By JOEL CARLSON
The Montana women’s basketball team will play its first Big Sky Conference road games of the season this week when it travels to Portland State and Sacramento State.
The Lady Griz will face the Vikings at 8 p.m. (MT) on Thursday at PSU’s Stott Center in Portland and the Hornets at 3 p.m. (MT) on Saturday at The Nest in Sacramento.
Coverage: Thursday’s game will air locally on KMPT 930 AM, Saturday’s game on KGVO 101.5 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Links to live stats and video coverage are available at gogriz.com.
Trending (Montana): Up. The Lady Griz are 9-4 overall, have won four straight games and opened Big Sky 2-0 last week with home wins over Northern Arizona, 81-58, and Southern Utah, 66-60. It was just the second time in the last six seasons Montana has started 2-0 in league.
Trending (Portland State): Holding steady. The Vikings are 2-10 and lost their Big Sky opener at Sacramento State on Saturday 132-91. It’s all about gaining experience this season under first-year coach Lynn Kennedy, who inherited a 4-25 team and not a single returning starter.
Trending (Sacramento State): Up. The Hornets are just 4-8 overall but played a wicked nonconference schedule. Saturday’s record scoring game showed Sac State is primed for league. What better way to prove it by hosting Montana State and Montana this week, teams that both opened 2-0.
Road? What’s that? Montana has played just four games this season away from home, none since Dec. 12. The Lady Griz played at Lehigh’s tournament at Bethlehem, Pa., over Thanksgiving, then made the Colorado State-Wyoming road trip last month.
Counting its two exhibition games, Montana has played 11 times at Dahlberg Arena.
The Lady Griz’ lone win away from Missoula this season was their 58-50 victory over Drexel at Lehigh. Montana suffered 27- and 32-point setbacks at Lehigh and Colorado State, and lost 68-61 at Wyoming.
Sims, Doran reporting for duty: Alycia Sims went down with a sprained ankle late in first half in Saturday’s game, and Doran went to the bench with a bloody nose in the second half against the Thunderbirds, not to return.
Doran is fine. Sims was in practice gear Tuesday and is expected to be ready to go on Thursday.
Awards season: Kayleigh Valley was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week on Tuesday for her two-game performance last week. It was the second time she’s been so honored this season, the third time in her career.
Valley averaged 28 points and 7.5 rebounds against NAU and SUU. She matched her career high with 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting against the Lumberjacks and recorded her first career double-double against the Thunderbirds, finishing with 27 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Valley and McCalle Feller both were named preseason All-Big Sky in early October. Valley was named to the all-tournament teams at the Christmas City Classic and Lady Griz Classic. Feller, a one-time Big Sky Player of the Week herself, was named MVP of the Lady Griz Classic.
Getting it done, just differently: In the first three games of its current four-game winning streak, Montana shot 51.3 percent and put up 250 points in wins over Florida Atlantic, Utah State and Northern Arizona.
Montana’s hot hands cooled off on Saturday against Southern Utah. The Lady Griz shot 37.7 percent, their lowest figure in five games. After averaging 1.12, 1.27 and 1.20 points per possession in its last three wins, Montana shot 37.7 percent Saturday and averaged 0.92 points per possession.
It turned the game against the Thunderbirds, who shot 34.3 percent, into a grinder.
“Our big point now is getting better defensively. We need to and we can,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “We’re not bad on D, but we’re not nearly as good as we can be. We’ve had a little letdown lately, but that’s maybe because we were scoring 80 every game and didn’t need to stop anyone.”
Three things to know about Portland State:
- First-year coach Lynn Kennedy took over a program that went 4-25 a year ago, leading to the dismissal of Sherri Murrell. No starters from that team returned. Kennedy has five true freshmen on his roster, a pair of transfers and no one with more than one year of experience.
Kennedy has been starting four true freshmen and five underclassmen.
- Portland State picked up its first win of the season after seven losses with a 90-76 win over Corban, an NAIA school located in Salem, Ore. Three games later the Vikings knocked off Cal State Northridge at the Stott Center, 83-77.
- Portland State is averaging a healthy 70 points per game, more than Montana, but the Vikings are allowing 89.1, which ranks last in the national statistics out of 344 teams, one spot behind Sacramento State’s 88.8. PSU turns the ball over 25 times per game.
Nutshell diagnosis: It will be up-tempo, and Montana should be able to get high-percentage shots. The question will be if Portland State, which shoots 35.6 percent, keeps up.
“They’ll shoot the three, and they’ve got a couple of wins,” said Selvig. “And even in their losses they’ve scored some points. But with a new coach and new kids and a new system, it will be a new deal to us.
“Defense is going to be the big emphasis. One thing you don’t want to do against a team that doesn’t have a whole bunch of wins is let them get baskets. We need to be the most intense team when we walk on the floor.”
History: Montana leads the series with Portland State 44-16 and has won the teams’ last five meetings. The Lady Griz are 18-10 at the Stott Center, where they won the 2011 Big Sky tournament.
Montana won last year’s meeting 72-31 at Missoula behind McCalle Feller’s 25 points. Portland State’s last win in the series came at the Stott Center, 60-52 in 2011-12.
So we meet again: Kennedy spent the previous 10 seasons building a winning program at Southern Oregon. Before that he was at New Mexico Highlands, but he’s no stranger to the Big Sky Conference.
