Lady Griz Aiming to Make It Three Straight Wednesday in Seattle

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team will be seeking its third straight win when it faces Seattle on Wednesday. The Lady Griz and Redhawks will tip off at 3 p.m. (MT) at SU’s Connolly Center.

Coverage: The game can be heard locally on KGVO 1290 AM and 101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Video coverage is available through the WAC Digital Network, live stats at GoSeattleU.com. Links to video and live stats options are available on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

Where they stand: Montana has won two straight games — 64-34 over Carroll and 69-55 at Portland on Sunday afternoon — to even its record at 4-4, with three nonconference games remaining. Montana returns to Missoula Wednesday night and hosts the Lady Griz Classic presented by Holiday Inn Missoula Downtown Friday and Saturday. Those will be the final games of 2014 for Montana, which opens Big Sky Conference play Jan. 1 at Northern Colorado.

2014-12-16_1750Seattle is 2-7 despite playing six of its first nine games at home. The Redhawks’ only wins this season have both come at home: 54-47 over Portland State and 62-57 over Loyola Marymount. Seattle dropped a pair of home games last weekend, 59-54 to San Diego and 67-56 to SanFrancisco.

Upcoming: Montana will host the 34th Lady Griz Classic Friday and Saturday evening. On Friday, Saint Louis (4-5) and Austin Peay (2-7) will play at 5:30 p.m. Utah Valley (5-6) and Montana will follow at approximately 7:45 p.m.

Montana will play the second game Saturday, whether the Lady Griz win or lose on Friday. If Montana beats Utah Valley, Saturday’s late game will be the championship game. If the Lady Griz lose Friday, the early game on Saturday will be the championship game between Friday’s winners.

Montana-Seattle Notes

* Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig rarely goes up against a coach with a similar resume, but sixth-year Seattle coach Joan Bonvicini has one that’s nearly as impressive. Now in her 35th year as a Division I head coach, Bonvicini has 684 wins.

Bonvicini got her start at the age of 25 at Long Beach State, and the 49ers won 24 or more games all 12 years Bonvicini was there. That included 10 NCAA tournaments and appearances in the 1987 and ’88 Final Four.

From there she spent 17 years at Arizona, where she won 288 games and took the Wildcats to seven NCAA tournaments.

Bonvicini took over the Seattle program prior to the 2009-10 season. After compiling just 14 total wins the first two years under Bonvicini, the Redhawks won 20 games in both 2011-12 and 2012-13, advancing to the WBI in the former and the WNIT in the latter.

A connection between the coaches: Bonvicini sent Vicky Austin as a transfer from Long Beach State to Montana, and Austin became the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year in 1988-89 and MVP of that season’s conference tournament.

Despite coaching more than 2,100 games in their careers at schools in the West, Selvig and Bonvicini will be going head-to-head for the first time Wednesday.

“I’ve known Joan for quite a few years,” Selvig said, “but we’ve never played against each other as coaches.”

* Wilma Afunugo, a 6-foot sophomore forward, leads Seattle in both scoring (13.1/g) and rebounding (6.3/g). Taelor Ross, a 6-foot-2 junior center, averages 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds.

Seattle’s six players six-feet or taller matches the number on Montana’s roster.

Another similarity between the two teams: Neither is an offensive juggernaut (though the Grizzlies are showing flashes of getting things rolling, with a season-high 69 points in Sunday’s win). The Redhawks are shooting just 35.3 percent this season, which ranks 303rd nationally. Montana is shooting 37.4.

“They’ve struggled to score this year in terms of shooting, but they are a big, strong team with some good athletes, so we’re going to be talking about boarding the ball,” said Selvig, whose team outrebounded Portland 51-36 on Sunday.

“I think we’ll see some pressure out of them. Fortunately for us, we’ve seen a bunch of full-court pressure this year already from some of the teams we’ve played.”

* Seattle went 16-16 last year, ending its streak of 20-win seasons at two. The Redhawks went 9-7 in the WAC and made their second straight conference tournament championship game. Seattle lost both years in the title game to Idaho.

* Seattle was picked third in the WAC preseason coaches’ poll, behind CSU Bakersfield, which received six of eight first-place votes, and Texas-Pan American, which received one. Coming in fourth, with the other first-place vote, was Utah Valley, Montana’s opponent Friday night at the Lady Griz Classic.

The Redhawks were picked second in the preseason media poll behind Bakersfield. Afunugo was voted second-team preseason All-WAC.

* Montana and Seattle have met five times previously, but not since the 1985-86 season, when Montana picked up a 75-47 win at Washington State’s tournament.

