Lady Griz Host Northern Colorado Today at 2pm

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team, winner of seven of its last nine, will host Northern Colorado Saturday at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz and Bears will tip off at 2 p.m.

Coverage: Saturday’s game will be aired locally on KMPT 930 AM in the Missoula area, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater on the broadcast. Fans outside of listening range can catch the audio stream through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com.

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

Links to Big Sky TV video streaming and live stats are available on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

Top seven reasons to shovel your car out and get to the game

1. Because Montana (10-4, 4-1 BSC) and Northern Colorado (6-7, 3-1 BSC) are two of three teams, along with Montana State (10-4, 4-1 BSC), who are tied in the loss column atop the Big Sky Conference standings. No surprise here, but nobody is going to go 20-0 in league play.

2. Because the Bears are becoming comfortable with the idea of winning in Dahlberg Arena, and that can’t be allowed to happen. Two seasons ago UNC picked up its first win over Montana in the teams’ short history, shooting 54.5 percent in the second half to rally for a 65-56 win in its fifth-ever trip to Dahlberg Arena.

Last year at Missoula the teams went to overtime, and Northern Colorado came away with a 56-54 win. And that game followed UNC’s 59-42 victory over the Lady Griz in Greeley a month earlier.

To recap: Northern Colorado swept the season series a year ago, has won three of the last five meetings and two straight at Dahlberg Arena.

Montana won the teams’ first eight meetings and holds a 10-3 edge since UNC joined the Big Sky Conference in 2006-07.

3. Because Katie Baker and Kenzie De Boer, both 1,000-point career scorers, are playing like the best one-two punch in the Big Sky Conference. De Boer is averaging 16.4 points per game in league play on 47.4-percent shooting. Baker is averaging 16.0 points per game on 49.2-percent shooting while leading the team at 10.2 rebounds per game.

The duo combined for 32 points in Thursday night’s 77-45 win over North Dakota while hitting 14 of their 21 shots.

“Both of them are playing really well right now, and that’s what experience will give you,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “Experience means more consistency and not as many mistakes. As a coach you kind of know what you’re going to get.”

4. Because this team is getting on the kind of roll that Montana fans have not enjoyed since the 2008-09 season. Since returning home from Las Vegas in late November, the Lady Griz have gone 7-2. Their only losses during that stretch have been 58-56 setbacks to Wyoming and Eastern Washington.

5. Because Montana is playing a beautiful brand of basketball. The Lady Griz have played 14 games this season, and 14 times they have had fewer turnovers then their opponent. And Montana has had more assists than turnovers in 10 of its last 11 games and has a 1.36 assist-to-turnover ratio for the season.

That ratio ranks fourth in the nation behind three pretty decent clubs: Connecticut (1.59), Baylor (1.59) and Villanova (1.44). Those three teams are a combined 38-4, so it’s pretty good company to be in.

6. Because Montana comes at teams in waves. De Boer and Baker are leading the scoring charge, but nobody else is averaging even 6.0 points per game in Big Sky games. And that’s okay, because seven players average between 4.2 and 5.8 points per game, and that’s hard to scout and game-plan for.

Opponents know what they are going to get: De Boer, Baker, senior Alyssa Smith and juniors Torry Hill and Jordan Sullivan will start, and senior Alexandra Hurley, sophomores Kellie Cole, Maggie Rickman and Carly Selvig and freshman Shanae Gilham are going to come off the bench without much of a dropoff.

“We have 10 kids who are going to play considerable minutes, and that’s a strength of ours,” Selvig said. “I like being deep.

“They are all too good of players not to play. There is not a big difference (between the starting five and the next five), and I think that’s helped us defensively.”

Montana’s bench has outscored the opponent’s bench nine straight games and all but three games this season.

7. Because as well as Montana is playing, coach Robin Selvig is not satisfied. Hold four straight opponents to sub-32-percent shooting? “Our defense is pretty good, but I think it can get better.”

Outrebound your last two opponents by 22 boards? “The last couple of games we’ve seen some progress, but I don’t think we’re nearly as good a rebounding team as we need to be. We haven’t dominated anybody on the boards, and that’s what we want to be able to do.”

And that how you win 784 games (and counting) in your coaching career.

About Thursday night (in Missoula): Montana jumped out to an 11-1 lead and did not allow North Dakota its first field goal until the 11:56 mark. The Lady Griz led 32-14 at the half and shot a season-best 48.4 percent in a 77-45 victory. It was a surprising result against a team that had wins against both Utah and Idaho State in its previous three games.

About Thursday night (in Bozeman): Montana State ran out to an 11-0 lead and never trailed in its 65-58 win over Northern Colorado. The Bobcats had three starters in double figures, and that more than offset the one-woman wrecking crew that was UNC’s Lauren Oosdyke, who totaled 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.

Noticeably absent from the stat fillers was junior guard D’shara Strange, one of a handful of players on the preseason watch list for Big Sky MVP. She got into foul trouble early and fouled out after just 19 minutes with 5 points, 3 rebounds and no assists. She entered the game with season averages of 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

The Bears, who trailed by nine at the break and by 14 early in the second half, twice cut that deficit to five points, but the Bobcats shot 63.6 percent in the second frame to hold their lead.