He was an assistant at Eastern Washington for two seasons (1999-2001), then moved on to an assistant position at Idaho State for the 2001-02 season. He was the interim head coach the final seven games that season, one of which was a 74-61 loss in Missoula to Montana.
Three things to know about Sacramento State:
- As Selvig said this week about the Hornets, who broke their own Big Sky single-game scoring record with 132 points on Saturday against Portland State, “You know what you’re going to get. They are unique.”
They play all 94 feet, send rested players at you in waves, will give you a high-percentage shot to gamble for a steal and to up the tempo, and love to shoot it from deep and crash the boards on the offensive end.
There is a reason the Hornets are scoring 88.3 points per game and allowing 88.8. Opponents are shooting 52.7 percent this season, the highest percentage in the nation.
“We won’t try to change what we do too much,” said Selvig. “You want to be patient but not too patient. That’s kind of the trick. We want to score, but if you can go a little slower and still score, that’s better than going real fast and scoring.
“You’re going to have more turnovers than you like, you just don’t want to have an outrageous number of turnovers. It’s about staying poised and strong, and comes down to fundamentals a little bit. Do you have kids who are strong and can pass out of a double team and not panic if there is a turnover?”
- Sac State ranks first in the nation in offensive rebounds (22/g), steals (15.9/g), 3-point field goals attempted (533) and made (11.8/g), plus turnovers forced (27.8/g) and turnover margin (-14.4/g).
It’s revealing and insightful that the Hornets rank first in the nation in 3-pointers made and last in the Big Sky in 3-point field goal percentage (.265). It’s when Sac State gets hot from the arc that trouble starts brewing.
“They are going to shoot a bunch of threes,” said Selvig. “They don’t always make a high percentage. But if they get hot from three, it’s going to be a long night trying to guard them.
“Another big part of their offense is their rebounding. They throw it up there and go get it. They are not that big, but they are quick and athletic.”
- In Montana’s first game against a Bunky Harkleroad-coached team, in 2013-14, Montana lost 91-81 at The Nest. The Lady Griz ran with the Hornets in the first half and trailed 55-52 at the break. They could only manage 29 second-half points.
Montana won that season’s rematch at Missoula 87-76 by shooting 55.9 percent and turning it over only 13 times. In last year’s only meeting, Montana, which scored the game’s final 10 points, won 94-86.
That game turned out to be huge in the final standings. Had the Hornets held on to their lead the final 90 seconds, they would have hosted the Big Sky tournament.
Bonus Bunky note: Harkleroad is sitting on 298 career wins, most of which were picked up at Berea, his alma mater in Kentucky, and Glenville State in West Virginia. Should Sacramento State defeat Montana State on Thursday, he’ll be going for No. 300 on Saturday.
History: Montana won the first 27 games against Sacramento State, which joined the Big Sky in 1996-97, and leads the all-time series 35-3. The Hornets’ three wins have all come since 2009-10, all at The Nest. The Lady Griz have lost their last two trips to Sac State and are 15-3 at Sac State overall.
Lady Griz three-dot notes: On Montana’s current four-game winning streak, it’s trailed for less than three of 160 minutes. … The Lady Griz have held a double-digit lead in 11 games this season, yet have nine wins. Montana led Seattle by 12 and Wyoming by 10, both of which ended as losses. … Mekayla Isaak’s six blocks against Southern Utah were a career high and the most for a Montana player this season. They were part of Montana’s season-high 11 swats. … Montana allowed 0.86 points per possession to Northern Arizona, 0.83 to Southern Utah, the sixth and seventh times this season its opponents have been under 0.9. … Montana STILL HAS NOT PLAYED IN A GAME THIS SEASON THAT’S HAD A FOURTH-QUARTER LEAD CHANGE. As fans of drama, we demand better (though we’ll take one-sided victories over suspense the rest of the season if that’s the way it has to be). … Haley Vining the last four games: 19 assists, five turnovers. Sweet. She leads the Big Sky in assist-to-turnover ratio. … She does bleed after all: McCalle Feller was 17 for 30 (.567) from 3-point range the previous four games before going 1 for 7 on Saturday. … Remember when Kayleigh Valley scored two points on 1-of-6 shooting in Montana’s win over Pacific? In the last 10 games she has averaged 22.8 points on 54.1 percent shooting and has twice been named the Big Sky Player of the Week. … Valley’s 13 rebounds Saturday were a career high by four boards. … Montana from the line the last three games: 33 for 53 (.623). That’s the free throw line, not the 3-point line.
Thursday in the Big Sky: UM at PSU, MSU at SAC, WSU at UND, ISU at UNC
Non-Montana game to monitor: Montana State (9-4, 2-0 BSC) at Sacramento State (4-8, 1-0 BSC). Somebody’s picking up their first league loss. Last meeting: The Hornets kicked the Bobcats to the curb at the Big Sky tournament in Missoula, 78-62.
Saturday in the Big Sky: UM at SAC, MSU at PSU, ISU at UND, WSU at UNC, EWU at UI, SUU at NAU
Non-Montana game to monitor: Eastern Washington (8-6, 2-0 BSC) at Idaho (10-4, 2-0 BSC). Same deal. Someone’s got to lose their first. Expect the Vandals to survive the week unscathed.
Montana Sports Information