Lady Griz Outlast Hornets 94-86

By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

In a back-and-forth battle between two of the top teams in the Big Sky Conference, Montana had the final surge, a game-closing 8-0 run, and it gave the Lady Griz not only a victory over Sacramento State Saturday but a two-game lead in the league standings at the midpoint of the Big Sky schedule.

Kellie Rubel scored eight of her 15 points in the final two and a half minutes, including four clutch free throws, and Montana survived a late 19-2 run by the Hornets to post a 94-86 victory in front of a raucous crowd of 3,301 Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.

Montana (15-5, 8-1 BSC) won for the 22nd straight time at home against a Big Sky Conference opponent and for the 13th time in 14 games since early December.

Coupled with North Dakota’s 75-69 loss at Idaho State Saturday, Montana is two games up in the loss column over both Sacramento State (9-12, 7-3 BSC) and UND (14-7, 6-3 BSC) with five weeks of Big Sky games remaining.

The Hornets, who rely on 40 minutes of pressure, turnovers and the three-point shot, got the game they wanted early on Saturday. They forced Montana into 12 first-half turnovers and went 11 for 20 from three-point range in the first half, and built a 40-28 lead with five minutes remaining.

Robin Selvig, Lady Griz Basketball

Head Coach Robin Selvig. Photo by ©William Munoz

Three-pointers by McCalle Feller and Shanae Gilham sparked a late first-half run that cut Montana’s halftime deficit just one, 47-46. The Lady Griz scored 18 points the final four minutes of the half.

“I thought they were getting away from us. Our worst nightmare was coming true. They were draining threes, and they were long threes from a couple of different kids,” said UM coach Robin Selvig.

“On nights when they’re hitting threes, they get really tough to defend, so we just needed to keep our noses to the grindstone.”

After the teams traded baskets early in the second half, Montana went on a sustained run that felt like it might put the game out of reach. Tied 53-53, the Lady Griz scored 17 of the game’s next 19 points to build a 70-55 lead.

“We weathered things and put together a real nice charge of our own after we were down. We broke pressure and had some transitions, hit some threes ourselves and were in good position,” said Selvig.

With 7:45 remaining, the lead was still 15, 80-65, and that’s when Sac State did what the Hornets do. They hit four three-pointers in four minutes and used missed shots and turnovers by Montana to storm back to take an 84-82 lead with 2:35 to play.

“Give them credit,” said Selvig. “We get up 15 in the second half and things are going good and the crowd is feeling good, but the lead can go so fast when you play like they do. It can disappear in a hurry, which it did.”

With the game possibly slipping away, Rubel answered like a fifth-year senior should. She scored eight of Montana’s next 10 points, starting with a trip to the line for a pair of free throws that tied the game at 84.

Maranne Johnson, who led both teams with 20 points, put the Hornets back in front 86-84 with 2:05 remaining, but those would be the final points of the game for Sac State. The Hornets went 0 for 6 the final two minutes.

With her team down two again, Rubel drove into the lane, absorbed contact and finished at the basket to make it 86-86 with 1:30 left.

After a miss by Sac State’s Fantasia Hilliard, who had eight points and 11 assists, Maggie Rickman found Alycia Sims cutting to the basket, and Sims scored on a gutsy five-foot runner off the glass to give Montana the lead for good with 46 seconds remaining.

The Hornets were unable to tie it on their next possession, and Rubel went 4 for 4 and Kayleigh Valley 2 for 2 from the line over the final 22 seconds to give Montana its seventh-straight win.

It was the most points scored by Montana since putting 94 on Portland State more than a year ago.

“That’s the pace they create in a game,” said Selvig. “It’s up and down, up and down. We’ve been shutting people down recently where they’ve had a hard time scoring. This was a game we had to score more points than the other team, and we did.

“Credit my ladies for hanging in there, being strong and making plays at the end when they needed to.”

Valley, who had connected on only two three-pointers through the team’s first eight league games, went 3 for 4 from the arc Saturday and finished with a game-high 17 points. She also grabbed seven rebounds and had just a single turnover in 28 minutes.

Feller, who had a career-high 25 points in Thursday’s rout of Portland State, scored 16 points, and Rickman finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

cornholeBut it was Rubel who was the difference. With backup point guard Haley Vining unavailable because of an injury, Rubel played all 40 minutes in a game that had 147 shots between the two teams. She finished with 15 points and seven assists while turning it over just four times, and she saved her best for last.

Kellie didn’t get a break, so she has to be in tremendous condition to finish a game like that as strongly as she did,” said Selvig. “We had a bunch of people do some really good things for us at different times.”

Montana shot 61.5 percent in the second half, 48.6 percent for the game, and finished with a 56-38 rebounding advantage.

The Lady Griz will play at Eastern Washington (11-8, 4-4 BSC) on Thursday at 7 p.m. (MT) and at Idaho (9-10, 3-5 BSC) on Saturday at 3 p.m. (MT). The Eagles fell on the road to the Vandals Saturday afternoon, 71-58, their fourth straight loss.

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