Lady Griz Cinch Share of Big Sky Title

By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

Montana won its 20th game of the season and clinched at least a share of the Big Sky Conference championship Thursday night with an 81-68 victory over Idaho at Dahlberg Arena. The bigger prize — hosting the conference tournament — will require a little more work.

Alycia Sims scored 14 points off the bench, and McCalle Feller went 4 for 4 from 3-point range and scored 18 points to lead the Lady Griz (20-7, 13-3 BSC) over the Vandals (12-14, 6-9 BSC) in front of a season-high crowd of 3,741.

The win gives Montana 20 wins for the 30th time in 37 years under coach Robin Selvig and the program its 24th conference championship.

To host the eight-team Big Sky Conference tournament in two weeks, the Lady Griz will need to pick up one more win, which could come as early as Saturday, when Montana hosts Eastern Washington (17-9, 10-5 BSC) at 2 p.m.

Montana led for more than 35 minutes in its win over Idaho Thursday, but the lead felt comfortable for a fraction of that time.

A 10-point first-half lead turned into a slim 32-30 edge at the half. And though Montana led the final 16:52 of the second half, it was a one-possession game with 10 minutes to go and not decided until the final two minutes.

Feller and Sims both went 4 for 4 in the second half — Feller 3 for 3 from 3-point range — to help Montana, which scored 49 second-half points on 53.8 percent shooting, pull away down the stretch.

“That’s a good win,” said Selvig. “Idaho is a good team, and they played well. They are hard to guard, especially if they are shooting it well from the perimeter. We were up 10 in the first half, and the next thing you know you look up and you’re up only two at the half.”

Idaho shot 30.8 percent in the second half and connected on just 6 of its 23 3-point tries, but a number of those were long shots forced late in the game.

“We worked awfully hard on defense in the second half,” said Selvig. “And then we came up with enough kids who gave us some offense.”

A season-high five players scored in double figures for Montana, which defeated Idaho for the 21st straight time in Missoula. In addition to Feller’s 18 and Sims’ 14, Maggie Rickman scored 13, Carly Selvig 11 and Kayleigh Valley 10.

Valley

Kayleigh Valley. Photo by ©William Munoz

Sims hit six of her seven shots and added eight rebounds in just 13 minutes of action. For Selvig, who went 5 for 8, it was her best scoring night since putting up 13 on Charlotte back in November.

Noticeably absent from the scoring leaders was Kellie Rubel, who was quietly fantastic while playing 36 minutes. She took just six shots and scored six points, but she finished with seven assists and one turnover while helping the Lady Griz shoot better than 40 percent for the seventh time in nine games.

Kellie didn’t get shots tonight, but the mark of an outstanding player is that she didn’t take shots that weren’t there,” said Selvig. “She got people the ball, and she played good defense.”

Montana built a 26-16 lead in the first half, only to see it evaporate under a flurry of 3-point shots by the Vandals in the closing minutes.

A 3-pointer by Stacey Barr, who led both teams with 24 points, early in the second half gave Idaho a 33-32 lead, and two minutes later Barr put the Vandals up 35-34. It would be their final lead of the game.

Kellie Rubel

Kellie Rubel. Photo by ©William Munoz

Rubel answered with her only basket of the game, a 3-pointer that gave Montana a 37-35 lead, and Feller and Sims hit eight of UM’s next nine baskets to maintain the advantage.

Barr tried to rally her team midway through the second half with back-to-back threes, but both times Feller answered with a 3-pointer of her own on Montana’s next possession, a fun back-and-forth by two players who have connected 131 times from the arc this season.

Feller’s second answer put Montana up 59-53, and any further comeback by the Vandals was hamstrung by their effort from the free throw line, where they were a dreadful 8 for 17 in the second half.

The win was Montana’s 24th in its last 25 games at Dahlberg Arena against a Big Sky Conference opponent.

Eastern Washington lost 63-53 at Montana State Thursday night, giving Montana a two-game cushion on both the Eagles and Sacramento State (12-14, 10-5 BSC). Both of those teams have three regular-season games remaining. Montana has two.

Lurking a half game behind the Eagles and Hornets in fourth place is Northern Colorado (16-11, 10-6 BSC). The Bears became the fourth team to clinch a spot in the Big Sky tournament with an 88-66 victory at Southern Utah (12-13, 5-10 BSC) Thursday night, the Bears’ sixth consecutive win.

In the only other Big Sky game Thursday, Northern Arizona (12-14, 8-7 BSC) won 72-68 in double overtime at home over North Dakota (17-11, 9-7 BSC). UND, which has lost four of its last five games, needs one more victory to clinch a tournament spot.

Montana Sports Information

Carly Selvig's jump shot over Brooke Reilly ©williammunoz
Carly Selvig's ...
Kayleigh Valley grabs a rebound©williammunoz
Kayleigh Valley grab...
Monte and a young helper©williammunoz
Monte and a young he...
Alycia Sims eyes the basket ©williammunoz
Alycia Sims eyes the...
Kayleigh Valleyshootingover Geraldine McCorkell©williammunoz
Kayleigh Valleyshoot...
Kellie Rubel launches a three point shot ©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel launche...
Alycia Sims
Alycia Sims
Coach Selvig sending Shanae Gilham in to the the game©williammunoz
Coach Selvig sending...
McCalle Feller makes a jump shot©williammunoz
McCalle Feller makes...
Shanae Gilham adjusting knee brace©williammunoz
Shanae Gilham adjust...
MaggieRickman shoots a basket ©williammunoz
MaggieRickman shoots...
Kayleigh Valley ©williammunoz
Kayleigh Valley &cop...
Alycia Sims driving past Geraldine McCorkell©williammunoz
Alycia Sims driving ...
Alycia Sims shoots over Ali Forde©williammunoz
Alycia Sims shoots o...

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Montana Sports Information