By JOEL CARLSON
Kayleigh Valley scored a game-high 29 points and converted the game-winning three-point play with 29 seconds left in overtime as Montana rallied from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win 72-66 over Northern Colorado in Greeley Friday night.
The Lady Griz (19-10, 12-6 BSC) hit four straight 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to fight their way back into the game, Alycia Sims hit two free throws with 55 seconds left to send it to overtime, and Montana never trailed in the extra period to enter the postseason with a victory.
“I’m proud of the ladies. The game didn’t mean anything in terms of the standings, but you’ve got to have some pride,” said coach Robin Selvig, whose team lost 73-61 at North Dakota on Wednesday to start its road trip.
“To come in here after a disappointing loss at North Dakota, I was proud of the effort. It’s a lot more fun going into the tournament with a win.”
Montana, the No. 5 seed, will face No. 12 Northern Arizona (6-23, 2-16 BSC) on Monday at 3:30 p.m. (MT) in Reno in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament. The Lumberjacks limp into the postseason having lost 14 of their last 15, including Friday’s 111-79 home loss to Sacramento State.
Montana looked like it might travel to Reno on a losing streak of its own after the Bears (13-15, 8-10 BSC), which hit 13 3-pointers in Wednesday’s 80-73 win over Montana State, came out with the same hot hands.
Northern Colorado, led by Kyleigh Hiser’s 4-for-5 performance, went 7 for 12 from the arc in the first half and built as large as a 12-point lead before taking a 32-27 advantage to the locker room. Montana shot just 29.2 percent in the first half but got to the line a dozen times, where it converted 11.
“This is a hard team to guard, because they make you work so hard,” said Selvig. “Then if they’re making threes, you’re really in trouble. And we had to weather a 29-percent first half.”
Northern Colorado wouldn’t make another three the rest of the game, but the Bears still took an 11-point lead when Courtney Smith scored the opening basket of the fourth quarter to make it 52-41.
It wasn’t the prettiest way to start a rally — an unintentional banked 3-pointer from the wing never is — but Rachel Staudacher’s triple still counted. Haley Vining answered with two of her own, and Alycia Sims’ 3-pointer, just her second of the season, brought Montana within one, 54-53, with 5:01 to go.
Montana never did get the lead in the fourth quarter, but Kayleigh Valley’s basket with 1:40 left made it 60-58, and Sims’ two free throws tied it. Northern Colorado went without a field goal the last three and a half minutes of regulation.
“We just battled and battled. They’re coming off a big win and feeling pretty good, and got off to a good start, but we just kept scrapping and battling, and finally started making some shots,” said Selvig. “And we made some nice defensive stops late.”
A shot Montana didn’t make could have decided the game in regulation. Valley got the ball down low, found herself swarmed by Bears and spotted Hannah Doran alone on the wing. Doran’s 3-pointer with 32 seconds left went in and out.
“They had three people on her, so Kayleigh made a great pass out to Hannah, and I thought it was down,” said Selvig. “It would have been déjà vu like the Montana State game, when Haley hit hers. It looked good, it just didn’t go down.”
Montana forced a miss at the end of regulation and never trailed in overtime.
Hiser’s two free throws made it 66-66 with 42 seconds left. Just 13 seconds later Vining, who matched her career high with nine assists, fed Valley, who finished through contact. Her free throw made it 69-66 with 29 seconds to go.
Northern Colorado missed a 3-pointer that could have tied it with 15 seconds left, and Doran finished off an and-one with six seconds remaining for the game’s final points.
“We were behind most of the game,” said Selvig, whose team trailed for nearly 35 minutes, “but it never felt like we were out of it. The second half they didn’t shoot quite as well. They had a hard time getting good shots.”
Valley went 15 for 16 from the line as part of her 29-point night. She also added a team-high nine rebounds. Sims finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, McCalle Feller scored 10 points, and Vining added nine points to match her nine assists, which came with just a single turnover.
Hiser led Northern Colorado with 18 points, but she had just four after halftime.
The tournament field for Reno is set, with Montana State, which won its first outright Big Sky championship Friday despite losing 77-76 at North Dakota, earning the No. 1 seed. Eastern Washington is the No. 2 seed, Idaho the No. 3 and North Dakota, which has won 12 of 13, the No. 4.
With a chance to share the Big Sky regular-season title with Montana State with wins, Eastern Washington lost 80-74 at Weber State Friday night, and Idaho fell 89-68 at Idaho State.
The top four teams won’t play until Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.
In Monday’s first-round games, No. 8 Northern Colorado will play No. 9 Idaho State at 1 p.m. (MT), followed by Montana and Northern Arizona at 3:30 p.m. (MT). The Lady Griz defeated the Lumberjacks twice during the regular season, 81-58 at Missoula and 61-57 at Flagstaff.
Monday evening’s games will be No. 7 Sacramento State against No. 10 Southern Utah at 6:30 p.m. (MT) and No. 6 Weber State versus No. 11 Portland State at 9 p.m. (MT).
Should Montana win on Monday, the Lady Griz would meet North Dakota, which swept the teams’ season series, winning 61-59 at Missoula and Wednesday at Grand Forks, on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. (MT) in the quarterfinals.
Montana Sports Information