By JOEL CARLSON
The Montana women’s basketball team, on the road the last two weeks, returns home for games this week against Sacramento State and Portland State at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz host the Hornets on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Vikings on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Coverage: Thursday’s game will air locally on KMPT 930 AM, Saturday’s on KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. … Links to live stats and Eversport’s online video streaming can be found at gogriz.com. … This week’s guest in-game tweeter (@UMGRIZZLIES_LG) will be Nicole Stroot, a junior on the Griz track and field team who ranks second in the Big Sky Conference in the 60-meter hurdles and long jump, and sixth in the pentathlon.
Where they stand: Montana (11-9, 4-5 BSC) enters the second half of the league schedule tied for seventh place with Northern Colorado. … Sacramento State (7-12, 4-4 BSC), which defeated the Lady Griz last month in overtime at The Nest, is alone in sixth, a half game up in the standings on Montana and Northern Colorado. … Portland State (3-16, 1-7 BSC), which won its first league game last week, is in 11th place.
What’s at stake: A four-game losing streak, which matches the longest skid for the program in 37-plus years under coach Robin Selvig, has left Montana in the bottom half of the league standings at the midpoint of the league schedule, at least three games in the loss column behind the top four teams.
Should the Lady Griz, who play five of their next seven at home, desire to make a push toward a top-four finish and earn a bye to the quarterfinals of next month’s Big Sky tournament at Reno, the losing streak needs to end on Thursday and the wins start mounting.
If the season ended today: Montana State (15-5, 8-1 BSC), Eastern Washington (14-7, 8-1 BSC), Idaho (15-6, 7-2 BSC) and Weber State (14-5, 6-2 BSC) would be the tournament’s top four seeds, with the Eagles earning the top seed because of their head-to-head win over the Bobcats.
Montana would be the No. 7 seed and face No. 10 Northern Arizona (6-14, 2-7 BSC) in a first-round game on Monday at 5:30 p.m. of tournament week.
Trending (Montana): The Lady Griz have lost four straight games and five of six, but there are bad losses and then there are the kind the Lady Griz have been suffering, which point toward a team that is better than a seventh-place standing.
Montana lost in overtime on the road at Sacramento State, a loss that started the bad mojo. North Dakota won with a shot at the buzzer, Eastern Washington did as well after coming back from a 14-point deficit. And Montana led Montana State by nine in the second half on Saturday at Bozeman.
“Everyone is discouraged about the losses, but they are not discouraged as a team,” said Selvig. “We built a big lead at Eastern and lost at the buzzer. The Cats are really good, and we led for a large part of the game. We just didn’t make big baskets at the end and close those games out.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s not like we’ve been going out and getting beat by 25 and thinking we don’t have a good team.”
Trending (Sacramento State): The Hornets were looking like they might be contenders seven days ago, but they lost twice at home last week, allowing 198 points in losses to Idaho and Eastern Washington.
Sac State got all the turnovers it wanted, forcing 24 against Idaho and 26 against Eastern Washington, but both teams made the Hornets pay for their gambling ways, something Montana did not do well enough in its loss.
The Vandals shot 55.4 percent and scored 50 points in the paint (which is mostly lay-ups against Sacramento State). The Eagles were even better, shooting 56.2 percent and scoring 56 points in the paint.
Trending (Portland State): Under a first-year coach and coming off a four-win season, the Vikings were going to be in for a struggle this season. That’s been the case, but PSU has been making nice gains under first-year coach Lynn Kennedy.
Portland State lost by one at Idaho State in mid-January and pulled off the shocker of the league season last Thursday, handing Eastern Washington its first loss with an 81-79 win at the Stott Center. Six players were in double figures in that game, five of them first-year players (four freshmen, one transfer).
“They have good players, they’re just young,” said Selvig. “They’ve showed they can beat people in this league, so they are definitely not to be taken lightly. Because of their youth and a new coach and system, it’s a team you would think would improve as the season goes along.”
The first meeting (Montana 79, Portland State 58): The Lady Griz outscored the Vikings 23-9 in the second quarter to build a comfortable halftime lead, then maintained it through a sloppy second half that had the teams combining for 22 turnovers and 33 free throws.
Kayleigh Valley had 29 points, McCalle Feller 25, and Alycia Sims and Hannah Doran both added nine. Freshman Pia Jurhar led Portland State with 17 points.
