Lady Griz Open Big Sky Play With Challenging Road Trip

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

The Montana women’s basketball team will open its Big Sky Conference schedule this week with games at Northern Colorado and North Dakota. The Lady Griz will play the Bears Thursday at 2 p.m. at Greeley and UND on Saturday at 1 p.m. (MT) at Grand Forks.

Coverage: Both games will be aired locally on KGVO 1290 AM and 101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Free video coverage is available at WatchBigSky.com. Links to that site and live stats for each game are available on the women’s basketball schedule page at GoGriz.com.

Montana-Northern Colorado: Things to know

* Thursday’s game pits the Big Sky Conference’s top two teams in scoring defense. Northern Colorado is allowing just 56.5 points per game, Montana 57.8. Expect this trend to continue: In the teams’ last nine meetings, the WINNING team has scored 61 or fewer points. And over the last 10 games between the Bears and Lady Griz, with five won by each side, the total point differential is zero. No kidding.

* Northern Colorado is under the direction of first-year coach Kamie Ethridge, who spent the previous 18 years as an assistant at Kansas State under Deb Patterson. Patterson is now Ethridge’s assistant at UNC. … Former coach Jaime White is in her first year at Fresno State. The Bulldogs, who won at Oregon 68-59 just before Christmas, are 8-3 and tied atop the Mountain West Conference with Boise State and Colorado State.

* After missing last season to recover from knee surgery, redshirt senior D’Shara Strange is back. The guard was the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year in 2010-11 and a unanimous first-team all-league selection in 2011-12 and 2012-13. She also earned Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year honors those two seasons. You’d hardly know she was gone (other than UNC missing the Big Sky tournament last year in her absence) by her numbers: 13.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, nearly three steals per game.

* Thursday’s game will feature the Big Sky’s top two shot blockers in UM redshirt senior Carly Selvig and UNC senior Stephanie Lee. Selvig ranks second nationally at 4.22 per outing, Lee ranks 29th at 2.45.

* Montana leads the all-time series with Northern Colorado 13-5, though the Bears have won four of the last seven meetings and have won the last three meetings in Greeley. On Montana’s last four trips to UNC, the Lady Griz have averaged just 47.5 points per game. … Last season the Bears won 57-54 at Greeley behind Lee’s 15 points, 11 of which came in the second half. The Lady Griz won the rematch at Missoula 61-55 behind Kellie Cole’s 18-point, nine-rebound, four-assist game. Montana built a 15-point second-half lead and Northern Colorado came all the way back to tie it before the Lady Griz pulled away in the final minute.

* After finishing no worse than second in the Big Sky the previous three years, Northern Colorado went 8-12 in league last season to miss the six-team league tournament by two games. With Strange back, the Bears were picked fourth in this year’s preseason coaches’ poll, with one first-place vote.

* Northern Colorado went 6-5 through its nonconference schedule and enters Thursday’s game on a three-game losing streak. … UNC is 3-1 at Bank of Colorado Arena, with South Dakota State the only visiting team to pick up a win.

* Quoting coach Robin Selvig: “They returned a bunch of good players from last year and of course got Strange back. They played a tough schedule and have some really good wins. They are pretty impressive. They’ve got good overall size, and they are all long.

“The last few years we’ve had some knock-down, drag-out games with them. They are a different team this year with a different system, but they are still very good defensively.”

Montana-North Dakota: Things to know

* Saturday’s contest is a rematch of last year’s Big Sky Conference tournament championship game, won 72-55 by North Dakota at Grand Forks.

* North Dakota, which shared last year’s regular-season title with Southern Utah, was picked atop the preseason coaches’ poll, collecting seven of 12 first-place votes. Montana, with two first-place votes, was picked second in the poll.

* North Dakota is averaging 75.2 points per game, second in the Big Sky only to Sacramento State’s 86.9. UND is doing it with the league’s top team shooting percentage of .455. The methodology: Get shots in the paint or get fouled trying (North Dakota gets to the line a league-high 22.7 times per game). … The real beauty (read: discipline) of the whole thing: UND attempts fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the Big Sky, yet owns the conference’s top shooting percentage (.331) from the arc.

