Lady Griz Hold Off Yellowjackets 69-65

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

GAMESTATS (PDF)

On a night when it felt like the start of winter outside, it was like February inside Dahlberg Arena. Facing an opponent that is better than some Big Sky Conference teams, Montana pulled away in the final 90 seconds for a 69-65 victory over MSU Billings Monday in the Lady Griz’ first exhibition game.

The Yellowjackets have a Bobcat pelt hanging in their locker room after last December’s victory at Montana State, and they almost added a Grizzly to their collection on Monday. In a game that had 16 lead changes, a short jumper by junior Carly Selvig with 1:20 remaining finally put Montana up for good.

Montana shot 51.9 percent in the second half and committed just six turnovers for the game to overcome 18-point performances from MSUB’s Janiel Olson, who went 4 for 5 from 3-point range, and Bobbi Knudsen and the Yellowjackets’ 42-33 advantage on the boards.

“It was a good basketball game against a fine team,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “They are well-coached and they are experienced. Anytime you return a team that had the kind of year they had last year, you’re going to be good. I thought it would be a close game, and it certainly was.“

The teams went toe-to-toe through the opening 13-plus minutes, with neither team gaining more than a three-point lead until a steal and layup by junior Kellie Cole gave the Lady Griz a 21-17 advantage with 6:22 left in the first half.

A 3-pointer and jumper by junior Maggie Rickman pushed the lead to nine, 26-17, and for most exhibition opponents that would have signaled the start of the end.

But back-to-back threes by Olson sparked a 10-0 run that put MSU Billings up 29-28, and it took a free throw by freshman Alycia Sims and a 3-pointer by sophomore McCalle Feller in the closing seconds to give Montana a 32-29 halftime lead.

The Lady Griz turned the ball over just once in the first half and yet led by only three at the break because they got outshot and also got roughed up on the boards 25-14.

How good was the second half? Montana’s lead was never more than five points, and the lead on either side was three or fewer the final 11 minutes, until senior Torry Hill made one of two free throws with eight seconds left to push the lead to four.

Montana got what it wanted out of the game on three fronts: A win, a tight and well-played exhibition game that had 10 times the value of a lopsided 40-point victory against an overmatched opponent and minutes for all 13 healthy players.

The five Lady Griz starters all played at least 21 minutes, but eight subs also saw action.

“It’s hard to get all 13 in, but we got valuable minutes for a lot of kids,” Selvig said. “When you give everybody a look, it’s almost not fair. When you play a lot of kids, nobody plays very long, and it’s hard for anybody to find a rhythm.

“These games when you have a crowd and are playing a good team are invaluable for kids to gain experience. It’s a lot better than if we hadn’t had a heck of a battle.”

The battle tone was set early, particularly by MSUB senior point guard Bobbi Knudsen, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year.

An in-state talent from Malta who was passed over by the state’s flagship women’s basketball program, Knudsen looked like she had something to prove and hardly looked out of place or overmatched while directing Billings’ offense and harassing Montana’s point guards on the defensive end.

It was her assist on Quinn Peoples’ 3-pointer at the 7:42 mark that gave MSUB its first lead of the second half, 53-51, her 3-pointer at the 2:31 mark that gave the game its final tie at 61-61, and her jumper in the lane that put the Yellowjackets up 65-64 with 1:37 to play.

But those would be MSU Billings’ final points of the game.

Following a Montana timeout, senior Jordan Sullivan found Selvig for a short jumper that gave Montana a 66-65 lead with 1:20 left.

Knudsen missed at the other end, and with Montana holding a one-point lead and looking for a good shot, Cole was fouled while dribbling the perimeter late in the shot clock, the type of call that is a point of emphasis for NCAA officials this year.

Cole put down both free throws with 30 seconds to play to make it 68-65. After Billings missed again, Hill hit one of two free throws with eight seconds left to provide the game’s final margin.

Montana shot a healthy 43.9 percent and went 6 for 15 (.400) from 3-point range. But what really stands out — one good, one not so good — are the turnovers and rebounds. The Lady Griz turned the ball over just six times against a strong, quick defensive team but also got outrebounded 42-33.

“We didn’t execute things great offensively, but that’s to be expected at this time of year,” Selvig said. “But in terms of taking care of the ball while playing a lot of kids against pretty good pressure, I thought both Haley (Vining) and Torry were outstanding.

“They beat us on the boards. In fact I think they probably kicked us on the boards, so that will give the coaches something to bring to practice. We need to get a lot better in that area.”

Cole, who went 5 for 7 from the field and a perfect 5 for 5 from the line, led Montana with 15 points. She also had a game-high three steals and was named Player of the Game. Hill had 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists and combined with Vining to post a 6-assist, 0-turnover night.

Redshirt sophomore Hannah Doran led Montana’s reserves with eight points off the bench.

The Lady Griz will play their final exhibition game a week from Thursday when they host Montana-Western. Montana will open its regular season on Sunday, Nov. 10, against MSU Northern.

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