33rd Lady Griz Classic Draws Strong Field

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team will host the 33rd Lady Griz Classic this weekend at Dahlberg Arena. Montana will welcome Idaho, UC Irvine and Appalachian State for the two-day, four-game tournament.

Appalachian State and UC Irvine will open the tournament Friday at 5:30 p.m. Montana and Idaho will follow, with tipoff at approximately 7:45 p.m. Game times for Saturday will be 30 minutes later, with the opening game at 6 p.m., the second game at approximately 8:15 p.m.

Friday’s winners will meet in Saturday’s championship game, which could be played in either time slot. Montana will play the late game on Saturday, no matter Friday’s results.

Coverage: The two Montana games will be aired locally on KGVO 1290 AM and 101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. … All four games will have video coverage through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com. Stage and Slater will provide the audio for the Montana games. A visiting radio feed will accompany the two non-Montana games. … Live stats for all four games can be found on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.


Head Coach Robin Selvig and the Lady Griz. Photo by Austin Smith.

Accomplished field: Three of the four teams competing this weekend advanced to a national tournament a year ago. Montana and Idaho made the NCAA tournament as postseason champions of the Big Sky Conference and Western Athletic Conference, respectively. Appalachian State made the WNIT. All three teams lost in the first round of their tournaments.

Montana at a glance: The Lady Griz, who went 2-1 last week on their first road trip of the season, take a 4-1 record into the tournament. It’s Montana’s best five-game start since 2006-07.

Idaho at a glance: The Vandals, who returned five starters from last season’s NCAA tournament team, are 5-3. Idaho’s three losses have come by a combined 22 points against teams that are currently 18-3.

UC Irvine at a glance: The Anteaters are 4-3 and no strangers to either Montana or Idaho. UC Irvine was at Loyola Marymount’s tournament last weekend, along with the Lady Griz, and lost 68-63 at Idaho less than two weeks ago.

Appalachian State at a glance: The Mountaineers are 1-5 despite returning four starters from last year’s 20-win WNIT team and playing three of their first five games at home. Three of Appalachian State’s losses have been by nine points or fewer.

Tournament history: Through the Lady Griz Classic’s first 32 editions, Montana has posted a record of 61-3 and enters this year’s tournament with 25 straight Classic championships. The Lady Griz defeated Idaho, 76-65, and Tennessee State, 71-48, last December.

Montana’s three losses in the tournament have come against Washington, 64-59 in 1980-81, Drake, 71-65 in 1981-82, and Arkansas, 74-54 in 1998-99.

Where they were slotted: Montana was picked second in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches’ poll, Idaho was second in the Western Athletic Conference poll, Appalachian State was fourth in the Southern Conference poll, and UC Irvine was eighth in the Big West Conference poll.

Kellie Cole

Kellie Cole. Photo by Austin Smith.

800 more reasons to show up: When Montana defeated Portland on Nov. 18, it gave 36th-year Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig 800 career victories at his alma mater. A short presentation was made after that game to recognize the achievement. More celebrating will be done Friday night.

The first 800 fans through the gates will get a special commemorative poster, and Selvig will be presented with a cake before the game. The coach has been promised a corner piece, but the rest of the cake will be available for fans in the west concourse once the game has commenced.

Buy one, get two free: Anyone attending Saturday’s FCS playoff game between Montana and Coastal Carolina can later use that ticket to get into Saturday’s two-game session free of charge. Bonus: It’s always 70 degrees with little wind in Dahlberg Arena.

Series histories: Montana has never faced Appalachian State and holds a 2-0 lead against UC Irvine. The teams played a home-and-home series in 1986-87 and 1987-88. The Lady Griz won 70-62 in Missoula and 76-64 at Irvine.

Montana holds a 38-8 advantage against Idaho, which was a Big Sky Conference opponent for 14 years (1982-83 to 1995-96) and will be again next season when the Vandals rejoin the league.

The Lady Griz are 23-1 against the Vandals at Dahlberg Arena. The lone Idaho win in Missoula came in 1984-85 by a score of 78-76. That was the season the Vandals swept the teams’ regular-season meetings and added an 80-57 thumping in the Big Sky tournament championship game at Moscow for what was Idaho’s first and only NCAA tournament trip until last season.

The more personal history is Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig against Idaho coach Jon Newlee, who spent six seasons at Idaho State before moving upstate following the 2007-08 season.

Selvig’s teams are 17-3 against Newlee’s squads (12-2 against Idaho State, 5-1 against Idaho). The Lady Griz are 11-0 against Newlee-coached teams at Dahlberg Arena.

