Lady Griz Remain in First Place with 66-51 Victory

By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

In a game weighty with postseason implications, Montana shut down one of the Big Sky Conference’s top offensive teams Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena, defeating North Dakota 66-51.

The Lady Griz (17-6, 10-2 BSC), who won at home against a league opponent for the 23rd straight time, did not dazzle offensively, but they turned the ball over a season-low four times, matched the league’s best rebounding team on the boards and went 16 for 18 from the free throw line.

And dominated on the defensive end. Montana held a team averaging 74.0 points on 45.8 percent shooting, the latter a percentage that ranked 13th in the nation, well below its standard, and North Dakota only broke 50 because of a pair of 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds.

“We did a really good job defensively tonight. They never really got much going offensively and never put together any sort of runs,” said UM coach Robin Selvig.

Not only did Montana’s victory put the Lady Griz up two games on North Dakota (16-8, 8-4 BSC) in the Big Sky standings, they also went up two games on Sacramento State (10-13, 8-4 BSC), which lost 80-79 at home Thursday night to Eastern Washington (14-8, 7-4 BSC).

Montana had gone 1-3 against North Dakota in the teams’ four meetings since the start of last season, with the Lady Griz struggling to score against a team built to win with its size, strength and inside play.

Thursday night Montana finally went right at North Dakota and stood up to the bully of the Big Sky Conference. The Lady Griz outscored UND in the paint and held North Dakota to a season-low point total.

The face of the uprising: Kayleigh Valley’s. She went 6 for 6, scoring all six of her baskets in the paint, and finished with 17 points. All six came off post entry passes, and Valley, who played a career-high 37 minutes, would not be denied. She caught it strong and finished stronger.

Kellie Cole Rubel

Kellie Rubel finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Photo by ©William Munoz

“The way they were pressuring and switching on the perimeter, we had to be able to get the ball into the post. When it’s hard to pass on the perimeter, it’s easier to pass it inside, but someone has to catch it strong, and Kayleigh was a target. She made some really good catches,” said Selvig.

For the third time in its last six games, Montana never trailed. Baskets by Maggie Rickman and McCalle Feller put the Lady Griz up 4-0 less than a minute in, and with North Dakota struggling to score, Montana was able to build a 15-4 lead.

But the defending Big Sky champions, who defeated the Lady Griz 59-52 in the teams’ matchup at Grand Forks in early January, did not go away.

North Dakota fought back to within one, 19-18, at the five-minute mark, but a 3-pointer and jumper in the paint by Kellie Rubel and another three by Hannah Doran made it 27-18, and Montana would take a 31-23 lead into the break.

If games are decided in the final five minutes of the first half and opening five minutes of the second half, that key stretch is where Montana pulled away. After ending the first half on a 12-5 surge, the Lady Griz scored the opening 11 points of the second half to build a 19-point lead, 42-23.

Montana led by double figures the rest of the way, but the lead was never completely safe, even against a team that is not built to make big comebacks.

North Dakota three times cut its second-half deficit to 11, and Megan Lauck, UND’s top 3-point threat, had an open look from the arc with the score 51-40 and still more than four minutes on the clock, but her shot was off.

Feller and Rickman answered with baskets to extend the lead to a more comfortable 15, and the game finally was in hand.

“It was a hard-fought game,” said Selvig. “We went up 19, but it’s still a grind. We didn’t shoot it great, but we had only four turnovers, and that makes a big difference. We got enough timely buckets.”

Emily Evers finished with 16 for North Dakota, Mia Loyd with 13, just below her season average of 16.3. They both shot it well, combining to go 11 of 21, but their attempts were limited, and their teammates, who shot 23.7 percent, did little to help the cause. UND shot 33.9 percent.

“Loyd still gets double figures, so does Evers, but they had to work hard to do that. They didn’t get as many shots as they do some games,” said Selvig.

Montana, which was playing without Shanae Gilham, who is out with bad knees, shot 37.7 percent, below its season average, and struggled from 3-point range, going 4 for 17, but the Lady Griz had success in the paint and its lock-down effort on the defensive end.

Rubel finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, and her strong, aggressive play at the start of the game helped set the tone for her team. Valley added 17, McCalle Feller 13, and Maggie Rickman finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three assists.

It was a banner victory for Montana, but the celebrating will need to be short-lived. Surging Northern Colorado (12-11, 6-6 BSC) posted its second straight blowout victory Thursday, winning 84-63 at Montana State behind a career game from D’Shara Strange.

Strange scored 31 points on 14-of-17 shooting and added 17 rebounds. Stephanie Lee finished with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, and Northern Colorado scored 52 points in the paint while shooting 55.7 percent.

Montana and Northern Colorado will tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.

In other league games Thursday, Northern Arizona won 64-47 at home over Idaho State, Weber State won 50-48 at Southern Utah, and Idaho won 69-49 at Portland State.

CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE

Coach Selvig high fives Kellie Rubel after she runs the court and makes a lay up ©williammunoz
Coach Selvig high fi...
Carly Selvig with teammates before game©williammunoz
Carly Selvig with te...
Kellie Rubel driving to basket©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel driving...
KellieRubel makes lay up after driving length of court©williammunoz
KellieRubel makes la...
McCalleFellerdrives to basket©williammunoz
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KayleighValleymakes a basket ©williammunoz
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MaggieRickman drives past North Dakota defender©williammunoz
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Hanna Doran©williammunoz
Hanna Doran©wil...
Kellie Rubel moves past North Dakota's Leah Szabla©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel moves p...
MaggieRickmanshoots over Emily Evers of North Dakota©williammunoz
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Carly Selvig takes a charge by North Dakota's Leah Szabla©williammunoz
Carly Selvig takes a...
Kellie Rubel grabs a rebound©williammunoz
Kellie Rubel grabs a...
Kellie Rubel and Maggie Rickmanguard
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