Lady Griz vs. Wyoming: This is going to be really good

By UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION

The Montana women’s basketball team continues its nonconference schedule this week when it hosts Wyoming on Thursday night in Missoula. The Lady Griz and Cowgirls will tip off at 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.

Coverage: Listen to the game in the Missoula area on 101.5 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Outside of listening range? Catch the audio stream on the All-Access page at GoGriz.com.

Game Notes: See the team roster, player mug shots and Sason Game-by-GameComparisons.

To watch a free video stream of the game, synced with the same audio broadcast you’ll find on the radio, go to Big Sky TV. A direct link is available on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

A dozen good reasons to make plans to be in attendance Thursday

1. Because this is a REALLY GOOD matchup. Montana is 5-2, with losses to only Temple and Villanova, and Wyoming is 5-1, with its lone loss at Colorado. Current combined record of Temple, Villanova and Colorado: 17-3.

Katie Baker looks for an open teammate under heavy Vandal pressure During the Lady Griz Holiday Classic. Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., November 29th, 2012. Photo by AustinSmith.

In fact, on the long list of Division I women’s basketball games on the schedule for Thursday night, only three games not involving teams in the top 25 feature two teams who have combined to already win 10 games this season. Teams from the SEC — Missouri and Vanderbilt — host two of those games. The other is in Missoula.

2. Because Montana coach Robin Selvig and Wyoming coach Joe Legerski are two of the best coaches west of the Mississippi, and both are worth the price of admission if only to watch them burn 750 calories and sweat through their expensive European-cut suits while intensely working the sideline for two hours.

Selvig is in his 35th year at Montana and enters Thursday’s game with a record of 779-249 (.758). Legerski is in his 10th year and building something just as special in Laramie. He is 177-108 (.621) and memorably coached the Cowgirls to the 2007 WNIT title.

3. Because you need to get your Lady Griz fix while you can. After hosting Wyoming Thursday night, Montana will not play again for 10 days, as basketball takes a backseat next week to finals. The Lady Griz will not play again until hosting Denver on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 16, and that’s just too long to abstain.

4. Because Thursday’s game already feels like it is going to be a one-point game when public-address announcer Denny Bedard announces, “One minute. One minute remaining.” And after reading this you’ll know Montana senior forward Katie Baker went 10 for 11 (.909) from the field in the second half in UM’s wins last week at the Lady Griz Classic over Idaho and Tennessee State.

If Baker has the ball in her hands and the game on the line, she is NOT missing. And if Coach Legerski and his staff are reading this, please please please double-team anyone else and leave Baker alone for a 12-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer.

5. Because all of your coworkers this week are talking excitedly about freshman Shanae Gilham when they stand around the watercooler, and you want to be able to feel the chills when they reminisce about the time she chased down Tennessee State’s Jasmin Shuler and cleanly stripped her of the ball when Shuler thought she had an uncontested layup. And that Gilham is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range this season. That too.

6. Because in a rare happenstance, both teams are going into the game feeling like they owe the other team.

Lady Griz Maggie Rickman (#32) and Alexandra Hurley prepare to rebound a missed free throw, during the championship game of the Lady Griz Holiday Classic. Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., December 1st, 2012. Photo by AustinSmith.

When Wyoming visited Montana during the 2010-11 season, it got ugly in a hurry. In a nutshell, the Cowgirls came into Montana’s home, sat in the Lady Griz’ favorite chair and put their feet up. And then proceeded to eat the whole wheel of cheese.

The Cowgirls led 25-7 just 11 minutes in and led by at least 22 points the final 17 minutes of the game. At Dahlberg Arena! Wyoming shot 53.8 percent overall and went 11 for 20 (.550) from 3-point range. The Lady Griz shot 31.7 percent in what was their worst loss in the last two-plus seasons.

On the other hand, Montana had its only 50-percent shooting game of the season last year when the Lady Griz went down to Laramie, somehow shot 52.8 percent and left Arena Auditorium with a surprising 69-59 victory. (“Somehow” being appropriate in this case considering Montana shot 36.3 percent last season in its 29 other games.)

Only one other team (San Diego State) had a better shooting game against the Cowgirls last season, and that wasn’t against Wyoming at home.

7. Because something has to give. And if nothing does, we are in for a tight game.

Wyoming has four players averaging between 11.7 and 13.5 points per game and as a team is averaging 71.0 points per game on .449 shooting. Montana is allowing 57.4 points per game on .381 shooting and has only once (against Villanova) allowed 70 points.

On the other end of the court, the Cowgirls are allowing a mere 55.3 points per game and their opponents are shooting a cover-your-eyes-this-is-awful 33.8 percent. In Montana’s three home wins, the Lady Griz are averaging 74.0 points on 45.6 percent shooting.

8. Because you want to know if Montana can devise a way to lock down an opposing team’s looks from the 3-point line. Villanova (15 for29), Idaho (14 for 29) and Tennessee State (3 for 8) combined to shoot an alarming 48.5 percent from distance against Montana, and everyone knows Wyoming likes its threes. The Cowgirls are averaging nearly seven threes per game on 40.8 percent shooting.

9. Because the team needs your help in its attempt to restore what was formerly known as Dahlberg Dominance. Eighteen times between the 1981-82 season and 2009-10 Montana lost no more than one game at home in a season.

