By JOEL CARLSON
The Montana women’s basketball team, coming off its first Big Sky Conference road trip of the season, will play a pair of home games this week at Dahlberg Arena against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
The Lady Griz will host the Bears on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Fighting Hawks on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Coverage: Both games this week, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action, will be aired locally on KMPT 930 AM. Links to live stats and free video coverage can be found at gogriz.com.
Montana at a glance: After opening league with three wins over teams sitting in the bottom half of the Big Sky Conference standings, the Lady Griz (10-5, 3-1 BSC) lost their first conference game Saturday, falling 83-75 in overtime at Sacramento State. Montana is sitting in third place in the league standings, trailing Montana State (11-4, 4-0 BSC) and Eastern Washington (9-6, 3-0 BSC).
Northern Colorado at a glance: The Bears have played four Big Sky games and all four have been tight. Three have been decided by four points or fewer, and both last week — 48-47 over Idaho State and 65-63 over Weber State, both at home — came on last-second baskets. UNC (7-7, 2-2 BSC) is alone in seventh place, behind unbeaten Montana State and Eastern Washington, and four one-loss teams.
North Dakota at a glance: The Fighting Hawks (5-10, 1-3 BSC) opened league with three straight losses before pulling out a 45-42 victory over Idaho State on Saturday. Like UNC, North Dakota’s Big Sky games, other than its league opener at Idaho, a 92-65 loss, have been tight. UND gave away a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead at Eastern Washington and was tied with Weber State entering that game’s final minute.
Championship (game) resumes: Montana, Northern Colorado and North Dakota have made up the teams in the Big Sky Conference championship game the last three seasons. Montana defeated Northern Colorado in Missoula in both 2013, 56-43, and last season, 60-49. North Dakota defeated Montana 72-55 in the 2014 title game in Grand Forks.
The Bears also were in the 2012 championship game at Pocatello, Idaho, which they dropped 49-46.
Who’s hot (Montana): Kayleigh Valley. The junior forward was very good through Montana’s nonconference games. She’s been great since Dec. 31. In four league games the preseason All-Big Sky pick is averaging 27 points and 8.8 rebounds on 54.3 percent shooting. She matched a season high with 29 points against both Northern Arizona and Portland State.
Who’s hot (Northern Colorado): Kourteney Zadina and Savannah Scott. Not only do the junior and sophomore lead the team in scoring, they both played the hero last week. Zadina’s short jumper with 1.9 seconds left gave UNC a win over Idaho State. Scott’s 17 footer as time expired gave the Bears a 65-63 win two days later over Weber State.
Who’s hot (North Dakota): After an up-and-down start to the season junior guard Makailah Dyer is heating up. She scored 20 in last week’s tight loss to Weber State, going 5 for 7 from 3-point range, then added 15 more in her team’s win over Idaho State. With preseason Big Sky MVP Mia Loyd limited to just 15 points through four Big Sky games, Dyer’s production was badly needed.
Scouting Northern Colorado: The Bears lost first-team All-Big Sky performers D’shara Strange, last year’s co-MVP, along with Montana’s Kellie Rubel, and Stephanie Lee off last year’s team. Those departures left big holes to fill. They’ve filled them, at least offensively, with balance.
The team’s top six scorers, led by Savannah Scott’s 10.3 points, average between 6.4 and 10.3 points per game.
UNC is more geared toward the 3-point shot than in the past. Only Sacramento State (11.9/g) and Idaho (10.1/g) make more per game than Northern Colorado’s 8.6.
Northern Colorado is allowing 60.5 points per game, the third-best average in the league, but on 42.1 percent shooting, the third-worst percentage. That means the Bears are just fine being in a low-possession game, which has meant a lot of close outcomes.
“They don’t give you anything easy. That’s why they’re in a lot of close games,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “When you’re good defensively, people don’t get away from you very often. You have to work for what you’re going to get against them.
“They run good offense and have balance. Last year you could zero in on a couple of kids.”
Bonus UNC note: Northern Colorado rallied from 14 down in its 48-47 victory over Idaho State last Thursday, helped largely by holding the Bengals to two third-quarter points and 13 second-half points.
In Saturday’s 65-63 win over Weber State, the Bears faced a 12-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.
History: Montana leads the all-time series with Northern Colorado 15-6 and is 8-3 at Dahlberg Arena against the Bears. UNC has won three times in Missoula the last five seasons, including 52-51 in last season’s regular-season matchup.
