By JOEL CARLSON
The Montana women’s basketball team will open its Big Sky Conference schedule this week with home games against Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The Lady Griz will host the Lumberjacks at 4 p.m. on Thursday and the Thunderbirds at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Coverage: Both games this week will air in the Missoula area on KGVO 101.5 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater describing the action. GoGriz.com has links to live stats and free video coverage through Eversport.
Promotions: Fans with First Night Missoula buttons will get in free to Thursday afternoon’s game. The first 300 fans without a ticket to Saturday’s game will get a free general admission ticket.
Where they stand: Montana came out of its nonconference schedule with a 7-4 record and a No. 4 ranking in the GoGriz.com pre-league power poll that was released Tuesday. The Lady Griz, last year’s regular-season and tournament champions, were picked first in September’s preseason coaches’ poll.
Northern Arizona is 4-7 and ranked No. 10 in the pre-league power poll. The Lumberjacks, the No. 5 seed at last year’s Big Sky tournament, were picked eighth in September’s preseason poll.
Southern Utah is 3-8 and ranked No. 11 in the pre-league power poll. The Thunderbirds, who tied for 10th in last year’s standings and missed out on the eight-team postseason tournament, were picked 11th in September’s preseason poll.
More on Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks have non-Division I wins over New Mexico Highlands and Dixie State, plus victories over Lamar and UC Irvine. … NAU enters league on a two-game losing streak after falling to both Nebraska and Iowa State on the same road trip before Christmas. … Northern Arizona led by nine at the half at Nebraska before getting outscored 53-21 in the second half and losing 90-67, and trailed by just three entering the fourth quarter at Iowa State before falling 79-63. … The Lumberjacks are led in scoring (14.5/g) and rebounding (9.4/g) by 6-foot-2 freshman forward Alyssa Rader. … Junior guard Rene Coggins is averaging 10.3 points and has nearly half (20 of 44) of her team’s 3-pointers. Junior guard Brittani Lusain, the Big Sky’s Outstanding Freshman in 2013-14, averages 9.2 points and leads the team in assists. … NAU is coached by Sue Darling, who is 34-65 in her fourth season.
History: Montana leads the all-time series with Northern Arizona 50-11 and has won the last five matchups. … The Lady Griz are 29-3 against the Lumberjacks in Missoula, with seven straight wins. … Montana won 69-42 at Flagstaff in the only game between the teams last season.
More on Southern Utah: The Thunderbirds, who lost four starters from last year’s non-tournament team, opened the season 0-6 but are 3-2 since the calendar flipped to December. … SUU won 67-65 at home over Cal State Northridge, won 75-56 at home over still-winless Air Force and defeated winless Bristol 99-37 at Cedar City on Monday night. … Southern Utah is 0-7 away from home this season, with an average margin of defeat of more than 23 points. … The Thunderbirds are led in scoring (13.1/g) and rebounding (7.9/g) by junior forward Jessica Richardson, the only returning starter from last year’s 13-15 team. … Even with Monday’s night’s 99-point game, SUU still ranks last in the Big Sky in scoring average at 59.4 points per game. … Southern Utah is shooting a league-worst 34.4 percent for the season but doing a respectable job defensively, holding its opponents to 38.3.
History: Montana leads the series with Southern Utah 11-1. The Thunderbirds’ only win against the Lady Griz came at Cedar City in a regular-season game in 2013-14. … Montana is 5-0 against Southern Utah in Missoula, with an average margin of victory of more than 20 points. … The Lady Griz won 59-37 at Cedar City last season in the teams’ only matchup of the season.
* Montana enters league on a two-game winning streak after a pair of wins before Christmas at the Lady Griz Classic. Montana defeated Florida Atlantic and Utah State. The wins snapped a two-game losing streak that came on the road at the hands of Colorado State and Wyoming.
* Senior guard McCalle Feller had the games of her life (to this point) at the Lady Griz Classic. She scored a career-high 34 points against Florida Atlantic while matching a career high with eight rebounds, then added 32 points against Utah State on 7-of-9 shooting from 3-point range. For the two games she went 24 for 38 from the field, 12 of 20 from 3-point range to earn tournament MVP and Big Sky Player of the Week honors.
