Lady Griz Survive Lumberjack Comeback, Win in Overtime

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

Five teams won their Big Sky Conference openers Thursday night, and by the time March rolls around, it will be victories and not style points that anyone will remember. In the meantime this one will be hard to forget.

Northern Arizona (1-9, 0-1 BSC) rallied back from a 16-point second-half deficit by going 15 for 20 the final 11 and a half minutes of regulation and closing on a 7-0 run over the last 70 seconds to force an overtime no one saw coming.

Shaken but not whelmed by the shocking turn of events, a veteran Montana (6-3, 0-1 BSC) team scored the opening four points of overtime and never trailed in the extra session to pull out a 79-71 victory Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena in the league opener for both teams.

Senior Kenzie De Boer scored 24 points and senior Katie Baker had her 13th career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds to help offset a huge night by the Big Sky’s leading scorer.

NAU senior Amy Patton went 6 for 8 from 3-point range and finished with 32 points, all but eight coming in the second half and overtime.

Patton scored 21 of her points in the final 10 minutes of the second half, as the hot-handed Lumberjacks completed a comeback from a 42-26 deficit.

A seemingly innocuous 9-0 run, capped by back-to-back threes from Patricia Gortarez and Patton, pulled Northern Arizona within seven, 42-35, and it announced that the Lumberjacks were in it for the full 40 minutes. Or longer if necessary.

The lead hovered between an uncomfortable seven and 10 points from the 10:35 mark until Gortarez’s three with 1:29 to play cut the lead to 61-56. And it could have been tighter. The referees called a post-shot foul on Montana and gave NAU an inbounds pass, meaning it could have turned into a five- or even six-point possession.

Another Gortarez three was off the mark, and a pair of De Boer free throws with 1:10 to go pushed the lead to 63-56. Those would be Montana’s final points of regulation.

Paige Haynes hit a jumper in the paint just seconds later, and with NAU employing full-court pressure, junior Torry Hill, who would finish with a career-high 11 assists, turned the ball over in thebackcourt.

Patton, channeling her own Reggie-Miller-at-the-Garden moment, hit a three with 52 seconds to play to cut the lead to two, 63-61. That basket allowed Northern Arizona to defend Montana on its next possession straight up and not foul.

Hill’s runner with 31 seconds to go hit off the side of the backboard, and the ball ended up in the worst pair of hands possible (from Montana’s perspective): Patton’s. She grabbed the defensive rebound, rushed up the court and hit a 15-foot baseline jumper that tied the score at 63 with 24 seconds to go.

Montana turned the ball over just seven times the entire night, but Hill gave it up near midcourt with 16 seconds to play, giving the Lady Griz two turnovers in a crucial 37-second stretch and giving Northern Arizona a final and shocking chance to win in regulation.

Like they did in Sunday’s two-point win over Denver, the Lady Griz tightened up their late-game defense, and Gortarez’s off-balance 3-point attempt at the buzzer wasn’t close.

Alyssa Smith, one of three experienced senior starters counted on to rise to this type of occasion, opened the overtime with a basket, and sophomore Kellie Cole hit a pair of free throws to give Montana a four-point lead with less than a minute gone.

Patton answered with a three to cut the lead to 67-66, but those would be her final points of the game and NAU’s final threat.

Baker hit a pair of soft jumpers to extend the lead to 71-66, then hit a pair of free throws at the 1:15 mark to make it a comfortable 73-66 advantage.

Montana went 10 for 10 from the line in the overtime period, part of a 26-for-30 (.867) performance for the game.

“It was an interesting game,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “I thought we were in control of it and about ready to put it away, but it was the second game in a row where we did a poor job the final few minutes.

“We didn’t turn it over all night, then we had some terrible and untimely turnovers late. And of course Patton got really hot, and once she does you can play good defense and she can still put on a show.

“We totally lost momentum, but we did a nice job of coming out in the overtime and making plays. Then they were forced to put us on the line, and tonight we were making them.”

The idea of the teams combining to score 150 points seemed unlikely the first 30 minutes.

Montana shot just 29.6 percent in the first half and got out-rebounded by five, but the nation’s leader in turnovers had just three giveaways in the first 20 minutes while forcing 12, and that, plus a 12-1 advantage at the line, allowed the Lady Griz to take a 30-24 halftime lead.

Montana missed its first four shots of the second half and at that point was shooting 25.8 percent, but back-to-back threes by De Boer and Hill, followed by two Baker jumpers made it 40-24.

NAU scored just three points the first eight and half minutes of the second half before exploding for 36 the final 11 and a half, a run sparked by the brilliant Patton.

“Northern Arizona wasn’t scoring at all, but our second crew went in and kind of piddled around,” Selvig said about his reserves off the bench. “That allowed NAU to hang around like they did, so give them credit.

“We had a bad spurt, they got a little momentum and got the feeling like they could hang with us, and they did.”

After opening the game 8 for 31, Montana shot 15 for 32 (.469) the rest of the way and needed every last basket. De Boer did a bulk of her damage at the line, where she went 11 for 13, while Baker had a balanced stat line, going 8 for 13 from the field and 5 for 5 from the line.

Cole also reached double figures with 11 points off the bench. Hill’s 11 assists were four more than her previous career high.

Patton drew the awes with her 32 points, but it was NAU’s Aubrey Davis who did the necessary dirty work from opening tip to final horn. She finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Seven of her boards came on the offensive end.

Haynes also added 13 points and finished with six rebounds and six assists while playing all 45 minutes.

Northern Arizona outshot (.446-.365) and out-rebounded (41-38) Montana, but its 19 turnovers, which led to 21 Lady Griz points, proved costly.

Montana will try to take a 2-0 record into Christmas break but will need to beat a very good team to do it. Sac State (5-4, 1-0 BSC), which the Lady Griz will host Saturday at 2 p.m., won at Montana State Thursday night, 69-65.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com