Lady Griz Host North Dakota Thursday

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team continues its first round through the Big Sky Conference schedule when it hosts North Dakota Thursday at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz and UND will tip off at 7 p.m.

Coverage: Thursday’s game will be aired locally on KMPT 930 AM in the Missoula area. Fans outside of listening range can catch the audio stream through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com. Links to Big Sky TV video streaming and live stats are available on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

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

Where they stand: Montana is 3-1 in the Big Sky Conference and 9-4 overall. The Lady Griz are tied for second in league with Montana State (9-4, 3-1 BSC) and Eastern Washington (7-6, 3-1 BSC). All three teams trail unbeaten Northern Colorado (6-6, 3-0 BSC), which plays at Montana State Thursday and at Montana Saturday.

North Dakota is 2-2 in Big Sky games, 7-6 overall. UND is sitting alone in sixth place in the league standings.

Who’s hotter? Montana is 6-2 since Nov. 29, with only a pair of two-point losses to Wyoming and Eastern Washington marring its record since Thanksgiving.

North Dakota is 3-0 since the Christmas break. UND went on the road and pulled off a stunning 62-56 win at Utah on Dec. 29, at the time only the Utes’ second loss of the season, and then held home court last week with wins over floundering Idaho State (6-7, 1-3 BSC) and winless Weber State (0-13, 0-4 BSC).

Most recently: Montana played its first Big Sky Conference road games of the season last week and came away with a split at Eastern Washington and Portland State.

At Cheney on Thursday, the Lady Griz never held a second-half lead but tied the score on a driving layup by senior Katie Baker with 14 seconds remaining. The Eagles missed with the clock winding down, and Laura Hughes grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback. Her two free throws with 1.8 seconds left sealed the 58-56 win for Eastern.

At Portland on Saturday, senior Kenzie De Boer scored a team-high 25 points, Baker had a brilliant 17-point, 16-rebound double-double, and Montana limited the Vikings to 31.7 percent shooting in a surprisingly dominant 70-55 win.

Home and away: Montana is 6-1 at Dahlberg Arena this season. The team’s only loss came to Wyoming on Dec. 6, 58-56. The Lady Griz are 458-54 (.895) at Dahlberg Arena under 35th-year coach Robin Selvig.

North Dakota is 2-4 on the road this season, though 2-1 on its last three road outings. UND lost three ugly road games as part of its 0-4 start to the season — 73-34 at Iowa State, 64-38 at Duquesne and 85-58 at South Florida.

A 73-63 win at North Dakota State gave North Dakota its first win of the season, and its win at Utah made it two of three.

Who’s the new guy? Montana fans who attended the 2010 and 2011 Lady Griz Holiday Classic might remember North Dakota coach Gene Roebuck. After turning UND into a Division II powerhouse with three national championships to its credit and getting the program through the transition to Division I, Roebuck announced his retirement last season and ended his career with a record at North Dakota of 628-145 (.812).

Travis Brewster, who was on Roebuck’s staff as an assistant for nine seasons, though not continuously, moved up a seat on the bench and is now the head coach.

No longer No. 1, but still pretty solid: Montana dropped from the nation’s No. 1 position in fewest turnovers per game after committing 14 turnovers at Eastern Washington and 15 at Portland State. That snapped Montana’s streak of four straight games and five of six with nine or fewer turnovers.

The Lady Griz, at 11.5 per game, now rank second nationally behind Villanova (11.0/g) in that category.

Montana also ranks in the top 10 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (fourth at 1.34) and blocked shots (seventh at 6.2/g). The Lady Griz had a season-high 12 blocks in their road win at Portland State last Saturday.

One storyline to watch: Montana is forcing 18.2 turnovers per game, and North Dakota is turning it over 20.7 times per game. The last time UND faced a solid defense (at Northern Colorado just prior to Christmas), it had a ridiculous 33 turnovers. Though Idaho State plays pretty salty defense, and UND had just 15 turnovers in last Thursday’s 64-59 win.

Series history: Thursday will be the fifth meeting between Montana and North Dakota. They will play for the third straight season in Missoula but for the first time as Big Sky Conference opponents. The Lady Griz hold a 3-1 series lead, 2-0 at home.

