By JOEL CARLSON | Photos By WILLIAM MUNOZ
At the end of a long road trip, down a starter and facing a rested team, Cal State Fullerton ran into a buzz saw Sunday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena.
Montana shot 59.4 percent in the first half, including an 8-for-12 performance from 3-point range, to build a 53-21 halftime lead, and the Lady Griz cruised to an 86-51 victory over the Titans.
Kayleigh Valley scored a game-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting, McCalle Feller, who missed her first two, went 6 for 10 from 3-point range, and Montana, which got 35 points from its bench, finished 12 of 24 from the arc.
Cal State Fullerton (2-7), which lost its seventh straight game, fell 89-66 at Montana State Thursday night, then lost starting guard Dani Craig, the team’s second-leading scorer, to injury Saturday at practice.
It was a major blow. The Titans’ five starters all play more than 30 minutes per game, and only one sub averages more than 10. It had Fullerton out of sorts most of the afternoon.
“They were missing a kid today, and that hurt them, because they are not that deep to start with,” said Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig. “I think they lost their intensity a little bit, because this was easier than it should have been.”
With Fullerton playing zone from the start and with a short bench, the game had all the ingredients necessary for a one-sided win, as long as Montana did what is far from a guarantee: shoot well from distance.
The Lady Griz missed their first two shots of the game, both open looks for Feller from 3-point range, and added an early turnover, but that was about all the wrong they did in a first half that saw them hit nearly 60 percent of their shots while turning it over just four times.
After Feller’s early misses, Montana hit five of its next seven from the arc — three coming from Feller, who is incapable of being daunted by prior shot results — to build a 22-14 lead after the opening quarter. The Lady Griz then locked down defensively to blow the game open.
Montana outscored Cal State Fullerton 31-7 in the second quarter, the Lady Griz going 11 for 17 (.647) in the period, the Titans 0 for 9. The halftime lead was 32 points.
“We moved the ball against their zone. We missed our first couple threes, then started raining it a little,” said Selvig. “Anytime you’re getting three every other time down the floor, it’s tough on the other team.
“They made some changes to their zone, but we weren’t having any trouble getting shots.”
Samantha Logan hit a three to bring Fullerton within 17-14 late in the opening quarter. The Titans would go the final two minutes of the first period and all 10 of the second without a basket. All seven of their second-quarter points came at the line.
“They weren’t that easy to guard initially, then it turned into a nightmare for them,” said Selvig. “We started getting transition and making some threes. It kind of snowballed on them from there.”
The only drama in the second half: would Montana approach the program record of 16 3-pointers (no), would everyone get in the scoring column (no) and would the Lady Griz play well for all 40 minutes as they get ready for a difficult road trip to Colorado State and Wyoming (yes)?
Though Montana cooled off in the second half to finish at 49.2 percent shooting for the game, the Lady Griz had just 10 turnovers in the type of game — over by halftime, plenty of different player combinations on the court in the second half — that can turn ugly in a hurry.
“What I like is that we only had 10 turnovers. We were getting shots, and we weren’t getting sloppy. It’s not like we have a huge lead that often, so when you do, you don’t want to get sloppy,” said Selvig.
“It’s nice having a good feeling going into the road trip we’ve got coming up, because it’s going to be a tough one.”
Valley, who scored 10 of her 20 points in the game-changing second quarter, continued her efficient play of late. Her 8-for-9 performance upped her season shooting percentage to 53.3.
Feller’s six 3-pointers were one off her career high, and Haley Vining knocked down both of her threes while adding a career-high seven assists.
Hannah Doran approached a double-double in 25 minutes off the bench, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and nine rebounds, Rachel Staudacher added 11 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes, and Sierra Anderson finished with seven points and five assists.
Michelle Berry led the Titans, who had 19 turnovers, with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Montana will face Colorado State at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Fort Collins and Wyoming at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Laramie.
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