By JOEL CARLSON | Photo Gallery by WILLIAM MUNOZ
Montana put Idaho State’s leading scorers in a defensive vice grip and held the Bengals to 24.2 percent shooting in a 62-47 Lady Griz victory Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
It was Montana’s sixth straight victory and allowed the Lady Griz (17-9, 10-5 BSC) to move into a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference standings with Weber State and North Dakota. The three teams are fighting for a top-four finish and a bye at next month’s Big Sky tournament in Reno.
The Wildcats (18-8, 10-5 BSC), who play at Montana Saturday afternoon, lost 92-71 at Big Sky leader Montana State Thursday night. The Fighting Hawks (14-12, 10-5 BSC), who won for the ninth time in 10 games, pulled away in the second half for a 75-62 victory at Portland State.
On a night when Kayleigh Valley was Kayleigh Valley — game-high 23 points, four assists, 39 minutes of work — and Alycia Sims had her sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 10 rebounds, it was Montana’s work on the defensive end that won the day.
Idaho State’s leading scorers, Apiphany Woods, who had 32 points in her last visit to Dahlberg Arena in last year’s Big Sky tournament, and Anna Lee Policicchio, were held to a dozen points on 3-of-30 shooting. Repeat: 3 of 30. The team’s third-leading scorer, Brooke Blair, was 4 for 12.
The Bengals’ 24.2 percent shooting was the lowest allowed by Montana this season.
“Our defense was pretty good,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “We did a good job not fouling them on quick shots, and they missed some good shots around the basket. Sometimes you just have good fortune.”
Montana trailed for just 22 seconds, a deficit that came in the first minute of the game when Idaho State scored on its first possession. The Lady Griz led 17-7 after the first quarter, 31-17 at the half.
Idaho State, helped by Montana’s decision to take the quickest shot it could find when faced with a more aggressive ISU defense, scored the opening nine points of the third quarter to cut its deficit to 31-26, but a Haley Vining 3-pointer jumpstarted an 11-2 run that put the Lady Griz back in control.
The lead was a comfortable 10 or more the entire fourth quarter.
“They made a good run at the start of the third quarter, which is always an important time of the game. That sets the tone for the second half,” said Selvig. “They started getting after us, and we took a lot of early shots. They got right back in the game, but we had a big answer.”
Montana got most of the scoring it needed from Valley and Sims, with help from McCalle Feller, who had nine points in her second game back from an ankle injury that kept her out three games, Mekayla Isaak, who had six, and Vining, who had five.
Valley, who is making more and more close, personal friends from opposing teams, continues to stand tall despite finding her space on the court constantly clogged. She draws double and triple teams with regularity, gets beat up for being one of the top players in the league and still produces. In stoic fashion.
She scored or assisted on 15 of Montana’s 17 first-quarter points against Idaho State — she had 15 points at the half on 6-of-9 shooting — and the Bengals had only one course of action to slow her down.
“Once Kayleigh started the game out scoring, they put an army down there,” said Selvig. “They are a big, strong, physical team, and they were working on her pretty good. But she’s used to that.
“I’m pretty proud of her, because she takes a good beating and doesn’t react. She just plays strong and doesn’t get into a pushing-and-shoving match, and that’s the mark of an experienced player.”
Montana, which is on its longest winning streak since January of last season and has head-to-head matchups with Weber State and North Dakota in its next two games, now has everything it needs to earn a bye in Reno right in front of it.
Win out, and the Lady Griz, who close the regular season a week from Friday at Northern Colorado, can skip the Monday first-round games at Reno. But it’s one game at a time, and next up is Weber State on Saturday at 2 p.m., which is Senior Day for Feller, Vining and Hannah Doran.
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