Lady Griz End Finals Week With Sunday Matinee

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team will end its 10-day, finals-week break Sunday when it hosts Denver at 2 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz have not been in action since dropping a 58-56 decision to Wyoming on Dec. 6.

The game is the ninth and final nonconference contest of the season for Montana, which opens Big Sky Conference play next Thursday and Saturday at home against Northern Arizona and Sacramento State.

Coverage: Sunday’s game will be aired locally on KVWE 101.5 FM and KGVO 1290 AM in the Missoula area, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater on the broadcast. Fans outside of listening range can catch the audio stream at GoGriz.com.

Game Notes: Read the 4-1-1 on Denver as well as Records, Rosters, And Cumulative Stats for the LadyGriz

Video streaming will be available at both Big Sky TV (free) and GoGriz.com (pay per view). The accompanying audio for both options will be the synced local radio broadcast. Links to both video services can be found on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

A link to the game’s live stats is also available in the same location.

Openers: Montana enters its final nonconference game with a record of 5-3. The Lady Griz had a two-game winning streak snapped in their two-point loss to Wyoming in their last outing.

Denver is 4-5 but has won four of six since opening the season with three straight losses under first-year coach Kerry Cremeans.

Most recently: Montana trailed by 10 points against Wyoming early in the second half but took its first lead of the game, 52-51, when senior guard Kenzie De Boer converted a three-point play with 3:55 remaining.

Jr. Guard, Torry Hill. Photo by AustinSmith.

Wyoming regained the lead on its next possession, and the Cowgirls never gave it back. De Boer, whose potential game-tying shot in the closing seconds was off the mark, led both teams with a career-high 29 points.

Denver got out-rebounded by 22 and turned the ball over 19 times in its 83-63 home loss to Colorado on Tuesday. Sophomore guard Morgan Van Riper-Rose went 6 for 9 from 3-point range and scored 28 points for the Pioneers.

A new face on the sideline: Former Denver coach Erik Johnson, who led the Pioneers to a four-year record of 72-52, returned to Boston College in April to take over as head coach. He had been an assistant coach for the Eagles for three years before getting the Denver job.

Johnson was replaced by Cremeans (krah-MEANS), who was previously an assistant at Auburn for eight seasons. Cremeans played collegiately at Florida and was on Purdue’s staff for the Boilermakers’ 1999 national championship and 2001 national runner-up teams.

A budding rival: Montana and Denver will be meeting for the fifth straight season since starting their series in 2008-09. The Lady Griz hold a 3-1 advantage, but Denver won the most recent meeting, 53-52 last December at Denver.

Three of the teams’ first four meetings have been decided by five points or fewer.

“They’ve had some good teams,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “We’ve had some good ballgames.”

Denver notes: The Pioneers are not a one-player team, but Van Riper-Rose has been carrying the team offensively. She is averaging 16.9 points per game and is stroking it from the field (.452), 3-point range (.460) and the free throw line (.895). She is also playing 35.3 minutes per game. No one else on the team is averaging more than 7.2 points per game.

Denver returned three starters from last year’s 19-12 team but lost a familiar name in Kaetlyn Murdoch, who graduated last season after scoring 1,810 career points. She was a three-time first-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection.

Head Coach Robin Selvig calls for a timeout during their loss to Whyoming on December 6th. Photo by AustinSmith.

The Pioneers are playing this season in the Western Athletic Conference.

Denver’s lone senior this season is point guard Emiko Smith, and she’s a good one. She has 584 career assists, the most in Denver history, including a school-record 199 last year. Smith was second-team All-Sun Belt as a junior. She has 51 assists this season against just 16 turnovers, a super ratio, and will likely be the best pure point guard Lady Griz fans see at Dahlberg Arena this winter.

Maybe the most well-known player on Denver’s roster isn’t a player at all but assistant coach Abby Waner. The Highlands Ranch, Colo., native was a three-time All-ACC selection at Duke and spent the last four years as an analyst at ESPN.

Denver’s signature win this season was a 73-62 road victory at Oregon. The Pioneers, who lost at home by 18 points to Montana State and on the road by 15 points at Wyoming early in the season, also have a 57-46 home win over Northern Colorado, which was picked second in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches’ poll, ahead of third-place Montana.

The Pioneers are allowing 68.8 points per game this season, and their opponents are shooting 44.2 percent. Six of Denver’s nine opponents have put up at least 73 points.

“Denver is a program we have some familiarity with, but it’s a new coach and new system,” Selvig said. “They’ve played a very good schedule and have some impressive wins. They beat Northern Colorado, and a Pac-12 road win (over Oregon) tells you something.”

Finals almost in the rearview mirror: Outside of a few finals Friday, the Lady Griz have wrapped up the fall semester. “It was great not to have any games this week, because finals is a busy and stressful time,” Selvig said.

“We had practices this week, but we try to keep them a little shorter. It’s a time when you usually see a little less energy in practice.”

Nonconference games limited this season: Montana’s nine nonconference games this season are the fewest in coach Robin Selvig’s 35 seasons coaching the Lady Griz. With the additions of North Dakota and Southern Utah to the Big Sky Conference, 20 league games are now the backbone of the team’s schedule, and the Big Sky schedule is beginning before Christmas.

“We have an older team, so I don’t think (the loss of nonconference games) should be a problem with our preparation for Big Sky play,” Selvig said. “Of course every league team is in the same boat.

“Hopefully we’ve made a lot of progress to this point. There are some things we need to keep getting better at, but that’s always the nature of it.”

Montana three-dot notes: The setback against Wyoming was the 250th loss for coach Robin Selvig at Montana. For some perspective: He won his 250th game with a 60-41 victory at Idaho on Feb. 11, 1989. … In Montana’s five wins senior forward Katie Baker is averaging 14.2 points per game. In the team’s three losses she is averaging 2.7 and has shot 3 for 25. … Senior guard Kenzie De Boer went 12 for 22 against Wyoming on her way to her career scoring night. That upped her season shooting percentage to 43.4. Her best full-season percentage has been 37.5 as a junior. … Junior guard Torry Hill went 6 for 16 (.375) from 3-point range through the team’s first three games. In its last five she is 3 for 24 (.125). The other side of her game is flourishing, however. She’s dished out 27 assists the last five games and has a 35-to-20 assist-to-turnover ratio for the season. … Junior forward Jordan Sullivan is 7 for 14 from 3-point range the last five games. She is also shooting 82.4 percent from the free throw line this season after shooting 65.7 percent as a freshman and sophomore. … Sophomore guard Kellie Cole leads the team from the line at 86.4 percent. She shot 67.3 percent as a redshirt freshman. … Sophomore forward Carly Selvig continues to show off her deft passing skills. She ranks second on the team in assists (15) and is tied with Baker for the team lead in blocks (17). … Freshman guard Shanae Gilham, who had the flu, was limited to six minutes in the first half against Wyoming. … Montana lost by two to Wyoming despite getting outshot .467 to .354. The biggest reason the game was so close: The Lady Griz committed a season-low six turnovers while forcing the Cowgirls into 20. … Montana has almost been doubled up from 3-point range this season. UM’s opponents have connected 60 times from behind the arc to Montana’s 33. … The Lady Griz’ last four opponents have shot 46.5 percent from 3-point range.

Upcoming: Montana opens Big Sky Conference play next week when it hosts Northern Arizona (1-7) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Sacramento State (4-4) on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Lady Griz will then have a 12-day break for Christmas and New Year’s before opening 2013 with a road trip to Eastern Washington on Jan. 3 and Portland State on Jan. 5.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com