Scouting North Dakota: The Fighting Hawks were picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll behind Montana but have yet to show that they are one of the Big Sky’s better teams.
Much of that is due to a struggling offense and the disappearance of Loyd, who scored four points at Idaho, did not play at Eastern Washington, then combined to score 11 points in last week’s home split.
Along with Dyer, junior guard Leah Szabla is the team’s only other reliable scorer, though 6-foot-3 junior Samantha Roscoe scored 22 against Weber State on 10-of-12 shooting.
As usual, North Dakota is big and physical under fourth-year coach Travis Brewster. UND ranks first in the Big Sky and 44th in the nation in rebounding margin at +7.1, and has out-boarded eight of its last nine opponents.
Mountain-sized center Emily Evers is gone, only to be replaced by 6-foot-6 junior Stephanie Smith, a transfer from Central Wyoming College. Smith had nine points and 11 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Idaho State and is shooting 64 percent through four league games.
“Rebounding is always a key when you play them,” said Selvig. “They may not be as big as they were the last couple of years, but they are still plenty big.
“They are aggressive offensively and a hard-nosed defensive team. You’re going to have to battle.”
Bonus UND note: When Montana and North Dakota, which had won the Big Sky the year before, met last February in Missoula, it was first place against second place. The Lady Griz won that game 66-51, and it sent UND into a season-ending downward spiral.
North Dakota lost eight of its final nine games last season and has yet to find its groove this season, though the Fighting Hawks likely played the Big Sky’s most difficult nonconference schedule. Their seven nonconference losses came to teams currently 36 games above .500. Only one was in Grand Forks.
History: Montana leads the all-time series with North Dakota 7-4 and is a perfect 5-0 against UND at Dahlberg Arena. The teams split their meetings a year ago, with UND winning 59-52 in Grand Forks and Montana 66-51 in Missoula.
Inside the Sac State loss: Had Montana held on to its fourth-quarter lead and won at Sacramento State in regulation on Saturday, the Grizzlies would have had the Hornets in the 60s, that after giving up 28 first-quarter points. Only Villanova has done better this season, 54 points, and that was on a neutral floor.
Instead it was Montana’s offense that was the culprit. The Lady Griz shot 44.1 percent, well above their season average of 41.8 but well below what Sac State has allowed its opponents this season: 52.2 percent. That percentage ranks last in the nation, or 344th. The 343rd-ranked team is at 47.4.
Only one other team — New Mexico State at 40.0 percent — has shot a lower percentage against the Hornets this season than Montana did on Saturday. The season-high 25 turnovers hurt, but not making Sac State pay for its gambling ways by converting high-percentage shots was the reason Montana lost.
Montana three-dot notes: Saturday’s overtime game was the team’s first since winning at Seattle in extra time last season. … The Lady Griz had won their previous four overtime games. … Montana is 20-16 in overtime games under Robin Selvig. … The Lady Griz have built double-digit leads in six of their last seven games. … Saturday’s at Sacramento State was the first time this season Montana has played in a game that has had a fourth-quarter lead change and the first it has lost (10-1) when holding the lead with five minutes remaining (in regulation). … Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Montana is 53-7 at Dahlberg Arena. Only two of those losses have come to Big Sky teams, Montana State in 2012-13 and Northern Colorado last season. … Montana is 505-60 at Dahlberg Arena in 37-plus seasons under Selvig. … Selvig lost his 100 conference game on Saturday, notable only because he’s in his 38th season and that 12 of those came in his first two seasons (1978-79 and 1979-80) in the old Northwest Women’s Basketball League. … Hannah Doran’s career-high 18 points at Sac State were a career high by six and just her fifth career double-digit scoring game. … She also had seven rebounds in both road games last week, two off her career high. … Since closing December by going 17 for 30 from 3-point range over four games, McCalle Feller has opened 2016 going 4 for 21. … Feller went 0 for 7 from three against the Hornets, the first time this season without a make from the arc. … Feller (42) and Kayleigh Valley (43) both played career-high minutes at Sacramento State. … Alycia Sims was one point and one rebound away from a pair of double-doubles last week. She had nine points and 11 rebounds at Portland State, 15 points and nine boards against Sac State.
Upcoming: Three straight road games for Montana. The Lady Griz will play at Idaho and Eastern Washington next week, then play at Montana State on Saturday, Jan. 30, in their only game that week.
Montana Sports Information