By JOEL CARLSON | Photos By WILLIAM MUNOZ
Let the education of the Lady Griz begin. Because nothing beats an exhibition opener against a well-coached NAIA opponent that goes down to the final minute to give a coach plenty of material to draw from.
“We’ll be able to get a lot out of this,” said Montana coach Robin Selvig, whose team held off Carroll 59-54 Wednesday night in the first of two exhibition games for the Lady Griz.
“We’re going to learn a lot of things that we need to do better when we watch video, and it’s always good to learn those things early rather than late.”
Montana and Carroll were tied 29-29 at the half, and the Lady Griz were unable to build more than a seven-point lead in the second half.
The Saints had the ball down four in the final minute but missed their final three shots to let the Lady Griz off the hook.
“They are a good basketball team, so we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us,” said Selvig. “We worked really hard tonight, and if we hadn’t, they were doing enough good things that we would have been in trouble.”
Montana struggled in the first half to stop the well-balanced Saints, the No. 24-ranked team in NAIA. Carroll scored 16 points in the paint and went 4 for 7 from 3-point range to shoot 48 percent through the break.
“They are hard to guard. They have big, physical post players who make it tough to get around them. And then they started banging threes,” said Selvig.
Montana was unable to get any separation early but used baskets by Sierra Anderson, Alycia Sims and Mekayla Isaak to turn a 21-20 lead into a 27-20 advantage midway through the second quarter.
And like it did all night, Carroll answered. A pair of baskets in the paint plus a 3-pointer by Katie Estey, who led the Saints with 12 points, tied it at 27-27, and the teams went to the locker room deadlocked at 29-29.
Carroll twice took leads in the third quarter, and the Saints were within two possessions for much of the fourth. The second-half lead didn’t reach seven until McCalle Feller hit a jumper while getting fouled with 1:51 to play. Her free throw made it 58-51.
Carroll got it back to four with possession but ran out of time.
Both teams can look to the free throw line for what could have made the difference in the second half. Had Montana shot better than 8 for 15 over the third and fourth quarters, the lead could have reached a more comfortable margin. And had Carroll not gone 8 for 16, the Saints could have made it even tighter.
Feller led Montana with 17 points, and Anderson added 11 off the bench on 5-of-6 shooting. Kayleigh Valley scored 11 but struggled to get open looks against a Carroll defense that had her in its crosshairs. She went just 4 for 15 but added nine rebounds and a team-high three assists.
Isaak scored six points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds off the bench.
Selvig didn’t go as deep into his bench as expected. None of his three freshmen played, and Maddie Keast (three minutes) and Jace Henderson (one minute) played sparingly.
But that was by design. Of the eight players who got significant minutes, four are getting considerable court time for the first time in their careers.
“I just felt like we have so many kids who don’t have game experience,” said Selvig. “We’re just trying to get some experience for the kids we’ll be counting on.”
Montana shot 36.8 percent and did not look quite as in sync offensively as Carroll, which was playing its third game of the season. None of the Lady Griz starters, who shot 30.2 percent as a unit, had hot hands. Feller’s points came more by way of volume than percentage.
“I thought we had some pretty good performances, but we didn’t shoot particularly well, and I don’t think we were super patient,” said Selvig.
Carroll, which cooled off to 28.6 in the second half to finish at 37.7 percent for the game, was led by Estey’s 12, Kacie McKeon’s 11 and Cassidy Hashley’s 10.
Montana will host Great Falls on Monday at 7 p.m. in its final exhibition game before opening the regular season against Seattle on Sunday, Nov. 15.
Montana Sports Information