The last two Lady Griz teams lost at home 11 times (11!) but Montana is off to a 3-0 start at home this season. An unscientific poll of some of the current players reveals that they believe they play better when more people are in the stands, so please understand it’s a collaborative effort and requires noise. Lots of noise.

10. Because Montana has 15 more assists (104) this season than turnovers (89), and that’s some delightful basketball to behold.

11. Because watching baskets being made and points being scored is good entertainment value for your dollar. The Lady Griz have already shot 40 percent or better four times this season in seven games after reaching that mark just nine times in 30 games last season. And Montana has reached 70 points four times already after hitting 70 just nine times a year ago (seven against Division I competition).

12. Because Montana won at least 20 games 27 times over a span of 29 seasons, then posted win totals of 15, 18 and 16 the last three seasons. This year’s senior class — Katie Baker, Kenzie De Boer, Alexandra Hurley and Alyssa Smith — isn’t stopping short of 20 again. And they want No. 6 on Thursday.

Katie Baker. Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont., November 29th, 2012. Photo by AustinSmith.

Most recently: After dropping the championship game to Villanova at UNLV’s tournament two weekends ago, Montana bounced back with a 2-0 record at its own Lady Griz Classic last week. Montana defeated Idaho for the second time in 11 days last Thursday, 76-65, then knocked off Tennessee State on Saturday, 71-48, for its 26th straight Lady Griz Classic win.

Wyoming opened 4-0, then lost last Wednesday at Colorado, 68-58, while trying to become the first team this season to knock off the Buffaloes. The Cowgirls rebounded with a 73-50 win at home Saturday afternoon against Eastern Michigan in their last outing.

The teams’ one common opponent this season: Idaho. The Cowgirls pushed the Vandals around in their season opener at Laramie, 86-53.

More on Montana: Senior forward Katie Baker averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two Lady Griz Classic games last week while shooting 56.0 percent to earn tournament MVP honors for the second straight season. … Senior guard Kenzie De Boer averaged 10.0 points and 3.0 rebounds to earn all-tournament honors. … Sophomore forward Carly Selvig is second on the team in blocks (15) and second on the team in assists (14) despite playing just 14.6 minutes per game. … After missing three games because of a knee injury, freshman Shanae Gilham returned to the lineup last Thursday against Idaho. She was back to being her destructive self on Saturday against the Lady Tigers, going 3 for 3 from 3-point range and swiping three steals in 18 minutes. … Montana had a 38:22 assist-to-turnover ratio in its two Lady Griz Classic games last week.

More on Wyoming: The Cowgirls, who returned five starters from last year’s team that went 12-17, only the second sub-.500 team under Joe Legerski, have four players averaging in double figures, two seniors and two sophomores. … Senior Chaundra Sewell, a 6-1 forward, is putting up MVP numbers: 13.5 points and 10.3 rebounds per game on 57.1 percent shooting. She had 20 points and 16 rebounds in just 25 minutes Saturday against Eastern Michigan. She was a second-team All-Mountain West Conference selection a year ago. … The Cowgirls were picked fourth in the Mountain West preseason coaches’ poll behind San Diego State, Fresno State and UNLV. … The Cowgirls have had a substantial advantage from 3-point range over their opponents this season. Wyoming is 40 for 98 (.408). Its opponents are 23 for 104 (.221). … The Cowgirls have also been whistled for 37 fewer fouls than their opponents. … Keep an eye on Kaitlyn Mileto if she gets any looks behind the 3-point line. She is shooting 57.7 percent (15 for 26) from beyond the arc this season and averaging 13.3 points per game, second to Sewell.

History: Montana holds a 9-5 advantage in its previous meetings against Wyoming in a series that dates back to the 1983-84 season. The Lady Griz are 6-1 at Dahlberg Arena against the Cowgirls, with the 2010-11 abomination the only loss.

Around the Big Sky Conference: Montana’s record of 5-2 is only good for third place currently in the Big Sky. Montana State has opened 6-1, Portland State is 5-1. … The Bobcats’ lone loss? 71-70 at SMU. The Vikings’ sole defeat? 68-59 to Tennessee-Chattanooga at St. Mary’s tournament. … Portland State had what appeared to be a nice win at Oregon in mid-November, 87-85 in double overtime, but that loss has since lost some of its luster now that the Ducks are 0-6. … Sacramento State, the league’s fourth team with a record better than .500, had one of the Big Sky’s best nonconference road wins when the Hornets went to Corvallis and knocked off Oregon State last Saturday in overtime behind Se’nyce Parrish’s 39 points. How do you get 39 points? For starters, hit nine 3-pointers. … And that total wasn’t even the high in the league this season. Northern Arizona’s Amy Patton matched the Big Sky single-game record when she scored 41 against Bradley, though that effort came in a 12-point loss. … First-year North Dakota coach Travis Brewster picked up his first win as a head coach in the best place imaginable: 73-63 at North Dakota State last Friday night. Game of the week: Gonzaga at Portland State on Friday night.

Upcoming: Montana will host Denver on Sunday, Dec. 16, in its final nonconference game, then open Big Sky Conference play with games against Northern Arizona and Sacramento State right before Christmas.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com