By JOEL CARLSON | Photos By WILLIAM MUNOZ
The Montana women’s basketball team will hit the road for just the second time this season when it travels to Colorado State and Wyoming this week. The Lady Griz will face the Rams at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Fort Collins and the Cowgirls at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Laramie.
Coverage: Thursday’s game will be broadcast locally on KGVO 101.5 FM/1290 AM, Saturday’s game on KMPT 930 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Both games can be tracked through live stats. Thursday’s game will have video coverage through CSURams.com.
Opening tip: Montana’s first road trip, over Thanksgiving weekend, was to Lehigh for the Christmas City Classic at Bethlehem, Pa. That trip resulted in an 80-53 loss to the host Mountain Hawks and an encouraging 58-50 bounce-back victory over Drexel.
This week’s road trip will be even more of a challenge. Colorado State, Mountain West Conference regular-season champion the last two seasons and this year’s preseason favorite, is 7-1, with only a one-point loss at Penn spoiling its record.
Wyoming is 4-3, including a 75-64 victory Wednesday afternoon at Denver. The Cowgirls, who have won five of six over the Lady Griz, have three quality losses this season (more on that below).
“This is about as tough a road trip an anybody would want,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “I don’t know if we can go in and get either of these guys or not, so we’ll find out some things. I think we’re capable of it, so let’s go see where we stand.”
Most recently: Montana shot 59 percent in the first half to build a 53-21 halftime lead over Cal State Fullerton Sunday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena and cruised to an 86-51 victory. Kayleigh Valley led both teams with 20 points, Hannah Doran came off the bench to add a career-high 12 points and team-high nine rebounds.
The Lady Griz shot 49.2 percent for the game, their highest percentage against a Division I opponent this season, and had their best efficiency rating, averaging 1.37 points per possession.
“It was nice to have a game where we lit it up a little bit,” said Selvig. “It was especially nice to do it before we head out on this road trip, because it’s going to be hard to score points. Both of these teams are very good defensively.
“They don’t pressure you defensively, they just make it tough to get shots when someone doesn’t have a hand in your face. This will be a good test for us.”
Valley honored: Kayleigh Valley was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Tuesday, even though she played just 24 minutes in Montana’s only game within the award’s seven-day window.
Valley scored 16 of her game-high 20 points in the first half — 10 in the second quarter alone while Montana was outscoring Cal State Fullerton 31-7 — on 6-of-6 shooting as the Lady Griz built a commanding 53-21 halftime advantage.
She finished 8 of 9 and added five rebounds, two assists, a block and a steal. Her hot hand against the Titans upped her season shooting percentage to .533. Valley has also scored 20 or more points three times in the last four games, with a pair of 29-point performances, to up her scoring average to 16.1, second-best in the Big Sky Conference.
Valley was named to the all-tournament team at the Christmas City Classic after putting up 40 points against Lehigh and Drexel.
All hail Haley: For someone whose career was supposed to be over — she’s had three ACL surgeries — point guard Haley Vining is making the most of a heathy fifth year.
After a slow start — she was 2 for 18 in the season’s first three games, with seven assists and five turnovers — Vining has found her purple patch. She went 4 for 6 from 3-point range against Portland, finishing with a career-high 15 points, and added a then career-high six assists against zero turnovers.
On Sunday against Fullerton, Vining hit both of her 3-pointers and handed out a career-high seven assists. In Montana’s last four games, Vining has gone 7 for 10 from the arc, with 16 assists and six turnovers.
“I wouldn’t have recommended she do the third ACL surgery and still try to come back. I thought she was crazy to do it,” said Selvig. “We didn’t even know if she’d be able to play this year.
“It’s been good for us, because she’s playing real solid. She’s playing quick again, and she can shoot the heck out of it. She doesn’t have much experience, but she’s gaining it and starting to be a better leader. She’s a great kid with a great story.”
The magic number: Montana shot well against Cal State Fullerton, finishing at 49.2 percent, and had a blowout win, which got us wondering: How do the Lady Griz do when they shoot, say, 40 percent?
It’s a small sample size, but to save time we went back to the start of the 2010-11 season to find out. Montana has shot 40 percent or better 68 times in those five-plus seasons and is 64-4 in those games. So, not a guarantee but a pretty good bet.
