Lady Griz Deliver Late in 52-49 Victory Over North Dakota


Maggie Rickman wasn’t Montana’s only clutch player Saturday, but her late 3-pointer, just the fifth of her career, was the one fans will remember on an afternoon dedicated to memories.

Rickman’s three was at the heart of a 10-1 run over the final 3:30 that helped Montana erase a 48-42 deficit and post a 52-49 victory over Big Sky Conference leader North Dakota Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena in front of a season-high crowd of 3,456.

With the family of the late Julie Deming in attendance and nearly three dozen former Montana players — many of them Deming’s teammates — exhorting them on, the Lady Griz (16-7, 10-4 BSC) moved into a three-way tie atop the Big Sky in the loss column with both North Dakota (16-8, 11-4 BSC) and Southern Utah (16-7, 10-4 BSC) with just three weeks of regular-season games left to be played.

Maggie was huge down the stretch, but we had a lot of heroes today,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “Obviously if you’re going to win that one, people are going to need to step up and make some plays.”

With the home fans providing the energy after a moving pregame tribute to Deming, who played for the Lady Griz from 1999-2004 and was killed in a car accident last April, Montana was perhaps too amped up early on.

North Dakota’s Madi Buck drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 90 seconds, Montana missed its first eight shots, and UND led 10-0 at the first media timeout.

Montana shot just 23 percent in the first half and scored a season-low 16 points, but after North Dakota’s early outburst, the Lady Griz held UND in check the rest of the half and trailed 25-16 at the break.

“We struggled in the first half, no question about it. North Dakota did a nice job of making things tough on us,” UM coach Robin Selvig said.

“We were fortunate to only be down nine, but we did a nice job defensively after they scored 10 in the first three or four minutes.”

As she’s made a habit of doing, Torry Hill sparked Montana early in the second half. She missed her only two 3-point attempts of the first half and finished 2 for 10 from the arc for the game, but the two she did hit came in the opening minute of the second half, and they got Montana going.

At least as much as either team could get going in a battle of two of the Big Sky’s top defensive teams.

“Each possession was a struggle for both teams today,” Selvig said. “Neither team was able to score quickly.”

Montana took its first lead of the day when Hill grabbed a long defensive rebound and beat everyone down the court for what were the only fast-break points of the game to make it 32-31 with 12:33 left.

The Lady Griz built their lead to 36-31 on baskets by Kellie Cole and Alycia Sims, and at that point most visiting teams would have been finished, but North Dakota punched back and showed why it’s atop the Big Sky standings.

North Dakota held Montana to a single field goal over the next six minutes and built its own lead to six points on three occasions, the final coming when Siri Burck hit a pair of free throws with 3:37 left that made it 48-42.

That’s when Rickman, who had scored just before Burck’s free throws on a confident baby hook in the lane, put her stamp on the game. She hit a mid-range jumper to make it 48-44, and after a UND turnover hit the shot everyone will remember: a 3-pointer from the left wing that made it 48-47.

After a UND miss, Cole hit a pair of free throws with 1:41 left that put Montana back ahead 49-48, a lead that was erased when North Dakota’s Emily Evers, after grabbing an offensive rebound, hit one of two free throws with 1:15 to play.

If Rickman’s three was electric, Carly Selvig’s turnaround jumper with 49 seconds left was just cold-blooded.

With the game tied 49-49 and the shot clock running down, Selvig got the ball on the left wing, 12 feet away and her back to the basket. Defending her: someone from the team that ranks sixth nationally in blocked shots.

No worries. Selvig, who was 2 for 6 on the day with four points, turned, fired, and her swish didn’t even touch rim. 51-49.

“Late in games she’ll manage to do that,” Selvig said. “She’ll miss everything in the first half and not look that good shooting it. The clock was starting to run down, and she squared and knocked that thing down.”

On the other end, Selvig blocked a jumper in the paint by Buck. Leah Szabla was there for the offensive rebound, and her attempt to tie it was blocked by Jordan Sullivan, who grabbed the rebound and got it quickly to Hill, one of the team’s top free throw shooters, who was fouled with 22 seconds remaining.

Hill hit her first attempt and missed the second, making it 52-49 and giving North Dakota, still down just one possession, new life.

UND squandered the opportunity with a turnover when Szabla drove the baseline and fired a bounce pass to the opposite corner off a set play, except no shooters had relocated to receive the pass, giving Montana the ball with 12 seconds left.

Cole was fouled on the inbounds, and another one of Montana’s top free throw shooters was unable to ice the game. Cole missed the front end of a one-and-one to give North Dakota one more chance.

It turned out to be harmless and the type of broken-down set that will keep second-year UND coach Travis Brewster awake for most of the team’s 15-hour bus trip back to Grand Forks.

The last player North Dakota would have drawn up to shoot the potential game-tying three with two seconds left was the one who was forced to take it when everything else fell apart, the 6-foot-5 Evers.

Her shot from the top of the key came up four feet short of hitting rim, and Montana had its 15th straight win over a Big Sky Conference opponent at Dahlberg Arena.

“And we had our two best free throw shooters up there, too,” Selvig said of Hill’s and Cole’s misses. “Those kids have made a lot of clutch free throws, so I won’t hold it against them.”

Cole finished with 13 points, Rickman with 11. Nine of those came in the second half, seven came in the final 4:09.

Montana’s biggest edge in the game — other than playing in front of an impassioned home crowd — was on the boards, which was the most surprising storyline of the game.

North Dakota ranks seventh nationally in rebounding margin and had been out-boarding its Big Sky opponents by nearly 13 per game. That included a 49-31 advantage in its 62-57 win over the Lady Griz last month in Grand Forks.

On Saturday Montana finished with a slim 38-37 edge, but 15 of those came on the offensive end. The Lady Griz turned those into 14 second-chance points, and those extra possessions were a huge factor on day when Montana shot 32.3 percent.

Also helping overcome its shooting was Montana’s eight turnovers, its third-lowest total of the season and nine fewer than the Lady Griz had in the teams’ first meeting. The offensive rebounds and lack of turnovers gave Montana 17 more shots attempts than North Dakota.

“We won the battle of the boards, and that’s the most impressive stat they have,” Selvig said. “And we only had eight turnovers. That’s pretty good, because they get after you defensively.”

Montana did its own work on the defensive end as well. It was the first time North Dakota has been held to fewer than 62 points in its last 11 games, and UND, which averages more than 27 free throw attempts and took 31 in the teams’ first meeting, got to the line just 16 times, making 12.

Mia Loyd, who had a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double against Montana in Grand Forks, had 13 points and nine rebounds. Buck, her team’s leading scorer at 16.4 per game, added 10 points and seven boards, but she scored only two points over the game’s final 27 minutes.

Should North Dakota fail to win the regular-season championship, its road trip to Montana is one it will look back on with regret. UND led at Montana State by 11 early in the second half Thursday and lost, and on Saturday gave up an eight-point, second-half lead.

And so the Big Sky Conference championship and the right to host the league tournament will come down to the final three weeks.

If Montana wants to remain in contention, the Lady Griz will have to do it on the road, where they are 2-4 so far during league games. Montana will play at Weber State and Idaho State next week, then follow that trip with visits to Southern Utah and Montana State.

In other Big Sky games Saturday, Northern Colorado won 65-59 at Montana State, Southern Utah won 80-64 at Weber State, and Sacramento State won 84-80 at home over Portland State.

Eastern Washington plays at Northern Arizona Saturday night.