Lady Griz Hold Off Thunderbirds, Win 81-73

By Joel Carlson for

Kellie Cole scored 24 points and Torry Hill added 19, both one off their career highs, to lead Montana to an 81-73 victory over Southern Utah Saturday afternoon in a Big Sky Conference women’s basketball game at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.

The Lady Griz trailed most of the first half and were down 35-33 at the break, but Hill went 5 for 7 from 3-point range in the second half and scored 17 of her 19 points in the final 20 minutes to rally Montana.

A 9-0 run midway through the second half, with all nine points coming from Hill and Cole, turned a 51-50 lead into a 60-50 advantage, and the Lady Griz survived a shaky final five minutes to win for the 12th straight time at home against a league opponent.

The win keeps Montana (12-6, 6-3 BSC) within one loss of Big Sky leader North Dakota (14-6, 9-2 BSC) and moves the Lady Griz into a second-place tie with Montana State (11-7, 6-3 BSC). Montana hosts the Bobcats Monday night at 7 p.m. as the first half of the 20-game Big Sky schedule comes to a close.

Kellie Cole

Junior guard, Kellie Cole was high-point woman with 24 points. Photo by Austin Smith.

Southern Utah (12-7, 6-4 BSC), which had won three straight, including an 87-81 decision at Montana State Thursday night, dropped into a three-way tie for fourth.

Jordan Sullivan added 11 points for the Lady Griz, giving Montana’s top three scorers 54 points, but it was a player off the bench who got UM’s offense on track after a slow start.

The Lady Griz were scoreless and in a 5-0 hole at the first media timeout, which was when McCalle Feller checked into the game. Twelve seconds later she had her first 3-pointer, and less than a minute later she drilled another.

On Montana’s next possession, Feller grabbed an offensive rebound, found Cole, and her 3-pointer put Montana up 9-5.

But Southern Utah got 14 first-half points from Hailey Mandelko and used 43.3 percent shooting to build a lead as large as seven points, 30-23.

Sullivan scored all seven of her first-half points in the final 3:08 to bring Montana within two at the break.

Hill hit three of her five second-half 3-pointers in the opening three minutes, but it wasn’t until the Hill– and Cole-fueled 9-0 run midway through the half that Montana finally gained some separation from the Thunderbirds.

Hill’s final triple of the game put the Lady Griz up a comfortable 65-51 with a little more than five minutes to play.

But Southern Utah wasn’t going to concede victory, and the final 5:01 will give UM coach Robin Selvig plenty of teaching opportunities at next week’s film sessions.

In the final five minutes, Montana had eight turnovers, most of which came in the backcourt against Southern Utah’s pressure, and the Lady Griz missed six free throws, their only misses for the game, two of which were the front end of one-and-ones.

Montana also fouled a 3-point shooter with 52 seconds left while holding a nine-point lead.

Mandelko’s three free throws pulled the Thunderbirds within 75-69, and an immediate backcourt turnover by Montana gave SUU an open look at a three with 46 seconds left that could have cut the lead to three, but it missed, and the Lady Griz hit their next four free throws to hold on.

“Once we got a lead, they put us on the foul line,” Selvig said. “We didn’t shoot poorly today, we just missed some key ones that make you sweat a little bit. When you miss those, it can turn around in a hurry.

Photo by Austin Smith

A coaching moment with head coach, Robin Selvig. Photo by Austin Smith.

“We didn’t pass and catch real well against their pressure and made some mistakes coming to get the ball, and then we fouled a 3-point shooter. Just when you think you have things going, somebody will do something you can’t imagine them doing, but that’s coaching.”

Montana shot better than 44 percent in both halves and finished at 45.6 percent for the game, its best shooting performance since Jan. 11.

Feller finished with nine points, all coming in the first half on 3-pointers, and Cole went 9 for 10 from the line, making her 41 for 46 (.891) for the season.

“We had a lot of kids do some good things today for different stretches offensively,” Selvig said. “McCalle got us going, then Torry hit those three threes early in the second half.

“And Kellie was back to being the Kellie we’ve seen in a couple of games this season when she gets it going a little bit. She had some good stuff going to the basket and was able to get to the foul line.”

Montana got a handle on most of the Thunderbirds in the second half, holding them to 30.3 percent shooting, but Mandelko added 13 second-half points and finished with 27 for the game. That included a 6-for-10 effort from 3-point range.

“She was feeling it and had a very good game,” Selvig said. “She’s a good shooter, but I don’t know that she’s (gone 6 for 10) in too many games. Once she got it going, we had our hands full.”

Carly Selvig had 6 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks, giving her 18 blocks the last four games, and Alycia Sims added 4 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.

Montana extended its winning streak to three games and will attempt to finish off a 4-0 home stand against Montana State Monday night.

In other Big Sky games Saturday afternoon, North Dakota won 69-44 at home over Portland State, Idaho State won 82-72 at home over Northern Arizona, Eastern Washington won 52-51 at Northern Colorado, and Sacramento State won 111-104 at Weber State.