North Dakota Knocks off Montana 72-55


North Dakota shot 57.1 percent and got 10 points and seven rebounds from MVP Mia Loyd to defeat Montana 72-55 Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

Senior Torry Hill, who was the best player on the court Saturday, scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting to lead Montana (22-10), but nobody else scored more than seven for the Lady Griz, who never led in the game and dropped to 16-3 in Big Sky championship game appearances.

Loyd was one of six players to score between 8 and 14 points for a balanced UND team that advances to its first NCAA Division I tournament in its second year in the Big Sky Conference. North Dakota (22-9) finished with a 40-26 rebounding advantage and scored 34 points in the paint.

UND, which defeated Idaho State 78-53 in the semifinals, won its two tournament games by 42 points.

“I think North Dakota played great today and probably played its best basketball of the season at this tournament,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “We hung in there, but they are hard to guard, and we didn’t defend them well enough.

“They put it together this week and should be on a high note going into the (NCAA) tournament.”

North Dakota never trailed in the tournament. UND broke out to a 19-2 lead on the Bengals on Friday and held Montana without a field goal the first five minutes Saturday to race out to an early 10-1 lead.

The Lady Griz would pull within four, 13-9, on a Hill 3-pointer, but North Dakota, which had eight players score in the first half, built its lead to double digits, and Montana needed another three from Hill in the closing seconds to pull within 35-27 at the break.

North Dakota, in front of a festive crowd of 1,937, shot 60 percent in the first half, Montana 37.9 percent, with Hill scoring 11 of the team’s 27 points.

The Lady Griz made two runs at UND in the second half. North Dakota answered both.

The first came early, when an and-one layup by Hill pulled Montana within six, 36-30. North Dakota responded with back-to-back baskets in the paint, and that started a flourish that twice pushed the UND lead to 20 points midway through the second half.

Hill — who else? — sparked Montana’s final rally. She scored five straight points, and a 3-pointer from Kellie Cole cut the North Dakota lead to 10, 63-53, but only 3:33 remained, and the Lady Griz were without Hill, who left the game with a knee injury with 7:25 to go.

After Cole’s 3-pointer, UND’s Siri Burck scored five straight points for the coup de grace.

Hill, who averaged 20 points on 52.8 percent shooting and 4.3 assists in three games, was named to the all-tournament team. On Saturday she had little offensive support. She scored more points than Montana’s other four starters, who shot 8 for 28 and totaled 19 points.

“Torry had a hot hand, but we needed to find a couple more to keep pace,” Selvig said. “They played very good defense and didn’t give us anything easy.”

Cole, who averaged 12.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists, was also named to the all-tournament team. North Dakota’s Madi Buck, who scored a team-high 14 points in the championship game, Southern Utah’s Hailey Mandelko and Idaho State’s Lindsey Reed rounded out the all-tournament team.

North Dakota made 19 NCAA Division II tournaments and won national championships at that level in 1997, 1998 and 1999 before reclassifying. Monday evening UND will find out its opponent for its first Division I tournament.

The latest Bracketology has North Dakota, which is built to compete well at the next level, earning a No. 14 seed and playing No. 3 West Virginia in Iowa City.

“North Dakota is a very good team,” Selvig said. “They have very good overall size and athleticism, and don’t have a glaring weakness, so they are capable of beating a very good team in the tournament.”

Southern Utah, which tied for the regular-season championship with North Dakota and was the No. 2 seed at the tournament, earned the Big Sky Conference’s automatic bid to the WNIT.

Montana will find out Monday night if receives an at-large bid to the WNIT. The Big Sky Conference had four teams advance to national tournaments last season. Montana made the NCAA, Northern Colorado, Eastern Washington and Idaho State were all invited to the WNIT.