Lady Griz Take on Sac State today at 2pm in Dahlberg Arena

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team will play its final game of the 2012 calendar year Saturday when it hosts Sacramento State. The Lady Griz and Hornets will tip off at 2 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.

Why it’s important: With Montana (7-3, 1-0 BSC) winning at home Thursday over Northern Arizona, 79-71 in overtime, and Sacramento State (5-4, 1-0 BSC) surprising Montana State on the road, 69-65, the winner of Saturday’s game, along with the winner of Saturday’s Eastern Washington-Idaho State game, will take a Big Sky-leading 2-0 league record into the Christmas break.

If Montana wins, the Lady Griz will have held serve at home against two teams they were favored to beat. If Sac State wins, the Hornets will have their first UM-MSU road trip sweep in program history and two road wins at locations that few other league teams will have.

How to follow: 1) Show up at the game. 2) If you can’t make the game, listen to Tom Stage and Dick Slater on 101.5 FM or 1290 AM. 3) If you’re outside of listening range, enjoy the audio feed through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com. 4) Watch the free video stream, which is synced up with the audio broadcast, at Big Sky TV. 5) Follow the live stats.

Links to all available services can be found on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

Game Notes: See the team rosters, cumulative game stats andmore.

Game preview: This is not your father’s Sacramento State women’s basketball team. Those Hornets spent their first 12 years in the Big Sky Conference, from 1996 to 2008, going 29-153 (.159) in league games. They made just one postseason tournament over those dozen years, sneaking in as the No. 6 seed in 2004-05.

This is not your older brother’s Sacramento State team either. Those Hornets won more games playing new coach Jamie Craighead’s breakneck style, but they were not going to win unless they scored 80-plus points, because every opponent was going to score at least that much on a high shooting percentage.

These Hornets finally have it figured out. Sac State won its final four regular-season games last season, including a pair over Portland State that allowed the Hornets to steal the tournament’s No. 6 seed from the Vikings, then went and crashed the Big Sky tournament party at Pocatello, Idaho.

The Sac State fun bunch rolled past plodding No. 3 Eastern Washington for the program’s first-ever Big Sky tournament victory and held the halftime lead on No. 1 seed Idaho State in the semifinals before falling by 13.

Four starters from that team returned in 2012-13, 11 letter-winners in all, and some of the early results have been impressive. There was the 80-71 overtime win at Oregon State, and then Thursday night the Hornets went into Montana State and came away with a 69-65 win.

They are still allowing 71.7 points per game, but that is more the result of playing games with a high number of possessions than a shaky defense. Indeed, Sac State is holding its opponents to 38.7 percent shooting, better than Montana’s 39.5 field goal percentage defense.

Sac State, the league’s No. 2 scoring team at 71.1 points per game, has the Big Sky’s most balanced offensive attack, with six players averaging between 8.0 and 13.0 points per game.

Leading the way at 13.0 points is 5-foot-5 dynamo Alle Moreno. The Hornets also threaten teams on the interior, with double-double machine Kylie Kuhns, who averages 12.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. The latter figure makes her one of the nation’s top rebounders (10th going into Thursday night’s game).

In a nutshell, Sac State is still scoring it, but now the Hornets are able to defend it.

“Their (high-scoring) system appears to be the same, but they are obviously playing better on the defensive end,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “They are not giving up as many points.

“They had good players last year, and they returned nearly everybody. They do what they do well.”

Series history: Montana holds a 31-1 advantage over Sacramento State, with the Hornets’ 100-83 win at Sacramento during the 2009-10 season their only breakthrough. That makes the Lady Griz 16-0 at home against Sac State.

Last season Montana won the first meeting between the teams at Sac State 88-79. What made that result notable was that two days after scoring 42 points in an ugly loss at Northern Colorado, Montana raced out to a 54-36 halftime lead against the Hornets.

Montana won the second meeting last season handily, 79-54 at home.

A cure for your offensive woes: Montana has not only gone 13-1 against Sac State the last seven seasons, the Lady Griz have scored at least 73 points in all 14 of those games.

“I think we’ve been successful because we’ve taken care of the ball well enough,” Selvig said. “And I think our depth has helped us and will help us Saturday, because it’s going to be a fast-paced game.

Thursday night in the Big Sky: Home teams went just 2-3 Thursday night as the Big Sky Conference season opened with a full slate of games. Montana and Idaho State, which defeated Portland State 63-50 were the only two home teams to hold serve.

Sacramento State, Eastern Washington, which won at Weber State 88-60, and Southern Utah, which won at North Dakota 60-54, all came through with road victories.

Saturday’s out-of-town game to monitor: Eastern Washington at Idaho State. The Bengals are allowing just 53.3 points per game on 34.5 percent shooting. They’ll be hosting an EWU team that waltzed into Weber State Thursday and shot its way to an 88-60 victory.

The Eagles shot better than 50 percent both halves and received 32 points from their bench.

Record watch: With her 21 points Thursday night, senior Katie Baker upped her career total to 1,112 and passed both Jodi Hinrichs (1990-95) and Linda Weyler (1996-00) to move into 21st place on Montana’s scoring list. She is 12 points from cracking the top 20.

Senior Kenzie De Boer’s 24 points Thursday have her at 982 entering Saturday’s game. She needs 18 points to become the 29th player in Lady Griz history to reach 1,000 career points.

Lady Griz three-dot notes: Since going 0 for 6 in Montana’s two-point loss to Wyoming, Katie Baker has shot 54.2 percent against Denver and Northern Arizona. … Baker’s 21-point, 10-rebound performance Thursday was her 13th career double-double. … Kenzie De Boer’s 24 points Thursday was the 50th double-figure scoring game of her career. … Through halftime Thursday, Torry Hill was three for her last 29 3-point attempts. She went 2 for 3 from the arc the rest of the game. … Hill’s 11 assists broke her previous career high of seven. … Hill’s 11 assists and three turnovers Thursday give her an attractive 2:1 (48:24) assist-to-turnover ratio for the season. … Kellie Cole went 6 for 6 from the line Thursday to improve her season free throw percentage to .893. Just for the heck of it: The program record was set by Lauren Cooper, who shot 89.6 percent during the 2000-01 season. … After going 9 for 25 (.360) from the line against Wyoming and Denver, Montana went 26 for 30 (.867) against Northern Arizona. … Montana’s 7-for-12 (.583) performance from 3-point range Thursday matched a season high for number of makes and established a new season-best shooting percentage. … Montana, which also won in overtime over UNLV, is 2-0 in overtime games this season. The Lady Griz had lost their previous three overtime games entering the season. … Montana has been out-rebounded by five of its last six opponents. … The Lady Griz have had more assists than turnovers in each of their last seven games.

Upcoming: Montana will take an extended break before facing Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash., on Thursday, Jan. 3. That road trip will continue on to Portland State for a game on Saturday, Jan. 5.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com