Griz Men One Step Closer, Lady Griz One Step Farther Away

By BILL SCHWANKE

VIKINGS 70, LADY GRIZ 65

It was raining threes, turnovers, and telegraphed passes Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena.

Unfortunately for the Montana Lady Griz, at least early on, too many of the threes belonged to Portland State and too many of the telegraphed passes, and therefore the turnovers, belonged to Montana.

With all that said the Lady Griz showed tremendous heart at the end of both halves. In the first half they rallied from a 38-21 deficit to trail just 38-32 at the intermission. Early in the second half Montana continued to score, cutting the margin to 38-34.

But then Cinderella – the Lady Griz had won six in a row to get back in the Big Sky Conference race – watched the carriage turn back into a pumpkin.

The Vikings went on an 18-2 run to lead 56-36, and the hill was too steep for the Lady Griz to climb for a second time.

They tried, again showing that heart they’ve shown so often in the later stages of this season, but the Lady Griz simply ran out of time, getting as close as 67-63 with 29 seconds to go and 69-65 with 10 seconds left. It simply wasn’t to be.

The Vikings, perhaps the hottest team in the league right now, broke through with a 70-65 win.

It seems like PSU couldn’t miss in the early going. Converting a rash of Lady Griz unforced errors into baskets, the Vikings simply shot lights out from both two- and three-point range and had double-digit steals less than 15 minutes into the game.

Montana also shot the three ball well on the night, but missed too many short-range shots. The turnovers weren’t as big a factor in the second half as those short-range misses.

Credit has to go to Portland State. The Vikings were the aggressor at both ends, especially in the first half and the middle portion of the second.

The Lady Griz lacked the scoring balance that had allowed them to win some really tough games of late while Portland State had plenty of balance.

The Vikes had four in double figures while the Lady Griz, led by Katie Baker’s 13, had just two. Kenzie DeBoer added 12, but didn’t score much in the second half.

If you hadn’t seen the game and simply looked at final stats you would have figured on a close finish. PSU shot 43 percent from the floor to 39 for UM. The Vikings hit 10 of 19 from three-point range, the Lady Griz 10 of 22. The teams were in a virtual dead heat at the free throw line and on the boards, and even the turnovers tightened up, with Montana having just three more than the visitors at the end.

Now Montana needs a lot of help to have any chance to host the league tournament while Portland State stayed in the hunt.

One bright light we have to mention for Montana was freshman guard Lexie Nelson. The Butte product, in 17 minutes of play, hit three of three from the floor including two treys and had zero turnovers. Good job, Lexie!

Next up for Montana, the regular-season finale Saturday at Dahlberg Arena against Eastern Washington. It won’t be a picnic either. Tip-off will be at 2 p.m. as UM will honors seniors Sarah Ena, Jessa Loman Linford and Stephanie Stender.

GRIZ 85, VIKINGS 84

Welcome back Will Cherry, and howdy do Matthias Ward.

Sophomore guard Will Cherry – remember the guy who couldn’t hardly buy a made free throw early this season – hit a pair  of clutch charity tosses with under nine seconds to go Thursday night to give the Montana Grizzlies the one-point win at Portland.

With one regular-season game left Saturday evening at Eastern Washington the Grizzlies grabbed their 20th win of the season and put themselves in position to host the league tournament if they win at Cheney.

Cherry, who had played tentatively since suffering a serious ankle injury a few games back, came to play mentally and physically Thursday, notching a double-double with 24 points and 10 assists. I have a hunch his elevated level of play was a huge psychological boost for the Griz, who have had three straight disastrous road games late in the season.

Cherry’s free throws gave Montana just enough of a cushion to survive a desperation heave by PSU’s Phil Nelson at the final buzzer after the Vikings allegedly had gone over and back and not been called for it. That would be a shocker for Big Sky refs, wouldn’t it?

Brian Qvale also forged a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, but it was Mathias Ward – who has shown glimpses of this kind of play in the late going this season – who again provided a needed spark.

The Griz had gotten off to a fast start, jumping on the Vikings 19-8 in the early going. When the Vikings made a run Ward nailed some key shots. His effort netted a career-high 14 points, and made obvious by the final score, they were huge points.

Montana led 47-35 at halftime and maintained a comfortable lead for the first few minutes of the second half before the Vikings cut it to four on more than one occasion.

It was 72-69 with 3:18 left when Shawn Stockton nailed a three ball and the Griz pushed back for an 80-70 lead with 1:02 left before the Vikings made their frantic last run.

A couple missed free throws on the front end of one-and-one situations made things dicey for the Grizzlies, but they held on.

Derek Selvig joined Cherry, Qvale and Ward in double figures with 10. It was a low-turnover affair with Montana turning it loose just seven times on the night to the Vikings’ six. Rebounds were a dead heat – Montana had the edge by one – and keyed by Ward UM’s three subs outscored PSU’s bench 20-16.

It was the one that nearly got away, but it didn’t, and the Grizzlies have it all in their hands when they tip off at Cheney at 6:05 Mountain Time Saturday evening.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot to see the Big Sky tourney back in Missoula? The Eastern Washington Eagles, dumped at home by Montana State Thursday night, are the ones who can keep it from happening.

This is what makes college hoops so exciting as we head to March Madness with so many things on the line at the end of the season.

I’d love to hear your comments on what I’m talking about or answer any questions you might have. So have at it. I’m way beyond having my feelings hurt. And thanks for reading me. 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.