Lady Griz Hunting For First Place This Week

By JOEL CARLSON

The Montana women’s basketball team will look to play itself into first place in the Big Sky Conference standings this week when it hosts Portland State and Sacramento State at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz will face the Vikings on Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Hornets on Saturday at 2 p.m.

What’s at stake: They both have games Thursday — Sac State opens its road trip at Montana State — but Saturday marks one of the season’s first big games in the Big Sky when the Lady Griz host the Hornets.

Montana (13-5, 6-1 BSC) and Sacramento State (9-10, 7-1 BSC) are tied atop the Big Sky standings in the loss column. Making Saturday a little more important: it’s the only meeting between the two teams this season, making it a key head-to-head result for possible tiebreaker situations down the road.

Streaking, both good and bad: Montana has won 11 of 12 games since early December, with its only loss since Dec. 4 by seven points on the road at North Dakota earlier this month.

After entering the new year with just two wins, Sacramento State has opened 7-1 in Big Sky games, and would the Hornets love to go back and finish off their one loss. They led 52-44 at Northern Arizona on Jan. 1 and somehow made just two baskets the final 10 minutes to lose 64-60.

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Portland State (3-16, 1-7 BSC) is alone in last place in the Big Sky and has sprinkled its wins throughout its schedule to end five-, four- and three-game losing streaks. The Vikings enter Thursday’s game on their second four-game losing streak of the season.

Coverage: Both games this week will air in the Missoula area, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Thursday’s game will be on KMPT 930 AM, Saturday’s on KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FM. … Fans can watch online streaming of the games at WatchBigSky.com or through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com. … GoGriz.com will also feature live stats.

The one thing to know about Montana:

The Lady Griz are destroying teams defensively. Last week Montana went on the road and won 69-42 at Northern Arizona and 59-37 at Southern Utah. The Lumberjacks are averaging 62.3 points per game this season, the Thunderbirds 66.6.

The Lady Griz held NAU to 25.4 percent shooting, then outdid that by holding SUU to 18.8 percent two days later. Four of Montana’s last five opponents have failed to shoot 30 percent and reach 50 points.

With their latest effort, Montana dropped its field goal percentage defense to a ridiculous 32.2 percent, which ranks second nationally only behind Connecticut (.303). The Lady Griz (7.2/g) also rank only behind UConn (7.9/g) in blocked shots.

If the season ended today, and it would be a serious downer if it did, this would rank as the second-best defensive team in program history. Only the 1992-93 Lady Griz squad, which held its opponents to 31.7 percent shooting, had a better season performance.

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Pretty good for a team with only two healthy returning starters, three players returning from knee injuries and a host of unknowns.

“The key is we have three really good senior leaders on the defensive end of the floor,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “One happens to be a post player, one happens to be a forward and one happens to be a point guard. And they are all really good defenders.

“The team is playing better together defensively all the time, and it’s a team defense. We don’t ask one player to go shut somebody down. It’s all about communication and playing together.”

More things to know about Montana: The Lady Griz rank 21st nationally in scoring defense (54.9/g) and 26th in turnovers (13.4/g). … During its current five-game winning streak, Montana has trailed just 20:40 out of 200 minutes and faced a deficit for just 29 seconds in two road games last week. … Kellie Rubel last week passed Torry Hill (2010-14) and Julie Deming (1999-2004) and moved up to 26th on the career scoring list with 1,074 points. … Carly Selvig is two blocks from moving into sole possession of second place on the career blocks list. Lisa McLeod (1985-89) had 237 rejections, Selvig has 236. Hollie Tyler (2001-05) holds the program record of 297. … Montana has won 20 straight games at Dahlberg Arena against Big Sky Conference opponents. … Rubel has scored in double figures in eight straight games and has gone 19 for 39 (.487) the last four games after shooting 4 for 16 against Weber State. … Selvig ranks 10th nationally in blocked shots at 3.5 per game. … Selvig is 3 for 24 from the field the last four games. … Selvig’s 11 rebounds at Southern Utah matched her career high. … McCalle Feller went 6 for 9 from 3-point range on last week’s road trip. … Feller has scored at least eight points in 12 straight games. … Rachel Staudacher’s six rebounds at Northern Arizona were a career high. … Alycia Sims’ points-rebounds production off the bench the last three games: 5-6 vs. Montana State, 5-9 vs. Northern Arizona and 7-5 vs. Southern Utah. Solid. … Kayleigh Valley went 4 for 10 at Southern Utah after going 7 for 32 (.219) in Montana’s first six league games. … In Montana’s 13 wins this season, its opponents are shooting 29.4 percent. … Southern Utah’s 25 offensive rebounds Saturday night were the most allowed this season by the Lady Griz.