That’s not to say Newlee hasn’t had any success at Dahlberg Arena. In fact it was the sight of one of his coaching highlights.

Idaho State won neutral-site Big Sky Conference tournament games at Dahlberg in both 2004 and ’05, then defeated Weber State and Northern Arizona (which had knocked off No. 1 seed Montana in the semifinals) at the 2007 tournament to advance to the NCAA tournament.

More coaching connections: UC Irvine coach Doug Oliver, now in his second season leading the Anteaters, was the head men’s coach at Idaho State for eight seasons, from 1998-99 to 2005-06. His last four seasons at Pocatello overlapped the first four of Newlee’s six years at ISU.


Maggie Rickman. Photo by Austin Smith.

Oliver spent 12 seasons (1986-98) as the top men’s assistant at Stanford, coaching under FOR (Friend of Robin) Mike Montgomery. The Cardinal advanced to the Final Four and won 30 games in Oliver’s final season on The Farm.

Oliver was an assistant coach for the UC Irvine men’s team two seasons before taking the same position with the Anteater women in 2011-12. He moved up a chair to the head coach position the next season. He is also rumored to have one day coached at Whitefish (Mont.) High.

“I know both Doug and Jon, and they are really good coaches,” Selvig said. “I have great respect for both of them.

“Doug and I have the Big Sky Conference connection and the connection with (former Griz men’s coach) Mike Montgomery, so it’s kind of fun.”

And then there’s this: If national championships are the ultimate trump card, then sixth-year Appalachian State coach Darcie Vincent has outdone Selvig, Oliver and Newlee. She won an NCAA Division II national title at California (Pa.) in 2004.

Beware the Vandals: At first glance, Idaho appears to have an okay record of 5-3, a nice start for a team with five starters back from a team that advanced to the NCAA tournament last spring. Look deeper and it’s a team that could be scary good. Maybe the best team in the Lady Griz Classic field.

Idaho opened the season at then No. 25 Gonzaga and lost 64-56. The Bulldogs are currently 5-1, with their only loss of the season by four points at No. 11 Oklahoma.

There was a 10-point loss at San Diego of the Mountain West Conference, a team now 8-0, and last Saturday’s 59-55 loss to then No. 20 California at Nevada’s tournament.

Where did this upstart come from? Idaho was 14-15 last year entering the WAC postseason tournament, but the Vandals got hot at the right time and reeled off three victories in four days by a total of seven points to make their second-ever NCAA tournament.

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Carly Selvig and Jordan Sullivan blocking a shot. Photo by Austin Smith.

The result was a trip to Storrs, Conn., to face UConn, which would roll through everybody on its way to a national title. The Vandals lost 105-37, but it was an NCAA tournament trip for a team that could look forward to returning all five starters in 2013-14.

“To have it all come together at the end of the year is a great kickoff for starting off the next year,” Selvig said. “I’m sure their tournament run provided confidence and momentum.

“Experience does make a difference, so I’m sure they’re thinking that’s where they want to be again at the end of this season.”

Who Montana needs to be particularly wary of: Junior guard Stacey Barr, the WAC tournament MVP, is averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game and is also grabbing 8.0 rebounds per game. Senior forward Alyssa Charlston, two times first-team All-WAC, averages 13.9 points and a team-high 8.9 rebounds.

What in the name of Jon Newlee is going on: Didn’t Newlee-coached teams used to give the defensive end of the floor only as much attention as was required to get the ball back so they could hoist up 3-pointers on the other end and try to score 90 points per game? The coach has evolved.

Even against a tough schedule, Idaho is only allowing its opponents to shoot 35.8 percent this season, which is only slightly higher than Montana (.353), and the Vandals are allowing just 62.4 points per game.

And if a team wants to beat Idaho from the 3-point line, good luck. Its opponents are shooting just 23.1 percent from the arc and averaging just five made threes per game.

More on UC Irvine and Appalachian State: Both the Anteaters and Mountaineers have a dominant player. UCI is led by senior forward Camille Buckley, who leads the team in both scoring (15.6/g) and rebounding (10.4/g). ASU has junior forward Maryah Sydnor, who averages 20.5 points per game and has scored at least 18 points in five of Appalachian State’s first six games.

UC Irvine lost 68-63 at Idaho, then played in the same Loyola Marymount tournament last week that Montana played in. The Anteaters defeated LMU 63-60 and lost to North Dakota State in the tournament championship game 64-61 on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Montana lost to NDSU 70-53 in a game that wasn’t that one-sided and defeated the host Lions in the consolation game 49-47.


