By JOEL CARLSON | Photos By WILLIAM MUNOZ
McCalle Feller scored a career-high 34 points and Kayleigh Valley added 24 to lead the Montana women’s basketball team to an 83-69 victory over Florida Atlantic Saturday afternoon at the 35th Lady Griz Classic at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
Montana (6-4) will try to win its 16th straight Lady Griz Classic title, its 32nd overall, Sunday at 3:30 p.m. when it takes on Utah State (5-4), a 63-46 winner over Tennessee State (5-5) in Saturday’s opening game.
Florida Atlantic (5-3) and Tennessee State (5-5) will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday in the tournament’s consolation game.
Feller matched her previous career high of 25 points through three quarters, then added nine more in the fourth to join an elite group. Only Shannon Cate, Lauren Cooper, Ann Lake, Mandy Morales and Jeanne McNulty have scored more in program history.
And if 34 points can be scored subtly, Feller did it. She took 22 shots, an efficient total for that type of scoring output, and went 5 for 11 from 3-point range to give Montana, which twice has had Kayleigh Valley score 29, the three highest individual scoring outputs in the Big Sky Conference this season.
Feller, who scored from the arc, at the basket and everywhere in between, scored seven in the first quarter, then nine in the second, third and fourth quarters. She matched her career high with eight rebounds and turned the ball over just twice in 38 minutes.
“I did not realize McCalle had that many points,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “Obviously she had a pretty nice game. She was complete today. She had some jumpers, her runners off the glass and of course knocked down some threes. She had a pretty good floor game.”
In the opening minutes, it looked like Valley would be the player scoring 34 points. She hit her first three shots of the game, all in the first two minutes, to get Montana started, but it wouldn’t be until the fourth quarter that the Lady Griz finally built a comfortable margin against the Owls.
Florida Atlantic hit four of its 14 3-pointers in the first quarter, and Montana led 17-15 after one.
Back-to-back baskets by Alycia Sims, who finished with eight points on 4-of-7 shooting and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, her fifth outing with double-digit boards this season, helped Montana build a 13-point second-quarter lead, but the 3-point shot brought Florida Atlantic within 40-32 at the half.
“They’ve got some weapons, and that makes them hard to guard,” said Selvig, whose team spent most of the game playing zone. “I was thinking that if they want to fire threes, let’s have them fire up some threes. They shot a little bit better percentage than I like.”
The Owls went 6 for 10 from the arc in the third quarter, and Malia Kency brought Florida Atlantic within six, 67-61, early in the fourth quarter when she hit her team’s 13th triple of the game.
FAU had two possessions, both resulting in open 3-point looks, that could have made it a three-point game, but the Owls couldn’t convert, and Feller and Valley scored six straight points to make it 73-61 with less than five minutes to play to put the game out of reach.
“They love shooting threes, and they shot pretty darn well from three,” said Selvig. “I’d have rather seen an 8 for 33, but we weathered a 14 for 33.”
Feller and Valley did a bulk of the scoring, but Sims rebounded from a rough road trip to Colorado State and Wyoming last week to make it more than a two-player show. She shot a good percentage and helped limit Florida Atlantic to nine offensive rebounds and 25 percent shooting inside the arc.
“Alycia played well, which was nice to see. It was frustrating for her on our last trip,” said Selvig, referencing Sims’ 1-for-14 shooting against the Rams and Cowgirls.
“You go 4 for 7, and that’s a big difference. She made some nice plays, and her rebounding was tremendous. She held up the middle of the zone and got some tough rebounds, not just the ones that came to her.”
Haley Vining dished out five assists, Sierra Anderson came off the bench to add three assists and five points, and Montana shot 49.2 percent to match its second-best shooting performance of the season.
Florida Atlantic’s Ali Gorrell, a Wyoming transfer who was making her second trip to Dahlberg Arena, totaled 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals, and Kat Wright went 5 for 11 from 3-point range to score a team-high 17 points.
“That was a good win for us,” said Selvig. “One more before the break would be nice.”
To get it Montana will need to defeat Utah State, which looked impressive in running away from Tennessee State in the early game on Saturday.
Point guard Funda Nakkasoglu had 23 points and five assists for the Aggies, who held the Lady Tigers to 31.7 percent shooting.
“They’ve got good size and a little Australian point guard who is a really nice player,” said Selvig. “They are solid defensively. Just a really nice team. It should make for a good championship.”
Montana Sports Information