By JOEL CARLSON
Montana junior forward Kayleigh Valley was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week on Tuesday after leading the Lady Griz to home victories over Northern Arizona and Southern Utah last week.
Valley, who was recognized for the second time this season and the third time in her career, averaged 28 points and 7.5 rebounds as Montana opened league 2-0 for just the second time in the last six seasons.
The preseason All-Big Sky Conference selection matched her career high with 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting in Thursday’s 81-58 victory over the Lumberjacks and recorded her first career double-double in Saturday’s 66-60 win over the Thunderbirds, finishing with 27 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Montana trailed for just 17 seconds in the two games, and Valley was a big reason the Lady Griz got early separation in both. She scored eight first-quarter points against NAU, 11 against SUU.
“I couldn’t be happier with how Kayleigh’s playing,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “She’s been a really good player, and she’s getting better in all areas. I hope she keeps it up.”
Valley was a starter last season as a sophomore and averaged 11.5 points on 47.0 percent shooting on her way to earning honorable mention all-league honors.
As more of a focal point of the offense this winter, Valley is averaging 19.4 points on 52.6 percent shooting. She leads the Big Sky in scoring and ranks fifth in field goal percentage.
“She is more consistent this year,” said Selvig. “She’s playing more minutes, and we’re doing more things through her.
“The cast around her is one of the reasons she is scoring so well. We’re passing the ball well and have other kids knocking down shots, so you can’t just double-team McCalle (Feller) and Kayleigh.”
One of the plays that is working so well for Montana: Feed the ball to Valley when she’s posted up, no matter the traffic around her. Because she’ll outfight everyone for it, then either finish or get to the line.
Valley had 18 baskets last week, including a pair of 3-pointers. Her other made field goals, all 16 of them, came in the paint.
“My teammates know that if they throw it up, I’ll go and get it,” said Valley. “They have confidence that if they pass it to me, I’m going to catch it. And once I’m around the rim, the coaches want to see me looking to score.”
She also got to the line 23 times, where she hit 18 of her attempts. Always deadly from the line — she is a career 81.5 percent free throw shooter — she is hitting 83.8 percent of her free throws this season. She ranks fifth in the Big Sky while taking more attempts than anyone else shooting better than 70 percent.
“I’m having some more opportunities (this season), and the way our team is working right now, we’re distributing really well,” said Valley, whose team ranks seventh nationally in turnovers, at 11.9 per game, and 18th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.25).
“We’re seeing the floor and identifying the open man if somebody is doubling.”
Montana, 9-4 overall, is one of four Big Sky teams to open with a pair of wins last week. The Lady Griz are tied atop the conference with Idaho (10-4, 2-0 BSC), Montana State (2-0, 9-4 BSC) and Eastern Washington (8-6, 2-0 BSC).
Weber State (9-3, 1-0 BSC) and Sacramento State (4-8, 1-0 BSC) also came out of the opening week of league games without a loss.
Montana plays at Portland State (2-10, 0-1 BSC) on Thursday at 8 p.m. (MT) and at Sacramento State on Saturday at 3 p.m. (MT).
Montana Sports Information