By JOEL CARLSON
McCalle Feller, who for two days turned Dahlberg Arena into her very own pop-a-shot arcade game, hit seven 3-pointers and scored 32 points to earn MVP honors as Montana won the 35th Lady Griz Classic Sunday afternoon with an 86-70 victory over Utah State.
Montana, which wraps up its nonconference schedule with a 7-4 record, won the title for the 32nd time and improved to 67-3 at its home tournament.
Feller, who scored a career-high 34 points in Saturday’s 83-69 victory over Florida Atlantic, went 7 for 9 from 3-point range on Sunday, 11 for 16 overall, to become one of the easiest choices for MVP in the long history of the tournament.
She hit 24 of her 38 (.632) shots against the Owls and Aggies and went 12 for 20 (.600) from the arc. Her back-to-back scoring outputs place her in exclusive company. She becomes one of just three players in Lady Griz history to score 30 or more points in consecutive games.
The other two: Shannon Cate and Mandy Morales, the top two scorers in program history. Cate, who scored 30 or more points a record 14 times, had three straight games with 30-plus points as both a junior and senior, plus another back-to-backer as a senior. Morales went back-to-back as a sophomore.
None of which should overshadow the weekend’s most important storyline: Montana just played two of its best games of the season heading into conference. After a break for Christmas, the Lady Griz open league at home Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
“I felt like we played well against two good basketball teams this weekend,” said coach Robin Selvig, whose team shot 51.2 percent in two games and went 21 for 42 from 3-point range. “McCalle obviously had a couple of huge games, but everybody played well. It’s a nice way to head into the break.”
After some early back and forth, Montana led the final 38 minutes of Sunday’s game against Utah State, but the Lady Griz weren’t able to gain some winning separation until late in the third quarter. Very late in the third quarter.
Montana led 40-30 at the half and scored 11 of the first 14 points in the third quarter to build a 51-33 lead, but Utah State (5-5) would respond and cut that advantage to eight, 57-49, with three minutes left in the period.
That’s when Feller put her signature on her two-game work of art.
With the game’s momentum starting to tilt toward the visitors, Feller hit three 3-pointers the final 2:08 of the third quarter and scored 11 points to put Montana comfortably ahead 70-51 entering the fourth.
She capped the flourish in the most Feller-way possible. After Utah State missed in the closing seconds, Feller took an outlet pass from Alycia Sims, took a few dribbles up the right side and stopped and popped from 30 feet. Swish, 19-point lead, Utah State’s spirit broken, game over.
“That all came at a fairly important time,” said Selvig. “We had gotten up 18, then they chipped it back down to single digits. McCalle hits three in a row and the 30-footer with the clock running down, which I felt was going to go in, just because it seemed like she was hot. Sure enough, it went in.”
Feller scored 14 points in the quarter on 5-of-5 shooting.
The Aggies outscored the Lady Griz 19-16 in the fourth quarter, the only period of the tournament that Montana got outscored.
“It got a little sloppy at the end. I hate giving up 70 points, but I should never say that,” said Selvig. “I’d take a one-point win, no matter what the score is.”
Montana had two of its best offensive outings of the season to win the tournament, and a team that typically wins with its defense needed all the points it could score.
Florida Atlantic, which defeated Tennessee State 69-64 in Sunday’s consolation game, drained 14 3-pointers against Montana, and Utah State shot 8 for 16 from the arc and 45.0 percent overall, a better percentage than either Lehigh or Colorado State, both of which had blowout wins over Montana.
“They ended up shooting a pretty good percentage and scored the ball all night. They have some nice weapons. It’s not like we shut them down,” said Selvig, who then added a coda that’s not been uttered by the coach in a long while. “But we were just relentless on the other end and got away from them.”
Julianne Anchling went 4 for 4 from 3-point range to lead the Aggies with 14 points. Funda Nakkasoglu, who joined Anchling on the all-tournament team, added 13 points and six assists.
But Montana mostly held Utah State’s leading scorer, who entered the game averaging more than 21 per outing, in check. Nakkasoglu went 4 for 14 and her drives to the basket only resulted in a pair of free throws.
“I thought we did a real good job on her. She got some threes down, but she only went to the line twice, which was our main point of emphasis,” said Selvig.
Feller may have stolen the show, but she had plenty of support. Sims, Kayleigh Valley and Haley Vining were all fantastic.
Valley, who scored 24 on Saturday, added 15 on 7-of-15 shooting against the Aggies. Sims, with 12 points and nine rebounds, just missed a double-double for the second straight game, and Vining, who went 2 for 3 from 3-point range, had eight points and six assists.
“Kayleigh had another solid game. She missed a few shots around the basket that she usually makes, but if a bad shooting game is 7 for 15, that tells me you’re starting to expect a lot out of somebody,” said Selvig.
“Haley was really good today. We’re getting the ball to people where they can do damage, and she also kicked in 3-for-4 shooting. And of course Alycia had a great weekend. She was really good scoring the basketball and rebounding. She just looked confident with it and made big shots.”
Valley, MVP of last year’s Lady Griz Classic, joined Feller on the all-tournament team, as did Ali Gorrell of Florida Atlantic and I’mani Davis of Tennessee State.
Montana will host Northern Arizona on Thursday, Dec. 31, at 4 p.m. and Southern Utah on Saturday, Jan. 2, at 2 p.m. to open Big Sky Conference play.
Montana Sports Information