The Redhawks won twice over the Lady Griz in Selvig’s first season at Montana, in 1978-79: once at Seattle and once at Bozeman at the Northwest Women’s Basketball League tournament.

Montana won a home contest over Seattle in 1979-80, 75-61, and at SU in 1980-81, 61-44, and holds a 3-2 series advantage.

* After hosting Montana on Wednesday and Idaho State on Sunday, Seattle will have played five of the Big Sky Conference’s 12 teams. The Redhawks won at home over Portland State, 54-47, lost on the road at Montana State, 74-61, and lost at home to Idaho, 65-50.

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* Redshirt senior point guard Kellie Rubel was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Monday for her performance in Sunday’s win at Portland. It was the fourth career Big Sky Player of the Week honor for Rubel, who was recognized three times last season.

Rubel scored 24 points and added six rebounds and five assists in the 69-55 victory over the Pilots. Rubel hit three 3-pointers early in the game to spark Montana to an 11-point lead, and she went 11 for 12 from the line in the second half to help the Lady Griz hold off Portland.

Rubel missed the final 9:26 of the first half with foul trouble. She returned and played all 20 minutes of the second half. With her on the floor, Montana outscored Portland 61-37.

* Redshirt sophomore guard Shanae Gilham should be back on the court Wednesday after missing Sunday’s game with the flu. She was hardly needed against Portland, as Montana put up a season-high 69 points. She ranks fifth on the team in scoring at 5.3 points and plays nearly 17 minutes per game.

Gilham practiced with the team Tuesday. Also note: For the time being, she will be wearing No. 54 when Montana is playing in its road uniforms.

* This looks familiar: Kellie Rubel getting hot in mid-December. Last year Rubel, then Cole, had a nice shooting game at Wyoming in the team’s last game before Christmas. She then came out smoking once Big Sky play began in January.

Rubel had four straight 20-point scoring games to open Big Sky play and had a seven-game stretch when she went a ridiculous 17 for 23 from 3-point range on her way to first-team All-Big Sky honors.

After going 3 for 12 from 3-point range to open the season, Rubel is 5 for 7 from the arc the last two games. Fair warning.

* Montana has 33 blocks the last three games to raise its per-game average to 6.4, a total that ranks 10th in the nation. The Lady Griz had 13 on Sunday, two off the program record, including eight in the second half, when Portland shot 6 for 30 (.200) to see its eight-point lead turn into a 14-point loss.

After blocking two shots her first three games back from last spring’s ACL injury, Carly Selvig, last season’s Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year, has 15 the last three games, with a career-high eight on Sunday. Even with a slow start, Selvig ranks 23rd nationally at 2.8/game.

Should be fun watching her battling Seattle’s post players.

* The other category in which Montana ranks highly is free throw percentage. The Lady Griz are shooting 76.9 percent from the line to rank 14th nationally. The best season in program history was 2007-08, when Montana shot 77.6.

* (Since she did not get to the line Sunday, a carryover note) Kayleigh Valley, streaker: The sophomore forward went 4 for 4 from the line against Carroll to up her free throw streak to 23 consecutive makes. It’s the longest streak since Mandy Morales made 39 straight during the 2006-07 season.

Valley made her final two free throw attempts against Charlotte, went 13 for 13 from the line against Princeton, 2 for 2 against both Wake Forest and Wyoming and 4 for 4 against Carroll.

She is 34 for 37 (.919) for the season and an 85.4 percent shooter for her young career. The program record holder for career free throw percentage is Johanna Closson at 84.7 percent.

* Will there be carryover from Sunday’s game, when Montana hit five of its first six 3-point shots and raced out to a 17-6 lead on Portland? Probably not, but the game had its benefits.

“I just know we played a good game, and now we know we’re capable of beating somebody good on the road,” said Selvig. “But Wednesday is another game, and you’ve got to go out and play.

“Something that really helped on Sunday was that we shot the ball so well early, and that’s always a good thing on the road. If we don’t do that Wednesday, we’ll have to find some other way.”

* Montana shot it well from the arc early against Portland and outscored the Pilots 42-23 in the second half, courtesy of a lock-down defense.

And it wasn’t just forcing misses. The Lady Griz outrebounded the Pilots 26-13 in the second half and only allowed seven second-chance points on six offensive rebounds.

The Lady Griz had a 51-36 rebounding advantage for the game and turned their season-high 19 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points, 15 more than Portland. It was only the second time this season Montana has outrebounded a Division I opponent and just the third time in eight games.

“I don’t know what triggered it, because we’ve been preaching rebounding all year long,” said Selvig. “My deal with this team is that we have to keep getting better, and I think we made some strides Sunday.”

Montana Sports Information