About Thursday night (everywhere else): All five home teams won Thursday night. At Northern Arizona, Amy Patton had 23 points and 11 rebounds and the Lumberjacks shot 51.7 percent in NAU’s 83-68 win over Eastern Washington. … At Sacramento State, the Hornets and Portland State played a high-possession, high-turnover, high-rebound game, and Natasha Torgerson’s 20 points off the bench helped Sac State come away with an 81-77 win. … At Idaho State, the Bengals jumped out to a 41-18 halftime lead, then survived Southern Utah’s 53-point second half to win 80-71. Abyee Maracigan had a 21-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench.

How good is Northern Colorado? The Bears finished second to Idaho State last season and met the Bengals in last year’s Big Sky Conference tournament championship game. They returned four starters, were picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll and sat atop the Big Sky going into Thursday’s game at Montana State. But were the Bears the best team in the Big Sky?

The NCAA RPI does not think so. As of Monday, the Bears ranked 242nd nationally, which puts eight Big Sky teams in front of UNC. Montana ranks third in the Big Sky at No. 115, and yet Saturday’s match-up already has the feel of a game that is going to be decided by five or fewer points one way or the other.

Northern Colorado is in a stretch of games that will likely go a long way in writing its potential championship resume. After the Montana State-Montana road trip, UNC travels again next week to Portland State and Eastern Washington.

The Bears are currently 0-7 on the road this season.

House of horrors: Montana has hosted North Dakota the last two seasons and come away with a 60-39 win at the 2011 Lady Griz Holiday Classic and last night’s 77-45 victory in the team’s first meeting as Big Sky Conference opponents. In those two games, UND shot 26.0 percent.

Montana notes

* By scoring 17 points last night, Katie Baker passed four players on the Montana career scoring list. In going from 1,154 points to 1,171, Baker passed Sharla Muralt (1982-86) and Greta Koss (1993-97), who both scored 1,157 points, Anita Novak (1981-85), who scored 1,158, and Linda Cummings (1999-2000), who scored 1,165 points.

She is 150 points from cracking the prestigious top 10 and bumping Sonya Rogers (2005-09) out of the club.

* The Lady Griz (11.6/g) continue to rank second nationally behind Villanova (11.1/g) in turnovers per game. Montana also ranks fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio and seventh in blocks (6.1/g). Montana had six more blocks Thursday night against North Dakota.

* Torry Hill ranks 32nd nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.03), Katie Baker ranks 32nd in blocks (2.07/g), Carly Selvig ranks 40th in blocks (1.93/g), and Hill ranks 67th in assists (4.6/g).

* Kenzie De Boer picked off three steals Thursday night to move into the Montana top 10 list with 178 for her career. Just ahead of her on the list is Lady Griz assistant coach Shannon Schweyen (1988-92), who finished her career with 181.

* Montana is 7-1 at home this season and 459-54 (.895) at Dahlberg Arena under 35th-year coach Robin Selvig.

* Montana is 9-0 when leading at the half this season and 6-0 when shooting 40 percent or better.

* The 2010-11 and 2011-12 Lady Griz teams combined in two seasons to score 70 or more points 14 times. This year’s team reached 70 for the ninth time Thursday night (and was a missed free throw at UNLV from making it 10).

* De Boer is 16 for 25 (.640) the last two games and has hit three of her four 3-point attempts.

* Hill is not smoking hot yet, but she is smoldering for sure and probably one big game at the arc from becoming at least a two-alarm fire. After a month-long cold spell, she went 2 for 4 from 3-point range against Portland State and hit both of her attempts Thursday night. Neither drew even a touch of iron.

* Hill made it 12 games out of 14 on Thursday night with more assists than turnovers. The other two games she had a 1:1 ratio, meaning she has yet to have a game this season with more turnovers than assists.

* Among those coming up big off the bench Thursday: Kellie Cole had 7 points, 4 assists and 3 steals, and Carly Selvig had 7 points, a team-high 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal in just 15 minutes of action.

* Maggie Rickman went 3 for 7 Thursday after going 5 for 24 the previous five games.

* Hill draws the attention with her 65 assists and 32 turnovers, but Alyssa Smith actually has a better ratio with 26 assists and just nine turnovers.

* Montana has balanced thievery. De Boer and Hill lead the team with 22 steals. Smith has 21, and Baker has 20. Somehow the team’s fifth starter, Jordan Sullivan, has just three steals on the season, which doesn’t seem possible.

* Currently streaking: Rickman continues to hold down the team lead for most consecutive free throws made at 10, and Shanae Gilham has the team lead for most games in a row with at least one 3-pointer at four.

* Montana has recorded more blocked shots than its opponent in eight straight games (six Thursday to North Dakota’s one) and has had more steals than every opponent except for Temple.

* Gilham’s 3-point field goal percentage of .500 (14 for 28) leads the Big Sky Conference.

* Montana is shooting 80.0 percent from the line through five Big Sky games and 39.5 from 3-point range. Both figures lead the league. As does the Lady Griz’ 6.8 triples per game.

Up next: Montana will have a single-game week when it hosts Montana State on Saturday, Jan. 19. The Bobcats host North Dakota Saturday, then play a game at Southern Utah on Thursday before facing the Lady Griz next Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com