Last year’s meeting was a statistical abomination. Montana won 60-39 despite shooting just 32.8 percent. You can do that when you hold your opponent to 24.0-percent shooting, force 18 turnovers and grab 17 offensive rebounds.

RPI update: Ever wonder what the NCAA thinks about the teams in the Big Sky Conference? Here’s how they rate them according to the NCAA’s latest RPI: 1) Montana State, 102 (out of 343); 2) Eastern Washington, 106; 3) Montana, 115; 4) Sacramento State, 144; 5) North Dakota, 158; 6) Idaho State, 180; 7) Portland State, 188; 8) Southern Utah, 222; 9) Northern Colorado, 242; 10) Northern Arizona, 282; 11) Weber State, 311.

Nonconference losses update: Montana suffered pre-Big Sky losses at the hands of Temple, Villanova and Wyoming. As of Tuesday, Temple is 6-8, Villanova is 11-2 and Wyoming is also 11-2.

More on North Dakota: UND went 21-11 a year ago, won the Great West Conference regular-season and tournament championships and advanced to the Women’s Basketball Invitational, losing at No. 1-seed Seattle in the opening round. … That team’s top three scorers and top two rebounders returned in 2012-13. … Junior forward Madi Buck and junior center Emily Evers were both Big Sky Conference players of the week for games in December. … Buck leads UND in both scoring (11.2/g) and rebounding (7.5/g). … At 58.1 points per game, only winless Weber State (53.3/g) scores less among Big Sky teams (though that scoring average is steadily rising after a slow offensive start to the season).

Montana notes

* By winning at Portland State Saturday, Montana improved to 4-0 this season in games following a loss.

* Montana has committed fewer turnovers than its opponent all 13 games this season.

* Montana’s bench has outscored the opponent’s bench 10 out of 13 games this season and the last eight.

* The Lady Griz have reached 70 points this season seven times. Last year’s team, which was mostly the same as this year’s team, reached 70 only nine times.

* Montana is 8-0 when leading at the half, 1-4 when tied or trailing. Montana’s only win when trailing at the half was 58-56 over Denver on Dec. 16. The halftime deficit was two.

* The Lady Griz are 5-0 when shooting better than 40 percent and 8-0 when scoring 60 or more points.

* Last Thursday Montana held Eastern Washington to 31.4 percent shooting and lost. It was the first time this season the Lady Griz have held a team to sub-35-percent shooting and lost.

* Katie Baker had back-to-back double-doubles on last week’s road trip, with 13 points and 12 rebounds against the Eagles and 17 points and 16 boards against the Vikings. Those 16 rebounds were three off her career high of 19, which she grabbed as a freshman against Idaho State. Baker has three double-doubles in the last four games and 15 for her career.

* Kenzie De Boer reached 1,000 career points Thursday against Eastern Washington, then celebrated with 25 more against Portland State, four off her career high, on 9-of-15 shooting.

* Torry Hill snapped out of a 6-for-40 3-point funk that extended back to Thanksgiving when she went 2 for 4 at Portland State. And those two misses? Almost all the way through the cylinder before spinning back out.

* Hill had 10 assists and three turnovers last week in two games. Her 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the season ranks 35th nationally. She has not had a game this season with more turnovers than assists.

* Jordan Sullivan was held scoreless at Portland State. It was the first time in 23 games she was held without a point.

* Back to the drawing board: Kellie Cole’s free throw streak reached 22 before she missed late against Portland State. She is still 30 for 34 (.882) for the season.

* The owner of the current longest streak? Maggie Rickman at 10. She has gone 10 for 10 from the line the last four games while going 4 for 19 from the field.

* Carly Selvig has nine blocks the last three games. She ranks 37th nationally at 2.0 per game despite playing just 14.2 minutes per game. Baker ranks 32nd nationally at 2.08 blocks per game.

* Shanae Gilham has gone 6 for 8 from 3-point range the last three games to up her season performance to 13 for 24 (.542).

Upcoming: Montana will host Northern Colorado on Saturday at 2 p.m.

BOXSCORE

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com