A Montana Road Split

By BILL SCHWANKE

LADY GRIZ 63, IDAHO STATE 60

Both teams got out of the blocks slowly in this key Big Sky Conference women’s game in Pocatello Saturday night.

Except for Stephanie Stender.

Stender, the veteran Lady Griz senior from Wyoming, didn’t miss a single shot from the floor in the first 20 minutes as Montana took a 31-26 lead to the locker room. Stender led Montana in scoring early with nine by halftime.

Her teammates followed suit, picking up the shooting slack to wind up at 47 percent for the peirod.

Then it was continually improving freshman Torrey Hill’s turn down the stretch. The 5-7 dynamo hit three treys in the final five minutes and Kenzie DeBoer (two) and Stender (one) hit crucial free throws in the final seconds to lock up the win for Montana.

Two things helped the Lady Griz beat Idaho State when the two teams met earlier in Missoula. Montana dominated the boards and outscored the Bengals 27-12 from the charity stripe, offsetting poor field goal shooting by the home team.

In Saturday night’s game the Lady Griz shot VERY well from the floor, hitting 21 of 39 field goal tries and 10 of 16 from beyond the arc for 53.8 and 62.5 percent respectively. It wouldn’t have been so close had the Lady Griz not shot an uncharacteristic 57.9 percent on 11 of 19 from the free throw line.

This time around rebounding was even at 25, and the Lady Griz had three more turnovers. Good teams find different ways to win.

Hill wound up leading all scorers with 16 nailing five of seven from the floor including four of six from long range. And she only turned it over once in 28 minutes of play.

Stender was next for Montana with 15 points. Katie Baker was held to just four points and four rebounds on the night but the Lady Griz gutted it out and prevailed.

Once again Montana’s bench was key. Obviously Hill comes off the bench, but the rest of her bench mates still outscored ISU’s subs, 13-12.

The win put Montana in a tie for first in the loss column in the Big Sky Conference with Northern Colorado and Montana State. The Lady Griz, 5-1 on the road in league play, have four games left, two at home and two on the road, as the battle to host the league tournament heads for the wire.

ON THE SIDE: I tried to watch Big Sky TV’s streaming video of the ladies’ game, but the streaming had me screaming, so I bagged it about halfway through the second half. Too many resets for my pleasure, and each one put the game further behind in real time. So I listened on the radio and watched the live stats on the Web to keep up as best I could.

49ERS 74, GRIZ 56

Montana blew a golden opportunity for some solid national exposure against a tough Long Beach State squad at least in part because the Grizzlies’ big men, Brian Qvale and Derek Selvig, barely played in the first half, each picking up two early fouls and resting their backsides on the pine for much of the first 20 minutes.

After the Griz scored first the 49ers went on a 14-2 run. With Qvale and Selvig resting up for the second half and Will Cherry obviously hobbling, Montana did well to keep the deficit in low double figures until halftime.

Montana not only had trouble scoring in the first half, the Grizzlies had trouble drawing iron. It looked like an air ball contest.

And if it wasn’t an air ball contest, the Griz tried to make it look like a free throw missing contest. If it was, they won it hands down Saturday night. We’ve all been waiting for inconsistency at the line to contribute in a big way to a loss, and it did in Long Beach.

But then the inconsistency wasn’t limited to the free throw line.

When the Griz got off to a good start in the second half you held out some hope that they could get back in it. But they couldn’t capitalize on opportunities from the field or the free throw line when they had chances to cut further into the lead.

The 49ers kept attacking and regularly broke down Montana’s defense like most teams haven’t this season. The Grizzlies looked intimidated at times, and they are good enough that they shouldn’t be intimidated this late in the season.

Credit Long Beach State. It should come as no surprise that a Dan Monson-coached team would be good on defense. The 49ers had the quickness to blanket Selvig, who only got off three shots all night but did have some nice assists.

You’re not going to win many games, home or away, shooting 38 percent from the floor, 22 percent from three-point land and 59 percent from the line. Long Beach State, a 45 percent shooting team on the year, hit nearly 54 percent against Montana, 36 percent from beyond the arc, and 77 percent from the line.

The game was pretty much a wash in other statistical areas. A healthy Will Cherry would have helped some, but probably not enough to make up for the rest of it.

On the radio post-game show coach Wayne Tinkle summed it up when he talked about Montana’s inability of late to perform well on the road.

With the final two league games at Portland State and Eastern Washington next weekend the Griz need to figure that out, and in a hurry. The Big Sky tournament host role is still within their grasp, but they’ll need to elevate their road play to do it. Back to Griz and Lady Griz Hoops blog home page.

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“Grizzly Bill” Schwanke is a UM journalism grad and Missoula native.  He spent 21 years doing play-by-play for Griz football and men’s basketball winning sportscaster of the year six times and working in Grizzly athletics for 15 years total. He’s enjoying retirement, especially the chance to spend time with his three grandsons. His wife Lynn and he have been married for 42years.