By JOEL CARLSON
McCalle Feller scored 20 points and Montana held Pacific to 25.4 percent shooting in a 64-54 Lady Griz victory Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula that gave the Tigers their first loss of the season.
Alycia Sims added 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds, and Sierra Anderson came off the bench to score 16, 11 of which came in the first half, as Montana came back from an early eight-point deficit to build a 38-29 halftime advantage.
It all made Sunday and its enervating 58-44 home loss to Seattle feel like it happened months ago, to another team, not four days ago to these same Lady Griz, who improved to 2-1.
“We beat a really good team tonight, and I thought we played well on both ends of the floor to do it,” said coach Robin Selvig, whose team went from early-season to midseason form almost overnight.
“It’s almost a sigh of relief after the way we played against Seattle. We just couldn’t score in that game, and it cost us a chance to win.”
It was a frustrating night for Kayleigh Valley, who made just one basket in limited minutes because of foul trouble. But it led to something positive. Without her production, somebody else needed to step up, and multiple players did.
Feller, who went 8 for 14 and hit three 3-pointers was fantastic, and Anderson provided a major boost off the bench. And both may have been overshadowed by the work done by Sims, who put in a lunch-bucket effort while playing a career-high 35 minutes.
Sims has a history of being either on or off in her play. On Thursday she had the look of a competitor from the opening possession, and her early scoring kept Montana in it when Pacific, which opened the season with road wins at CSU Bakersfield and UC Davis, threatened to run the Lady Griz off the court.
The Tigers (2-1), whose offense is built on hard drives to the basket and constant motion on the perimeter, hit five of their first eight shots and built a 15-7 lead five minutes in. All seven of Montana’s points came from Sims.
“Alycia hit two or three face-up shots early and just played great all game. She was a force on the boards,” said Selvig.
Whether Pacific cooled off or Montana finally got used to the style of play on the defensive end — something impossible to replicate in practice in preparation — the Tigers hit just one basket the rest of the quarter.
Anderson entered the game at the 6:05 mark of the first quarter and helped turn the game around. She scored nine points in the quarter, and a Feller 3-pointer with 1:28 left gave Montana a 19-18 advantage. The Lady Griz would hold the lead the rest of the game.
Montana built a nine-point halftime lead on 48.5 percent shooting and never let Pacific up off the deck in the second half.
The Tigers shot 24.2 percent in the first half, 26.3 in the second, and trailed by 19 points with four minutes left before a closing 9-0 run made the final score look tighter than the game felt.
“Pacific is a good defensive team and a really good offensive team with two quality road wins to start its season. And they’re experienced, so I thought this was going to be a long night,” said Selvig. “But we had some kids come to life offensively.”
Feller, Anderson, who earned player of the game honors, the tiebreaker being a vicious offensive foul she absorbed in the second half, and Sims provided a bulk of the scoring. Hannah Doran came off the bench to add seven, and Mekayla Isaak had four points, nine rebounds and four blocks.
Both teams finished with 46 rebounds, with Pacific grabbing 20 offensive boards. But with the Tigers shooting in the mid-20s, those extra possessions only led to six second-chance points.
“We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, but that’s what they do,” said Selvig. “They kind of throw it up there and go get it. They are as athletic as heck.
“I’m just proud of the effort. Everybody who played worked hard. Everybody did a nice job.”
Hailie Eackles led Pacific with a game-high 21 points, but she needed 22 shots to do it. Montana held Erin Butler, who was averaging 16 points entering the game, to a quiet six.
Montana will wrap up its season-opening, four-game home stand against Portland on Sunday at 1 p.m. The Pilots (1-1) play at Montana State Friday night.