Lady Griz Advance With a 75-66 Victory Over the Bobcats


Junior Kellie Cole scored a game-high 20 points to lead No. 3 Montana to a 75-66 victory over No. 6 Montana State Thursday evening in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

The Lady Griz (21-9) built a commanding 36-14 halftime advantage and saw that lead cut to four midway through the second half, but they made enough free throws and plays down the stretch to win for the third time this season against the Bobcats (15-15) and win their fourth straight game overall.

And most important: advance.

“That was a good win for us for sure,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, whose team improved to 40-9 in Big Sky tournament games. “They are an awfully good team for us to have gotten three times now. I told the kids at halftime that it probably wouldn’t be easy in the second half, and they proved me right.

“We played well enough and took care of the ball well enough that the 22-point lead was too much for them to overcome.”

Montana will face No. 2 Southern Utah (22-8) Friday at 6:30 p.m. (MT) in the tournament’s second semifinal. The Thunderbirds, who have won 10 of their last 11, defeated No. 7 Sacramento State 86-78 Thursday afternoon.

The semifinals will open Friday with No. 1 North Dakota (20-9) facing No. 5 Idaho State (14-16). The Bengals knocked off No. 4 Eastern Washington Thursday night, 80-75 in overtime.

Montana got off to a hot start Thursday and never trailed in the game. The Lady Griz got 3-pointers from seniors Jordan Sullivan and Torry Hill to open a 6-0 lead and six straight points from Cole to build their advantage to 12-2.

Montana State answered and cut its deficit to 14-11 at the 12:56 mark, but the Bobcats scored just a single basket the rest of the half and went scoreless the final 8:41 to find themselves facing a 22-point halftime deficit.

“We did a nice job. We were talking and playing pretty well, and they couldn’t buy one,” Selvig said. “We weren’t giving them anything easy, and they weren’t hitting shots, so it was one of those nightmare halves where it’s just not going in.”

The ball wasn’t going in, but Montana wasn’t allowing many opportunities for it to go in. The Lady Griz, who allowed 10 first-half offensive rebounds in the teams’ game at Bozeman last week, gave up just one in the first half Thursday and no second-chance points.

The result was Montana’s largest halftime lead since Jan. 2. But no lead has been safe this season against Montana State.

The Lady Griz held a 17-point second-half advantage in the teams’ first meeting this season in Missoula, and the Bobcats rallied back to force overtime. Last week at Bozeman, a 10-point second-half Montana lead got cut to two in the final minute.

So it was a good bet Montana State, which went 6 for 26 (.231) in the first half, wasn’t going away quietly, and the Bobcats didn’t.

Eight straight points out of the locker room energized MSU, and a 12-1 run midway through the half, behind a pair of 3-pointers by Kalli Durham and six points from Kayla DeWit, cut the lead to 48-44.

Montana State in the first half: 14 points. Montana State in the first 11 minutes of the second half: 30 points.

It would be hard to pinpoint the play that changed the second half’s momentum, but here’s a try: Freshman Kayleigh Valley, who matched her career high with 10 points, got the ball on the right block on the next possession, and she muscled in a layup to make it 50-44.

A pair of free throws by Sullivan, whose 3-pointer 15 seconds into the first half was her only basket of the game, and a rally-killing three by sophomore McCalle Feller upped the lead to 11, and Montana State would get no closer than seven the rest of the way.

The Bobcats put up 52 points in the second half, but Montana went 20 for 25 from the line to keep MSU’s scoring outburst from turning into a comeback victory.

“It wasn’t a pretty thing the second half, that’s for sure, but you’ve got to give them credit. They got after us,” Selvig said. “You had to figure they’d make a run, because you knew they were going to start scoring it.

“Give them credit for hanging in there and battling back, but we made some big baskets and made our free throws.”

Cole, who earlier this week was named first-team All-Big Sky, was all kinds of fantastic. She had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and added 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals while playing a game-high 37 minutes. Hill had 16 points and 6 assists.

Durham went 4 for 6 from 3-point range and led Montana State with 16 points.

On Friday Montana will face a Southern Utah team it split with during the regular season. The Lady Griz won 81-73 at Missoula. The Thunderbirds won 69-49 at Cedar City on Feb. 26, which was Montana’s last loss. The Lady Griz shot a season-worst 25.4 percent in that game.

“I think the ladies really want to play them again. Not that we think they’re not very good and that we’re going to beat them, it’s just that we played so poorly the last time,” Selvig said.

“It was the only game all year we weren’t in, and now we get a chance to go out and show we’re better than that.”