By JOEL CARLSON
North Dakota raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and held off Montana’s second-half comeback attempt in a 73-61 victory over the Lady Griz Wednesday night at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks.
The loss snapped Montana’s seven-game winning streak. Combined with Idaho’s 77-70 win at Weber State Wednesday night, the Lady Griz (18-10, 11-6 BSC) will take the No. 5 seed into next week’s Big Sky Conference tournament at Reno and face the No. 12 seed on Monday at 3:30 p.m. (MT).
North Dakota (16-12, 12-5 BSC), which won for the 11th time in 12 games, swept the season series from Montana and defeated the Lady Griz for the fourth straight time in Grand Forks.
The two teams could meet again next Wednesday afternoon in Reno, when the tournament’s No. 4 seed plays the winner of Montana’s first-round game. And the third meeting will go the Fighting Hawks’ way as well if it starts out like Wednesday’s game did.
North Dakota shot 54.3 percent in the first half and used a 15-2 run early in the second quarter to hand Montana the type of deficit it hadn’t faced since playing at Idaho in mid-January.
“We just got shell-shocked the first half. We couldn’t figure out a way to stop them. They were having fun and really playing well, and we weren’t,” said UM coach Robin Selvig.
It was a four-point game two minutes into the second quarter when a Kayleigh Valley jumper made it 25-21, but it was all North Dakota the rest of the half. The Fighting Hawks blew the game open by hitting 10 of their final 15 shots of the quarter.
“We are not a bad defensive team, and it wasn’t because we weren’t playing hard. They were just hitting everything,” said Selvig, whose team was out-boarded 48-29 for the game. “And when we did force a miss, they would go get the rebound, and that’s about as discouraging as anything.”
North Dakota led 46-29 at the break, ending a streak of Montana holding the halftime lead at nine games. It was the first time the Lady Griz trailed at the half since playing at Idaho and their largest halftime deficit since going down 41-20 at the half at Colorado State in early December.
“I told the team at halftime that if they want to hang their heads because it’s not going our way, we’ll lose by 40. Or we can start over, come out and have fun, and play the second half like we wanted to start the game. And that’s basically what we did,” said Selvig.
Sparked by a pair of 3-pointers by McCalle Feller, Montana scored the first 10 points of the third quarter to force a North Dakota timeout.
Aided by a technical foul on North Dakota coach Travis Brewster and less than two minutes laterby another on Mia Loyd — Valley went 4 for 4 from the line to serve as UND’s punishment — Montana was able to whittle the lead down to five points twice late in the third quarter.
But Mekailah Dyer scored the final basket of the quarter to make it 58-51, and North Dakota scored the first six points of the fourth to build its lead back up to 13. Montana would not get closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“I was really proud of the way we came out the second half,” said Selvig. “They struggled and finally missed a shot or two, and it got a little more to our liking. It’s just too bad the first half went like it did.
“We’ve been on a pretty good run and playing well, so I guess maybe something like this shouldn’t have surprised me. But I was very encouraged by the second half that we got ourselves back into it.”
Valley, who was “sick as a dog,” according to Selvig, finished with 20 points but went just 5 for 17. She was 10 of 11 from the free throw line. “It was a tough night for her, but I’m proud of her. She did everything she could.”
Feller added 19 points, her best output since coming back from an ankle injury four games ago. It leaves her 28 from 1,000 points for her career.
Alycia Sims, who had five double-doubles during Montana’s seven-game winning streak, was held to eight points and five rebounds. Haley Vining handed out five assists.
Loyd, the preseason Big Sky Player of the Year, had 15 points, 15 rebounds and six assists for North Dakota, which ended up shooting 47.5 percent, the third-highest allowed by the Lady Griz this season.
Montana will play at Northern Colorado Friday at 7 p.m. The Bears (13-14, 8-9 BSC) knocked off Big Sky leader Montana State 80-73 on Wednesday. Second-place Eastern Washington also fell on the road, losing at Idaho State 71-62.
Idaho and North Dakota will join the Bobcats and Eagles as the top four seeds at next week’s tournament. All four will get a bye to Wednesday’s quarterfinal round.
Montana Sports Information