Tough field awaits Lady Griz in Las Vegas

By UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION

The Montana women’s basketball team will play a pair of games this weekend at the UNLV Lady Rebel Round-Up in Las Vegas. The Lady Griz will open with the host Lady Rebels Saturday at 2 p.m. (MT) and then face either Villanova or Bowling Green on Sunday. The Wildcats and Falcons meet at 4:30 p.m. (MT) on Saturday.

Sunday’s consolation game tips off at 2 p.m. (MT). The championship game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. (MT). All four games will be played at UNLV’s Cox Pavilion.

Live coverage: Both of Montana’s tournament games will be aired locally on 101.5 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater on the broadcast. Fans outside of listening range can catch the streamed audio broadcast through the GoGriz.com All-Access page.

UNLV will have live stats available for all four tournament games at UNLVRebels.com.

Opening tip: All four teams enter the tournament with records of .500 or better, and all three of Montana’s potential opponents won 19 or more games last season. … Since dropping their season opener at Temple, the Lady Griz have posted a home win over MSU Northern, 75-45, and a road win last Sunday at Idaho, 71-50. … UNLV is 2-2 and coming off a 1-1 trip to Maine’s tournament. … Villanova is 2-1, with an impressive 24-point win over South Dakota State to open the season and a 39-point defensive demolition of Lafayette. … Bowling Green is 2-1. After opening with wins over Madonna and Niagara, the Falcons traveled to No. 14 Purdue on Monday and lost59-45.

UNLV last season: The Lady Rebels went 22-10 and lost in the opening round of the WNIT at St. Mary’s. It was UNLV’s first 20-win season since 2003-04. The Lady Rebels finished second in the Mountain West Conference with a 10-4 league record.

UNLV preseason: The Lady Rebels, picked third in the preseason MWC poll behind San Diego State and Fresno State, return just two starters. Senior guard Kelli Thompson was a second-team All-MWC pick a year ago. Senior guard Mia Bell was named to the Mountain West preseason All-Defensive team.

UNLV this season: The Lady Rebels have two dominant players through the first few weeks of the season, with 6-foot senior guard Kelli Thompson averaging 19.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, both team highs. Six-one sophomore forward Alana Cesarz, who averaged 3.0 points and 1.8 rebounds last season, is averaging 18.0 points and 7.3 rebounds thisseason.

The Lady Rebels have good size. Eight of the team’s 13 players are listed as six-feet or taller. That size is showing up on the boards, where UNLV is +11.0 through four games.

Coach Robin Selvig’s take: “They have good size, good athleticism and are just a solid team. They have a couple of kids who are very explosive and will be hard to guard.

“They will play good, solid man defense, which Temple did, but UNLV has more overall size than Temple. We’ll need to execute offensively. And we’ll need to put bodies on them and block out. They’ve got big kids and some jumpers.”

History: Montana and UNLV have met just once before, in the opening round of the 1994 NCAA tournament. The No. 7 Lady Griz defeated the No. 10 Lady Rebels 77-67 behind Ann Lake’s 20 points in front of a crowd of 7,992 at Dahlberg Arena.

Villanova last season: The Wildcats went 19-15 overall and tied for 10th in the tough Big East at 6-10. Villanova made the WNIT and posted wins over American and Illinois State before losing in the round of 16 with a 48-47 loss at Colorado.

Villanova preseason: The Wildcats, who return four starters, were picked 10th in the Big East preseason poll. Senior forward Laura Sweeney, who led Villanova in scoring (14.4/g), rebounding (7.6/g), shooting (.504), steals and blocks last season, was a Big East preseason honorable mentionselection.

Villanova this season: The Wildcats are annually one of the nation’s top defensive teams, and this season is no different. Villanova held South Dakota State to 47 points in its season opener and limited Lafayette to 34. The Wildcats beat Bloomsburg on Monday night, 78-38, in a rare in-season exhibition game.

Sweeney is averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 rebounds through three games.

To be a fly on the wall: Montana coach Robin Selvig and Villanova coach Harry Perretta were both hired by their current schools prior to the 1978-79 season, and they’ve never left. They are the longest-tenured coaches in NCAA Division I women’s basketball. Selvig entered the season with 774 career wins, Perretta 617.

Who wouldn’t want to be a (silent) third guest if the coaches got together for a three-hour dinner in Vegas?

“I’m sure we would have plenty of stories to share,” Selvig said. “He has a certain style and way of playing, a system that’s all his own, and I’ve always been impressed. It would be fun to talk to him about what they do and how they get it done in the Big East.”

Bowling Green last season: The Falcons, who have a history of success not dissimilar from Montana, went 24-7 last season. Bowling Green won the Mid-American Conference regular-season title, was upset by Central Michigan in the semifinals by three and lost in the first round of the WNIT to VCU byone.

The Falcons lost their 2011-12 season opener to Dayton 69-38. Their other six losses on the season came by a combined 13 points.

Bowling Green preseason: The Falcons, who have won eight straight MAC division titles, were picked second in the East Division behind Miami in this year’s preseason poll. The team’s two leading returning scorers, senior guard Chrissy Steffen and junior forward Alexis Rogers, were both preseason East Division All-MAC selections. BGSU returns four starters.

Bowling Green this season: The Falcons are under first-year coach Jennifer Roos after former coach Curt Miller, who led BGSU to a 11-year record of 258-92, took over at Indiana last spring. Roos spent the previous 11 seasons at Bowling Green as Miller’s top assistant.

Steffen is leading Bowling Green in scoring through three games at 15.7 points per game.

“Everybody in women’s basketball knows about Bowling Green,” Selvig said. “They are an extremely strong program and have been for years.

“They are not somebody we’ve played and not somebody we’re familiar with, but it’s somebody we have great respect for.”

History: Montana has not played Villanova or Bowling Green before.

A good sign: When Montana traveled to Idaho and beat the Vandals 71-50 last Sunday, the Lady Griz did something they hadn’t done in their previous 28 road games: beat a team by more than 10 points. The last time the Lady Griz picked up a road win that came by more than 10 points? February 2010, 67-53 over Idaho State at Pocatello.

How did Montana do it? Shooting 51.5 percent in the first half to jump out to a 39-23 halftime lead, then holding Idaho to 26.9 percent second-half shooting to keep any comebacks at bay.

Junior point guard Torry Hill went 3 for 8 from 3-point range to lead both teams with 19 points. She also added a game-high three assists. Senior Katie Baker had 14 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, and sophomore Kellie Cole came off the bench to add 9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals.

Montana three-dot notes: Senior Kenzie De Boer has reached double figures in all three games this season. She is shooting .469. Her best season to date was .375 as a junior. … Freshman Shanae Gilham (knee) won’t be playing in either game this weekend. … Junior Torry Hill’s 19 points at Idaho matched her career high, which she set in last season’s 88-79 win at Sacramento State. … Gilham (.556) and senior Alyssa Smith (.556) are both shooting better than 50 percent on the season. … Montana is just under a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season with 37 assists and 41 turnovers. UM’s opponents have 33 assists and 59 turnovers. … Montana’s first three opponents are averaging 50.0 points per game on .338 shooting.

Upcoming: Montana will host the Lady Griz Classic next weekend, with Idaho and Tennessee State traveling to Missoula. Montana will face Idaho next Thursday and Tennessee State on Saturday. The Vandals and Tigers will play Friday.

Game Notes:  See The Lady Griz roster, player profiles, and season statistics in GameNotes.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com