Lady Griz Hold Off Pioneers 58-56


If Montana’s game against Denver Sunday at Dahlberg Arena was the team’s final exam at the end of its nonconference schedule, give the Lady Griz an A for effort. As for the finer points of the game, grade it incomplete.

Montana went 5 for 16 from the free throw line and committed a number of unnecessary fouls in the final two minutes that allowed the Pioneers to nearly come back from a 10-point deficit in the final 2:10.

But Morgan Van Riper-Rose’s 15 footer at the horn was off the mark, and Montana came away with a 58-56 victory and will take a 6-3 record into Big Sky Conference play, which opens Thursday at home against Northern Arizona.

“We could have iced the game making free throws late, and we had some dumb fouls that stopped the clock, but I’m not complaining. I’d take a two-point win against these guys anytime,” UM coach Robin Selvig said.

“I sure liked our fight, but we need to learn some things from this game.”

Senior Alyssa Smith went 4 for 8 from 3-point range to score 12 points, a total matched by senior Katie Baker. Maiya Michel had 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds for the Pioneers, who dropped to 4-6.

That Montana scored 58 points would have been a surprise to anyone watching the opening few minutes of the game. Coming off finals week and a 10-day break since their last game, the Lady Griz looked rusty early.

Montana missed its first 10 shots and, in a sign of things to come, its first two free throws and trailed 6-0 six and a half minutes in. Luckily Denver started just as cold. Six minutes into the game, the teams were a combined 1 for 18.

“I didn’t think we were ever going to score,” Selvig said. “Every one of them was a good shot, but nobody was making them. Luckily they weren’t on too much of a run either.”

But just like that Montana hit 5 of 6, and freshman Shanae Gilham’s three at the 11:07 mark gave the Lady Griz their first lead of the game, 12-11.

The teams went back and forth until Emiko Smith’s late three sent the Pioneers to the locker room with a 30-28 lead. Her basket was the eighth lead change of the first half.

Van Riper-Rose, Denver’s leading scorer entering the game (16.9/g), hit her only shot of the afternoon, a three, early in the second half to give the Pioneers what would be their final lead of the game, 35-34.

Smith answered with her first of three second-half 3-pointers, and Montana held the lead the final 17:21.

The Lady Griz limited the Pioneers to just two baskets in the 11 minutes following Van Riper-Rose’s three and did enough offensively to take a 49-39 lead on a basket by junior Jordan Sullivan with just over seven minutes remaining.

Denver scored the next seven points to cut the lead to three, but Smith’s fourth three of the game and a pair of free throws by senior Kenzie De Boer extended Montana’s lead back to a comfortable 58-48 margin with 2:11 remaining.

And then Montana almost allowed Denver to creep back into it and steal a road win.

Montana’s defense had allowed just 18 points through the first 18 minutes of the second half while committing just five fouls, but after going up 10 on De Boer’s free throws, the Lady Griz fouled eight seconds into Denver’s next possession.

With the lead at eight, 58-50, Montana missed the first of what would be a 0-for-4 effort from the line over the final 1:43.

Smith, who will never be accused of holding anything back on the court, ran over a screener on the Pioneers’ next possession. They hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to seven, grabbed the offensive rebound and were fouled again. Those two free throws cut the lead to 58-53, and still 1:26 remained.

Smith tried to split a defensive double-team on Montana’s next possession and was called for a foul. Denver, which once again had to go deep into the shot clock, missed at the other end, but sophomore Maggie Rickman was unable to extend the lead when she missed her own free throw, and DU’s Smith cut the lead to 58-56 with a three with 23 seconds left.

Sullivan, who entered the game shooting 82.4 percent from the line, missed both ends of a two-shot foul with 10 seconds left, and the Lady Griz fans in attendance had to hold their collective breath as Denver’s last-second chance was off the mark.

“We had opportunities to have it not come down to a one-possession game if we make free throws,” Selvig said. “And then we fouled three times in about 40 seconds.

“They were taking a lot of time to get good shots (in their second-half possessions) because we were playing good defense. Luckily we had two great defensive stops late when they had to kind of throw it up there.

“I thought our defense was pretty good the entire night.”

Montana shot 44.4 percent in the second half to finish at 36.5 for the game, its second consecutive sub-.370 effort after shooting .450 in two wins at the Lady Griz Classic.

Behind Smith’s 4-for-8 effort from 3-point range, the Lady Griz almost shot better from the arc (.280) than they did from the line (.313).

“It was nice to see Alyssa come back to life,” Selvig said. “It felt like she hadn’t hit a shot for the month of December.

“Her four threes were huge because that’s the shot we were being given against their zone. If that’s a shot we’re not hitting, (Denver’s) zone gets a whole lot better.”

Denver finished just under its season shooting percentage at 37.0 percent, but Montana’s defense did impressive work on Van Riper-Rose. She scored seven points, 10 below her average, and went 1 for 14 from the field in 37 minutes to get those points.

Michel, who was averaging 5.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, almost made up the difference with her double-double.

Montana will host Northern Arizona (1-8) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and Sacramento State (4-4) on Saturday at 2 p.m. before Christmas break.

Montana Sports Information  —