage since before Christmas and its worst shooting performance of the season at home.

“That was our nemesis today. We shot the ball poorly, but they did a good job defensively too,” Selvig said. “We did enough to win the game. We got up 10, but we couldn’t score steadily enough to keep it there. Nobody had a great game offensively.”

Rubel finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists, but she missed 11 of her 16 shots. McCalle Feller had 13 points and Valley, who went 4 for 12, added 10. Rickman grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, but she too struggled offensively, going 2 for 9.

Strange had her second double-double of the road trip, which opened Thursday with an 84-63 victory at Montana State, with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and 12 rebounds. Lee added 14 points, while Kyleigh Hiser hit four 3-pointers to score 12 points.

Montana’s loss tightened up the top of the Big Sky Conference standings. With three weeks of league games remaining, the Lady Griz are now up just one in the loss column on both Sacramento State (11-13, 9-4 BSC) and Eastern Washington (15-8, 8-4 BSC).

The Hornets won at home Saturday afternoon, 92-84 over Idaho. The Eagles, who hold a head-to-head win over Montana and get another shot at the Lady Griz on Feb. 28 in Missoula, won 77-63 at Portland State to finish off a two-game road sweep. EWU plays four of its last six games at home.

In other games Saturday, Montana State won 80-62 at home over fading North Dakota, and Northern Arizona won for the fifth time in six games, 56-52 at home over Weber State.

Idaho State plays at Southern Utah Saturday night.

Montana will play three of its final five regular-season games on the road, starting next week with a trip to Idaho State (11-12, 6-6 BSC) and Weber State (11-13, 6-7 BSC).

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

AlyciaSims shoots over Stephanie Lee©williammunoz
AlyciaSims shoots ov...
Shanae Gilham pass around Northern Colorado defenders ©william munoz
Shanae Gilham pass a...
Kellie Rubel drives pas Revecca Howell of Northern Colorado ©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel drives ...
Shanae Gilham shoots a three point shot ©williammunoz
Shanae Gilham shoots...
Kellie Rubel drives hard at Stephanie Lee©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel drives ...
Kayleigh Valley makes a layup©williammunoz
Kayleigh Valley make...
Carly Selvig blocks a shot of Kyleigh Hiser of Northern Colorado ©williammunoz
Carly Selvig blocks ...
Carly Selvig defending Kyleigh Hiser ©williammunoz
Carly Selvig defendi...
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Coach Selvig's disbelief at a call ©williammunoz
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McCalle Feller grabs a rebound©williammunoz
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