More Sour Grapes

By BILL SCHWANKE

EASTERN 71, LADY GRIZ 63

First, the front end of my car got smooshed in Lot Z so I missed the first few half of the first half of Saturday afternoon’s Lady Griz game against Eastern Washington at Dahlberg Arena.

When I finally got to my seat, the Lady Griz were up 18-13.  Apparently I brought my parking lot luck into the arena and handed it over the Lady Griz. By halftime it was 33-31 Eastern and things didn’t get any better in the second half.

Seems like the Lady Griz reverted this weekend, especially in terms of defense and making bunnies. It also seems like Thursday opponent Portland State and Eastern both taught Montana something about defensive intensity.

The Eagles to a player were in the Lady Griz’s faces all afternoon, smothering post players when they got a rebound and doing the same whenever a Montana player wound up with the ball in any of the four corners of the court.

Much like in Thursday’s loss the Lady Griz looked tentative on offense both passing and shooting the ball and they often looked lost and a step slow on defense, especially when it came to tracking down loose balls.

Fans were upset by the perceived lack of calls on the aggressive Eagles. While it seemed like the stripes whistled about half of Eastern’s fouls let’s face it: that’s the way the game is being called these days. If you’re aggressive, the officials are hesitant to call everything because the numbers aren’t balanced at the end.

Looking at the final stats only confuse the issue.

Eastern appeared to be dominating the boards, especially at their own end, but  Montana actually had eight more offensive rebounds and two more overall.

Eastern’s advantage on the defensive glass was easy to account for. Montana missed a lot of shots, including plenty at short range. And if you’re going to shoot 35 percent, you’d better make up for it at the other end, and the Lady Griz didn’t, in either game.

Montana had four fewer turnovers than the Eagles, the same number of assists, and one more steal. But Eastern shot 47 percent from the floor, 44 percent from three-point range, and only missed twice in 19 tries at the free throw line.

The Lady Griz had to go without freshman point guard Torry Hill, who didn’t even suit up after spraining her ankle in practice Friday. But fellow freshman point Lexie Nelson had her second straight decent performance, leading the Lady Griz in scoring with 14.

Seniors Sarah Ena and Jessa Loman Linford chipped in 13 and 10 respectively. Unfortunately senior Stephanie Stender didn’t fare as well in her final appearance at Dahlberg Arena, hitting just one of nine shots and totaling four points.

With only road games against these same two teams awaiting the Lady Griz next week it appears that the Cinderella finish Montana fans were hoping for is not to be. The Lady Griz had a great run of six straight wins to put themselves back in the Big Sky race, but while they will be in the Big Sky tournament in March, they won’t be hosting it.

It hurts when reality rears its ugly head, but the reality is – at least this year – other teams in the Big Sky are more talented, more athletic and more poised than the Lady Griz.

As for the three seniors, hats off to all them for their effort and their class. The last two seasons haven’t been what they had hoped for, but the memories and the relationship they’ve had with teammates, coaches and fans will be something they’ll always treasure.

EAGLES 59, GRIZ 55 (OVERTIME)

Three-ball in the center pocket. If you want to know a major reason why Montana couldn’t get it done at Cheney Saturday night take a look at three-point shooting and rebounding.

The Eagles knocked down 7 of 13 from beyond the arc while the Grizzlies hit just 3 of 20. And Eastern dominated the boards in the second half in particular pulling down 36 total rebounds to 27 for Montana. The Griz had just 10 turnovers compared to 17 for the Eagles, but Montana wasn’t able to convert enough of the turnovers into points.

Will Cherry couldn’t match his Thursday night effort, going 2 of 10 from the field and missing all six of his 3-point attempts, but as usual he did so many other things, leading Montana in rebounding with six and steals with five and sharing assist honors with Derek Selvig with four.

The Griz looked like they might run away with it in the first half, not allowing the Eagles to score for nearly the first four minutes. Problem was Montana wasn’t scoring as much as it could, or even should, have.

Listening to the post-game radio show, Griz coach Wayne Tinkle danced around the issue of the officiating, but even on television it was easy to see that the Eagles got some help. It was never more apparent than when center Brian Qvale picked up his third foul 19 seconds into the second half, a more-than-questionable offensive foul given the physical nature of the game.

Ironically the Grizzlies actually extended their lead with Qvale out of there for more than half of the second stanza. Once he was back in there the Eagles did a great job of pushing him out, and why not if it’s going to be allowed? There were at least two times I can recall when Qvale went to the basket and was hammered with no call by the Big Sky’s finest.

I know it sounds like sour grapes. I wish the Grizzlies had won because I would have written this the same way. It’s apparent certain people don’t want to see Montana succeed in any sport, and certainly don’t want the Griz to host a conference tournament.

Tinkle was deservedly proud of the way his team battled but made it clear that his players felt the game was taken from them. Sixteen fouls called on Montana and 13 on Eastern. Give me a break!

I guess you have to give Eastern credit, even with Glen Dean’s classless move to walk up and say something to Qvale at the free throw line when the Montana center was about to shoot the front end in a crucial one-and-one free throw situation. I was actually amazed that the official at the free throw line said something to Dean about his move.

With Northern Colorado’s one-point home win over Northern Arizona Saturday night here’s the way I think it will play out.

If UNC wins at Idaho State and beats Sac State at home the Bears will win the regular-season title outright and host the league semifinals and final. In that case Montana would be the third seed because Weber State swept Northern Arizona and Montana split with the Lumberjacks.

If the Bears lose a game and the standings end up in a three-way tie for first Weber State will host because of its sweep of Northern Arizona. Whether or not Montana would have a bye into the semifinals in that scenario would depend on how the standings wind up below third place.

That’s my best guess at this point.

ON THE SIDE: I’m not sure what was more painful, the game itself or the announcers who called it on Altitude Sports. Sounded like they were straight out of the EWU public relations department. During nearly every timeout the camera was on Eastern Washington’s huddle for another great look at Glen Dean or another great look at coach Kirk Earlywine or another great look at the Eagles huddle. Oh well, the beat goes on.

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.