* Feller has hit a 3-pointer every game this season and is already up to 35 makes through 11 games. She is nearly halfway to the program record of 72 triples set by Sonya Rogers in 2007-08, the season Rogers (now assistant coach Sonya Stokken) led the NCAA in 3-point accuracy, with at least 19 games still to be played. Feller is averaging a league-best 3.2 triples per game. If that average continues, she would break the Big Sky record of 92 established by Weber State’s Chelsea Warburton in 2006-07.
* It’s still somewhat early in the season, but:
- Montana is shooting 69.9 percent from the line. If that doesn’t improve, it would mark the first time since 1998-99 that the Lady Griz have shot below 70 percent. Chance of happening: 0.001 percent.
- Montana leads the Big Sky in 3-point percentage, connecting at 35.6 percent. This from a team that opened the season going 4 for 26 (.154) from the arc in a home loss to Seattle and 4 for 25 (.160) on the Wyoming-Colorado State road trip. The Lady Griz last led the Big Sky in that category in 2006-07 (.382), 2007-08 (.392) and 2008-09 (.347). Chance of happening: 17.3 percent.
* Montana has shot 41.3 (Wyoming), 49.2 (Florida Atlantic) and 53.1 percent (Utah State) in its three games since shooting 23.1 percent at Colorado State. That’s upped the team’s season shooting percentage to .407. Montana has shot better than 40 percent for a season just once (.405 in 2013-14) the last six years.
* Montana went 9 for 18 from 3-point range against Florida Atlantic, 12 for 24 against Utah State. … The Lady Griz shot the same percentage, .500, from both the arc and line against the Aggies.
* Montana had 23 turnovers in two games at the Lady Griz Classic, which was right in line with its season average of 11.7. The Lady Griz rank sixth nationally in that category. In a similar category, assist-to-turnover ratio, Montana ranks 19th at 1.25.
* Junior Kayleigh Valley (17.8/g) and senior McCalle Feller (17.1/g) rank second and third in the Big Sky in scoring. Both trail Eastern Washington senior Hayley Hodgins (20.2/g). … Junior Alycia Sims ranks fourth in rebounding (9.0/g). … Valley ranks third in field goal percentage (.541) and second in free throw percentage (.863).
* Senior point guard Haley Vining quietly had a fantastic Lady Griz Classic. She dished out 11 assists while turning the ball over just twice. Those totals upped her season numbers to 36 assists and 16 turnovers. Her season assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3 leads the Big Sky.
* Montana has 161 assists for the season against 129 turnovers, a delightful ratio. Compare to Northern Arizona (36 more turnovers than assists) and Southern Utah (56 more turnovers than assists).
* McCalle Feller’s 34- and 32-point games — she is only the second player in program history to go for 30 or more in back-to-back games, joining Shannon Cate and Mandy Morales — are the two best scoring games in the Big Sky this season. The next best total is 29, which Kayleigh Valley reached twice, against Portland and Drexel. Montana State’s Jasmine Hommes has the league’s other 29-point game, against Wyoming.
* Montana coach Robin Selvig is 6-0 against NAU’s Sue Darling and SUU’s Chris Boettcher.
* Montana’s 1.27 points per possession against Utah State was the team’s third-highest of the season. The Lady Griz were 1.36 against Cal State Fullerton, 1.32 against MSU Northern. … Utah State also scored it well in the Lady Griz Classic title game, finishing at 1.05. That was just the fourth time this season Montana has allowed an opponent to average more than a point per possession.
* Alycia Sims shot 10 for 16 (.625) in two games at the Lady Griz Classic. That came after she went 1 for 14 (.071) at Colorado State and Wyoming.
* McCalle Feller would need to average 13.6 points per game the rest of the season to reach 1,000 points for her career. … Kayleigh Valley isn’t far behind. Feller has 742 career points, Valley has 724, though Valley is only a junior.
Upcoming: Montana will play at Portland State and Sacramento State next week.
Montana Sports Information