Lady Griz Win Ugly, Move Into First Place

By Joel Carlson for

Everything fell into place for Montana to move into a first-place tie with Montana State atop the Big Sky Conference standings Saturday afternoon. It’s just that nobody thought it would be such a struggle.

Facing a team that was winless on the season and on a 37-game losing streak, Montana needed a late 8-0 run to finally break free of Weber State and pull out a 61-53 victory over the Wildcats at the Dee Events Center at Ogden, Utah.

The victory capped a 3-0 road trip and allowed Montana (14-5, 8-2 BSC) to move into a first-place tie with the Bobcats (14-5, 8-2 BSC). MSU lost at Idaho State Saturday afternoon 63-55.

“What I told the team in the locker room after the game was, ‘It was a great win, but it definitely wasn’t a great game,’” UM coach Robin Selvig said.

“We were awful. We could not make a shot. The reason it was a great win was because (Weber State) took the lead (in the second half) and had momentum, and we made plays down the stretch when we needed to.”

Weber State hadn’t come within 12 points of an opponent this season, and that trend looked like it would continue Saturday when Montana raced out to an early 10-0 lead. With the Wildcats missing their first 15 shots, the stage was set for a blowout. But it never came.

After making four of its first seven shots to go up 10-0, Montana missed 20 of its next 21. The Wildcats, who would make just two shots the entire first half, weren’t shooting any better, but they forced 11 Lady Griz turnovers and got to the line 16 times in the opening half, making 13.

With Montana, which shot 21.6 percent for the half, struggling to score, Weber State was thrice able to cut its first-half deficit to three points, and the Wildcats were within 22-17 at the break.

Maybe it was being on the road for a seventh straight day, or perhaps it was facing a team that hadn’t won a game in over a year, but Montana went to the locker room ahead by just five points despite holding a team to 2-of-26 (.077) shooting on its home court.

“It was one of those games where the feeling was that maybe we were letting them hang around,” Selvig said. “As much as you’d like to think you’re ready to go and you’re fired up, maybe we weren’t.

“Maybe after you’ve just had the big win at Idaho State and a tough one at Southern Utah, even though you know everyone can be tough, it might be a little bit where you’re not ready to go.”

Whatever it was, Weber State took advantage of Montana’s lassitude and grabbed its first lead of the game, 25-24, on a 3-pointer by Brianna Averette at the 16:36 mark of the second half.

Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead over the next 11 minutes, until senior Kenzie De Boer’s 3-pointer put Montana ahead by a seemingly safe margin of 47-41 with 5:07 to play.

But Weber State, which followed its dismal first-half shooting with a 12-for-22 (.545) performance in the second half, hung tough and fought back to force two more ties, the final one coming on a Desiree Ramos jumper at the 3:15 mark that made it 51-51.

“Things were going their way, and shots were falling for them, and it was a little bit of the deer-in-the-headlights for us,” Selvig said. “Then we had kids finally make plays.”

After the Wildcats missed an opportunity to go ahead with just over two minutes remaining, senior Alyssa Smith got the ball on the left wing and drilled a three in front of the Montana bench to make it 54-51 with 1:58 left.

After a WSU turnover, Montana missed twice but followed with offensive rebounds to continue the possession. Baker finally got the ball down low, used a head-and-shoulders fake to draw a foul and scored with 57 seconds to play. Her free throw made it 57-51.

Weber State turned the ball over again, and De Boer and Hill both hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds to preserve the win.

“We played better in the second half, but we never did shoot the ball better. At no time today were we making shots,” Selvig said.

“It could have been a lot worse, because we could have been going home on the bus with an L very easily had we not made some plays at the end. Thank goodness we did.”

Montana’s 1,000-point scorers led the way offensively, with Baker scoring a game-high 18 points and De Boer adding 15. Both also picked three steals, as did junior Torry Hill, who finished with nine points.

In addition to her tiebreaking 3-pointer and seven points, Smith dished out a season-high six assists against just a single turnover. Junior Jordan Sullivan scored seven points and grabbed 10 rebounds. She was part of the reason Montana finished with a 49-41 advantage on the boards.

Twenty-three of those rebounds were on the offensive end, and those extra opportunities turned into 21 second-chance points.

Jalen Carpenter had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Weber State, which went 23 for 27 (.852) from the line and outshot Montana 29.2 percent to 27.4 despite opening 0 for 15 and 2 for 26.

Montana, which hosts Portland State and Eastern Washington next week, was the lone Big Sky Conference road team to win Saturday. Idaho State defeated Montana State, North Dakota defeated Northern Arizona 70-50, Northern Colorado beat Sacramento State 79-63, and Eastern Washington defeated Southern Utah 79-70.

Montana Sports Information  —