Vining Plays Hero, Lady Griz Win

By JOEL CARLSON | Photo Gallery by WILLIAM MUNOZ

Haley Vining hit the 3-pointer of her life, a no-doubter with 14 seconds left and her team trailing by one, to propel Montana to a 70-66 victory over Big Sky Conference leader Montana State Saturday afternoon in front of a season-high crowd of 4,249 at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.

Vining’s shot, and Kayleigh Valley‘s two free throws with three seconds left that iced it, allowed the Lady Griz (16-9, 9-5 BSC) to fend off a comeback by the Bobcats (19-6, 12-2 BSC), who trailed by 11 early in the fourth quarter.

The win was the fifth straight for Montana and snapped Montana State’s six-game winning streak.

The game felt eerily similar to the teams’ first meeting last month in Bozeman, when Montana State stormed back from a nine-point, second-half deficit to win 61-52. This time around Montana, which aided the Bobcats’ rally last month by going ice cold in the fourth quarter, had an answer.

“We almost did the fourth quarter thing like we did at their place when we didn’t score,” said Selvig, whose team went nearly five minutes between baskets in the final period on Saturday.

February 20th, 2016 - Dahlberg Arena - Missoula, Montana

February 20th, 2016 – Dahlberg Arena – Missoula, Montana. Photo courtesy of UM Sports Information.

“It wasn’t a big run by them, but they crept back into it because they made some baskets. We had good shots, but we missed all of them. I thought, Are we going to do this again?”

Montana State got back into the game quicker than you can say Caudill-to-Ferris. That combination — Hannah Caudill feeding Peyton Ferris, and Ferris finishing through contact at the basket — resulted in eight straight points in a little more than two minutes early in the fourth quarter, and it was game on.

Valley scored 10 of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, but it still wasn’t enough to keep Montana State, which scored 26 points over the game’s final nine minutes, from coming all the way back.

Lindsay Stockton hit a pair of free throws with 65 seconds left to cut the lead to 65-62, and Ferris, who scored all 18 of her points in the second half, turned back-to-back turnovers by McCalle Feller into four points.

Her finish in the paint with 52 seconds left made it 65-64, and her two free throws with 25 seconds remaining put the Bobcats up 66-65, their first lead since early in the second quarter.

Montana advanced the ball to the frontcourt following a timeout and looked to its go-to option: a high-low entry pass to Valley. But she was surrounded by Bobcats, which allowed Mekayla Isaak to throw a skip pass to Vining, who didn’t hesitate.

“It was pretty simple what we were trying to do, but they collapsed enough, so Mekayla made a nice cross-court pass, and Haley hit a big one,” said Selvig.

Riley Nordgaard had an open look from the right baseline with eight seconds left that could have tied it, and Jasmine Hommes, who led Montana State with 20 points, missed the putback.

Valley’s free throws were the game’s final points.

“I was extremely proud of the ladies. They battled and battled. The difference is we stepped up and made some shots at the end and didn’t go the whole quarter without scoring,” said Selvig. “We led almost the whole way, and you don’t want to give games like that away at the end.”

Montana State entered the game with just a single league loss — 81-69 at Eastern Washington — and looked sharp early, jumping out to a 6-0 lead and holding a 10-4 advantage seven minutes in.

That’s when Montana, which had Feller back in the lineup for the first time in four games, came to life. The Lady Griz used a 17-4 run that spanned the first and second quarters to grab the lead. Montana held a 32-22 advantage at the half.

Montana led by at least eight points through the third quarter and went up 51-40 on a jumper by Alycia Sims, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, her fifth double-double of the season, on the first possession of the fourth.

Montana State hit nearly one-third of its field goals, seven of 22, in the fourth quarter, but the comeback wasn’t to be.

It was Valley’s 15th game this season with 20 or more points, and Hannah Doran came off the bench to finish with 11, her third straight game in double figures.

Feller, who practiced Friday for the first time since injuring her ankle on Feb. 4 against Sacramento State, wasn’t 100 percent, but she put in 37 minutes, critical for a team that was whistled for 24 fouls, matching the season high the Lady Griz had in their loss at Wyoming. She finished with eight points.

“McCalle played a lot of minutes, and I thought she did a pretty good job,” said Selvig. “She did a darn good job on defense for having to drag that ankle around. With the foul trouble we had, we would have been in trouble without her.”

The loss leaves the Bobcats atop the Big Sky but by just half a game over Idaho and Eastern Washington, which both won at home Saturday.

The Lady Griz are tied for fifth with North Dakota. Both are one game behind fourth-place Weber State, which visits Missoula next Saturday, two days after the Lady Griz host Idaho State.

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