The first meeting (Sacramento State 83, Montana 75): The Lady Griz gave up 28 first-quarter points and trailed 42-33 at the half, but held the Hornets, who average 87 points per game, to 11 in the third quarter to even the score at 53 going into the fourth.
Neither team gained any separation in the final period, and Montana held Sac State off the scoreboard on two possessions in the final minute to force overtime, which the Hornets mostly controlled.
Montana turned it over 25 times, right at Sacramento State’s average, and held the Hornets to 69 points through regulation and 36.4 percent shooting.
What the Lady Griz didn’t do well enough was burn Sac State for easy baskets like Idaho and Eastern Washington did last week. Montana shot 44.1 percent against a team allowing an NCAA-worst 51.1 percent.
“The disappointing thing about that game was that our first-quarter defense wasn’t very good, and they got off to a great start,” said Selvig. “It’s really hard to simulate what they do in practice, but I think the gals kind of settled down and got used to what we were playing against.
“The positive is we dug a big hole and came back and had the lead late.”
Just what a struggling offense needs: Montana has averaged just 59 points its last five games. Sacramento State (85.9/g) and Portland State (90.8/g) rank 343rd and 344th out of 344 Division I teams in points allowed.
Three-dot game notes: Sacramento State leads the nation in 3-point field goals (11.7/g), turnovers forced (26.0/g) and steals (16.0/g). … The Hornets made an NCAA-record 25 3-pointers in their 126-78 win at Portland State on Jan. 23. … Montana is 20-0 against Sacramento State in Missoula, 35-4 overall. … Portland State has had seven different players lead it in scoring this year. … The Vikings’ other two wins this season were over Corban and Cal State Northridge. … PSU is 0-8 on the road this season. … Kayleigh Valley (19.9/g) and McCalle Feller (17.6/g) rank second and third in the Big Sky in scoring behind Eastern Washington’s Hayley Hodgins (21.1/g), the midpoint Big Sky MVP. … Alycia Sims averages 9.1 rebounds per game, third in the league. Portland State’s Cici West ranks first at 9.5. … Valley ranks third in the Big Sky in field goal percentage (.530) and second in free throw percentage (.843). … That percentage would come up just short of making the top-10 single-season list in program history. Mandy Morales owns the No. 10 spot at .847 from 2008-09. … Haley Vining’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4 is by far the top mark in the Big Sky. She ranks 23rd nationally. … Montana led at Eastern Washington for more than 32 minutes and for more than 28 at Montana State and lost both games. … Montana’s 13 made field goals (one every three minutes, four seconds of game time) were a season low. … Montana dropped to 10-3 this season when leading at the half after holding a 30-25 advantage at the break on Saturday in Bozeman. … Montana’s 0.79 points per possession at Montana State was its second-lowest of the season (0.64 vs. Seattle). The Lady Griz have been above 1.0 just twice the last eight games. … McCalle Feller has 57 3-pointers. She is 16 away from setting a new single-season record, currently owned by assistant coach Sonya (Rogers) Stokken, who hit 72 in 2007-08. … Sierra Anderson is 3 for 22 the last six games. … Montana shot 26.5 percent at MSU on Saturday, the third time this season the Lady Griz have been below 27 percent (.246 vs. Seattle, .231 vs. Colorado State). … Speaking of the Rams, they are 18-1. … Montana is 32 for 38 (.842) from the line the last two games. … The Lady Griz rank second in the Big Sky in rebounding margin (+3.8/g) have allowed just 10 offensive rebounds the last two games, five each to Eastern Washington and Montana State. … Montana’s 18 turnovers at Montana State was its third-highest total of the season, behind only the 25 at Sacramento State and 20 at Portland State.
Thursday in the Big Sky: SAC at UM, PSU at MSU, UND at ISU, UNC at WSU, NAU at EWU, SUU at UI
Game to monitor: North Dakota has quietly won five of its last six games to move into the upper half of the Big Sky standings. Idaho State has won three of four and, like Montana, has been plagued by close losses. Three of ISU’s four losses since Jan. 7 have been by three points or fewer.
Saturday in the Big Sky: PSU at UM, SAC at MSU, UNC at ISU, UND at WSU, SUU at EWU, NAU at UI
Game to monitor: Montana State defeated Sacramento State at The Nest 80-79 on Jan. 7 with a 3-pointer by Hannah Caudill with 6.7 seconds left.
Upcoming: Montana will play at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona next week.
Montana Sports Information