By JOEL CARLSON
Montana bounced back from a 32-point loss at Colorado State Thursday night with a game effort at Wyoming Saturday afternoon, but the Lady Griz couldn’t overcome the Cowgirls’ advantage at the free throw line and fell 68-61 at Arena Auditorium in Laramie, Wyo.
Despite a 26-point, nine-rebound performance from junior Kayleigh Valley, Montana (5-4) dropped its second straight game and lost to Wyoming (5-3) for the sixth time in seven meetings in the teams’ annual matchup.
Marquelle Dent, who reached 1,000 career points in Wyoming’s victory Wednesday afternoon at Denver, scored 20 points to lead the Cowgirls, who took 37 free throws in the game to Montana’s seven.
“I was proud of the effort today. What a turnaround from the other night. This is a game we can feel a whole lot better about than the last one. We played a good team at their place and should have won with the way we played,” said coach Robin Selvig.
After shooting just 23.1 percent Thursday against the Rams, the Lady Griz came out hot against the Cowgirls. Montana hit 10 of its 17 shots in the first quarter and led 23-15 at the first break. Valley scored 10 in the first quarter on 5-of-5 shooting.
“The good thing today was we came out and shot it great to start the game,” Selvig said. “We had them on their heels.”
It wouldn’t last. Wyoming scored 10 straight points in the second quarter to take its first lead of the game and outscored Montana 19-6 for the period to build a 34-29 halftime advantage.
The Cowgirls hit just two baskets in the third quarter but went 14 for 16 from the line to take a 52-49 lead into the fourth.
“And we played zone the whole time,” Selvig said. “I kept telling the girls we need to quit fouling. Wyoming wasn’t scoring. They were just getting to the line the whole night.”
With Wyoming holding a 57-53 lead early in the fourth quarter, Dent and Marta Gomez hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 63-53, but Montana would not go away.
Valley and McCalle Feller, who finished with 13, scored the game’s next eight points to bring Montana within two, 63-61, with 1:53 to play.
Jordan Kelley posted up Valley on Wyoming’s next possession and drew — what else? — a shooting foul. Her two free throws made it 65-61, and Montana missed all five of its shots over the final 75 seconds to put an end to a possible comeback.
“We battled tooth and nail the whole time,” said Selvig. “We just ended up putting them on the foul line all night. I can’t remember the last time we’ve given up that many free throws.
“In the end we could have come out with the win, and it’s frustrating to lose close ones. You can point to a few little things that could have won us the game.”
The teams’ stars — Dent for Wyoming, Valley for Montana — were just that. Dent scored 20 points but needed 22 shots to do it. Valley, who scored with her back to the basket and off drives from the perimeter, had 26 points on 12-of-17 shooting to reach 20 for the fourth time in six games.
“Kayleigh played strong and was unstoppable around the basket,” said Selvig. “We got it in her hands plenty and could have gotten it to her even more. They had no answer for her.”
The Cowgirls didn’t, but they had their own weapon: a 22-point advantage from the line, which offset eight more made field goals for Montana. Kelley went 8 for 8 from the stripe, Liv Roberts 8 for 10 and Bailee Cotton 8 for 12. Kelley finished with 16 points, Roberts with 13.
Sierra Anderson scored eight points and added a team-high three assists off the bench for the Lady Griz, who shot 41.3 percent and had just 11 turnovers.
Montana will host the Lady Griz Classic next weekend at Dahlberg Arena.