2015-01-29_0901The one thing to know about PortlandState:

Since hosting the 2011 Big Sky Conference tournament and falling to Montana in the championship game, Portland State has fallen on hard times. The Vikings have gone 20-44 in league games since that loss to the Lady Griz and have missed the Big Sky tournament the last three seasons.

Portland State has just three wins this year by a total of 14 points and ranks in the 300s in nine NCAA statistical categories. Out of 343 NCAA Division I teams, Portland State ranks 339th in rebounding margin (-10.8/g), 337th in scoring margin (-18.7/g) and 334th in scoring defense (74.7/g).

But even with all that, there is this: Portland State 73, North Dakota 70, which is still the most jaw-dropping result of the Big Sky season thus far. After that win, the Vikings went out and lost by 47 to Eastern Washington in their next game.

“If they are capable of beating North Dakota, they are capable of beating anybody else in this league, too,” said Selvig.

More things to know about Portland State: Eighth-year coach Sherri Murrell is 8-10 against Robin Selvig, noteworthy considering Selvig has an 834-271 career record. … Junior guard Emily Easom, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer against North Dakota, leads Portland State in scoring (14.0/g). … Senior forward Mikaela Rivard, at 10.7 per game, also averages in double figures for the Vikings.

History: Montana leads the series with Portland State 43-16 and is 24-4 against the Vikings at Missoula. The Lady Griz have won the last four meetings.

The one thing to know about Sacramento State:

The Hornets have the most distinctive style of play in the Big Sky Conference. In a nutshell: They are going to pressure all over the court and either force you into a turnover or give you an open look.

Sac State is shooting 39.9 percent through eight league games and allowing 46.7 percent, which is a recipe for failure. Except, with a 7-1 record in those eight games, in this case it isn’t. In spite of those shooting numbers, the Hornets are outscoring their league opponents by more than 13 points per game.

The Hornets are forcing 26.5 turnovers per game in league while only committing 12.1 themselves. That’s given them almost 17 more shots per game, which more than makes up for the discrepancy in shooting percentages.

Sacramento State ranks first nationally in steals (16.5/g), three-point field goals (12.3/g) and offensive rebounds (20.4/g), second in turnover margin (-11.4/g) and third in scoring (85.6/g).

Example I: In Sac State’s 73-67 victory at Eastern Washington this month, the Hornets shot 37.0 percent while allowing 49.1, but they won because they forced the Eagles into 28 turnovers while only turning it over nine times themselves. That gave Sac State 18 more shot attempts.

Example II: Last Thursday Sacramento State forced Idaho State into 21 turnovers … IN THE FIRST HALF … to jump out to a 48-19 halftime lead. The Bengals had more turnovers than shot attempts in the first half and finished with 33 turnovers for the game, which gave the Hornets 29 more shots.

Reminder note from above: Montana is turning the ball over just 13.4 times per game, an average that ranks 26th nationally.

What’s different this year is Sacramento State is getting it done on the road. The Hornets won just two of 11 games away from home against league opponents last season. This year they already have three: at Southern Utah, at Idaho and at Eastern Washington. And they could be 4-0 on the road had they held on at Northern Arizona.

And with first place on the line, it all adds up to making Saturday a must-see game.

“We’ll need to take care of the ball and make shots, because if you handle pressure, you’re going to get good looks,” said Selvig. “But turnovers is their biggest stat right now. They create havoc with their defense.

“If you do turn it over, you’ve got to stop their transition. They are quick, with a lot of kids who shoot the three, so they are hard to guard.

“You can’t let them get huge runs going. If they cause turnovers, it can happen quickly. They can score 10 points real quickly, so a lead doesn’t mean much until it’s late in the game.”

History: Montana leads the series with Sacramento State 34-3 and is a perfect 19-0 against the Hornets at home. The teams split their regular-season meetings the last two seasons, with the home team winning all four games.

Thursday in the Big Sky: PSU at UM, SAC at MSU, UNC at ISU, UND at WSU

The game to monitor: North Dakota at Weber State. The Wildcats have won three of their last four games. With a 5-2 league record, UND hopes to remain close to Montana and/or Sacramento State.

Saturday in the Big Sky: SAC at UM, PSU at MSU, UND at ISU, UNC at WSU, EWU at UI, SUU at NAU

The game to monitor: Eastern Washington at Idaho. With three straight losses to drop from first place down to a three-way tie for fourth, the Eagles need a win. At 2-5 and out of the league tournament if it were held today, the Vandals, who were picked third in the preseason coaches’ poll, need a win.

Montana Sports Information