Torry Hill, Jordan Sullivan and Carly Selvig. Photo by Austin Smith.

App State is just 1-5, but that doesn’t mean much in early December, mostly because nobody in the West knows if a 71-63 loss to Western Carolina is a good loss, like Idaho losing a tight game to Gonzaga, or a bad loss.

“Appalachian State is a fun one to get into our tournament, because we’ve never played them,” Selvig said. “We don’t know much about them, which I think is great for the fans.

“Records at this point of the season don’t mean a whole lot. It’s hard to gauge much of anything, because it’s about who you play and where you play them. App State is a good program, so I’m sure they are going to be good.”

Things to know about Montana:

* The Lady Griz had a weird road trip last week. They shot 49.2 percent and went 12 for 25 (.480) from 3-point range and won by 26 points at Denver, a team that played tight games against both UC Irvine and Wyoming. Montana built a 46-20 halftime lead in that game.

Two days later the Lady Griz shot 30.8 percent and lost by 17 to North Dakota State. It was a four-point game with nine minutes to play, but 28.6 percent second-half shooting didn’t allow for Montana to get the game into the final minutes.

One day later Montana again struggled to score, shooting 35.6 percent, but did enough good things on the defensive end to pull out a 49-47 victory. The Lady Griz trailed late until they scored four times on four possessions to take the lead for good.

* Senior guard Torry Hill was named to the all-tournament team at Loyola Marymount. She averaged 13.5 points and 6.0 assists and played 69 of a possible 80 minutes in the split.


Redshirt junior, Kellie Cole. Photo by Austin Smith.

North Dakota State point guard Brooke Lemar, who had 21 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists against Montana while going 3 for 3 from 3-point range, was named tournament MVP.

* Montana ranked ninth nationally a year ago in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.18. The Lady Griz are back at it. Through five games they have yet to have a game with more turnovers than assists and have a ratio of 1.28, with 82 assists and 64 turnovers.

Montana’s opponents? Not so good at 47 assists and 86 turnovers.

* Six different players combined to knock down 12 3-pointers at Denver, which was just four off the program record of 16 set against … wait for it … Jon Newlee’s Idaho State team in Montana’s 105-55 victory at Dahlberg Arena in 2005-06.

Of note: ISU beat Montana at Pocatello later that season and won the outright regular-season Big Sky championship with an 11-3 league mark. Montana finished second at 10-4. Neither team won the Big Sky tournament. That was third-place Northern Arizona.

* It must have been something about Loyola’s rims. Montana shot 50 for 61 (.820) from the free throw line through its first three games. In two games at LMU, 10 for 19 (.526).

* Montana committed 23 fouls at Denver, the most for the team in its last 81 games. Three players fouled out, Jordan Sullivan, Carly Selvig and Maggie Rickman. In two games at LMU, the Lady Griz had a total of 27 fouls.

* Montana blocked a season-high 10 shots in its loss to North Dakota State. Carly Selvig swatted five of those Bison shots. That was the most blocks for the team since posting 12 last January against Portland State.

* Hill is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range, is 9 for 10 from the free throw line and has a sexy 1.62 assist-to-turnover ratio. She has 16 assists in Montana’s last three games, all of which were on the road. She can blame the home-court statistics crew for being too literal in its interpretation of the NCAA manual if she wants.

* Rebounding by committee: Montana has four players averaging between 5.6 and 5.8 boards per game: Sullivan, Selvig, redshirt junior Kellie Cole and freshman Alycia Sims. Cole, a 5-9 guard, is the surprise of the group. She was at 2.3 per game for her career entering the season.

* Sims averaged 11.0 points per game through Montana’s first three games, but she totaled just two points in two tournament games at LMU while taking just six shots.

* Selvig followed a 1-for-6 game against NDSU with an important 5-for-9 effort against Loyola Marymount. Her 12 points against the Lions were huge in what turned out to be a two-point game.

* Sullivan grabbed 20 rebounds on the three-game road trip and added six assists and four steals, but she shot just 7 for 27 (.259).

* Rickman, who was without a field goal through the season’s first two games, shot 8 for 16 (.500) in last week’s three games.

Upcoming: Montana hosts Temple (4-2) on Saturday, Dec. 14, as a finals-week capper. The Owls, who beat the Lady Griz 55-41 in last year’s season opener at Philadelphia, are done playing until their trip to Missoula.