Five things to know about Colorado State:
- Of the 15 players on Colorado State’s roster, nine are international, with seven hailing from one of the five Scandinavian countries. Which means Norwegian Robin Selvig will be trying to devise a defense to slow down CSU’s leading scorer, Elin Gustavsson of Sweden. (As someone with 100 percent Scandinavian blood, I’m all in.)
And they are tall. The Rams have seven players six feet or taller, led by the 6-foot-3 Gustavsson and her team-leading 11.1 points per game (and dark hair, of all things). Ellen Nystrom, a 6-foot-1 junior guard, also from Sweden, is averaging 10.6 points.
- Colorado State is 7-1 and a made basket away from being undefeated. And it’s not because of its offense, which is pretty pedestrian (64.4 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting).
Instead the Rams use all that size and length to keep you from scoring. CSU is allowing just 50.1 points per game, one of the 10 best marks in the nation.
On Tuesday night, Colorado State traveled 45 minutes east to Greeley and held a good Northern Colorado team — which lost only by four on the road three days earlier at South Dakota State, the No. 2 team in this week’s ESPN mid-major poll — to 46 points in a 62-46 win.
- Fourth-year coach Ryun Williams has an embarrassment of riches on his staff. Assistant Tim Moser led Alaska-Anchorage to NCAA Division II Final Fours in 2008 and ’09, and the Elite Eight in 2012.
Director of administration Chad Lavin (the nemesis of anyone with to-the-grave North Dakota — as in UND — rooting ties, the writer included) led South Dakota to the 2008 NCAA Division II national championship game and was that level’s national coach of the year that season. (Go Sioux)
- Montana and Colorado State have met eight times, with each winning four. The Rams hold a 2-1 edge in games at Fort Collins. The Rams won 72-64 at home in the 2009-10 season opener the last time Montana and Colorado State met.
- CSU won 23 games last year and won the Mountain West Conference regular-season title with a 15-3 league mark. The No. 1 Rams lost to No. 8 San Jose State in the conference tournament quarterfinals and made the WNIT, where they lost a first-round home game to Northern Colorado.
Going 0-2 in the postseason was a disappointing finish for a team that won 15 of its last 17 regular-season games. Montana can commiserate. The Lady Griz had a 27-2 regular season in 2006-07, then went 0-2 in the postseason, falling to Northern Arizona in the Big Sky tournament and to Utah in the WNIT.
Five things to know about Wyoming:
- The Cowgirls are 4-3 and off to a strong start for a team with just two returning starters and picked to finish seventh in Mountain West.
Wyoming lost by six to now 7-2 Saint Mary’s, lost in overtime at Gonzaga and fell by four at Idaho, which is 7-1 and atop the Big Sky Conference standings, with a neutral-site loss to Duke its only setback. Saint Mary’s is No. 6, Idaho No. 8 in this week’s ESPN mid-major poll.
There are ho-hum 4-3 records and impressive 4-3 records. Wyoming’s tilts toward the latter.
- Wyoming is winning this season in a non-Cowgirl way, at least as it’s been under 13th-year coach Joe Legerski.
Normal: Force you to take a less-than-desired shot, which was typically a miss, then grab the rebound. Example: Last year’s matchup in Missoula, when Montana shot a painful-to-watch 32 percent and lost 60-54. The new normal (at least for now): Opponents are shooting a relatively healthy 41.8 percent this year against Wyoming.
But the Cowgirls are young, with seven newcomers, including six freshmen. That percentage will soon start drifting south and be under 40 percent in no time. (Hopefully Saturday’s game does not contribute.)
- With 21 points (and 10 assists!) in Wednesday afternoon’s win at Denver, senior guard Marquelle Dent reached 1,000 career points. She is the 23rd player in program history to reach that milestone.
- Wyoming went 16-14 last season, tying for fifth in the Mountain West with a 10-8 league record. Just two starters returned from that team: Dent and senior guard Jordan Kelley, and a senior backcourt is a good thing. Kelley added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in Wednesday’s win at Denver.
- Montana leads the all-time series with Wyoming 9-8, but that margin is closing fast. The Cowgirls have won five of the last six matchups. Legerski is 7-5 in his head-to-head meetings against Selvig since arriving at Wyoming following his long tenure as an assistant at Utah.
Upcoming: Montana will host the Lady Griz Classic next weekend, with Florida Atlantic (5-1), Tennessee State (4-4) and Utah State (3-4) traveling to Missoula. Games will be played Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with Montana opening against Florida Atlantic on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Montana Sports Information