* North Dakota is led by third-year coach Travis Brewster. The progression of results for North Dakota against Montana in Brewster’s first two years: lost by 32, lost by 19, won by five, lost by three, won by 17. For Lady Griz fans, that’s a trend that’s progressing in the wrong direction.

* North Dakota lost Madi Buck, last year’s Big Sky MVP and only unanimous first-team all-conference pick, but nearly everyone else is back. Leading the way is junior forward Mia Loyd, who ranks fourth in the Big Sky in scoring (17.1/g) on 56.0 percent shooting and leads the league in rebounding (10.4/g) despite being only 5-11.

* Sophomore guard Makailah Dyer, at 12.8, and senior center Emily Evers, at 11.5, also average in double figures. Evers ranks second behind Loyd in the Big Sky in rebounding at 10.3 per game.

-untitled- 2467* North Dakota is middle of the Big Sky pack defensively, allowing 66.2 points on 38.5 percent shooting, but don’t plan on getting many second-chance points. UND has a +10.1 rebounding margin for the season against a strong nonconference lineup that has featured Colorado, Minnesota and Clemson. That margin ranks 20th in thenation.

* After opening the season 7-1, North Dakota has lost three of its last four, though those losses came to 12-1 Minnesota, by five at Clemson and by five at 10-3 South Dakota.

* North Dakota is 18-2 at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center since the start of last season. Montana State won at Grand Forks last year to hand North Dakota its only home loss in 16 games. Minnesota won there this year.

* Montana leads the all-time series with North Dakota 6-3. UND has a 2-1 edge in games played at Grand Forks. … In last year’s three meetings: UND came back from a nine-point, second-half deficit to win 62-57 at Grand Forks, Montana came back from an early 10-0 deficit to win 52-49 at Missoula, and North Dakota won the tournament championship game 72-55. UND built a 35-27 halftime lead and led by 10 or more the final 15 minutes of the second half and shot 57.1 percent for the game.

Robin Selvig* Quoting coach Robin Selvig: “North Dakota hasn’t missed a beat. They finished really strong last year and are off to a great start this season with some greatwins.

“They are similar to what they have been and know what they are doing. They rebound the heck out of it. They don’t take a lot of threes, but they have some good perimeter shooters. And they are really good defensively. They just don’t have a lot of weaknesses.”

Montana Notes

* After dropping to 2-4 with an egregious six-point home loss to Wyoming — the culprit: 32.3 percent shooting — Montana has won five straight, including a road sweep of Portland and Seattle and Lady Griz Classic wins over Utah Valley and Austin Peay.

* Montana has had 11 or more blocks four times in its last five games, including a program-record 16 against Utah Valley, and now leads the nation in blocked shots at 7.8 per game.

* Buttressing that effort is redshirt senior Carly Selvig. She had a slow start to the season, missing the season’s first two games (knee) and collecting just a pair of blocks in three games at the Cancun Challenge, but she’s been on a rampage ever since. She’s had 36 blocks the last six games, with 10 against Utah Valley. That was a career high and matched Tamara Guardipee’s program record.

* Something to watch for Saturday: North Dakota loves getting high-percentage shots. Selvig loves blocking them. Last year UND’s size and strength won that matchup. Selvig had just two total blocks in three meetings, with none in the teams’ two games at Grand Forks.

* Breakout star in the making: Kayleigh Valley was named MVP of the Lady Griz Classic after averaging 20 points in two wins on 59.1 percent shooting. She scored a career-high 23 points against Austin Peay in the championship game.

Valley reached 10 points just once in the team’s first six games. The last five she’s scored 12, 13, 16, 17 and 23 and last week earned her first career Big Sky Player of the Week award. During those five games she is shooting 53.7 percent.

* Redshirt senior point guard Kellie Rubel was named to the Lady Griz Classic all-tournament team. She averaged 11.5 points, 7.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds in the two wins.

* Rubel is closing in on 1,000 career points. She enters Thursday’s game with 968. At her current scoring average of 12.1 she’ll become the 31st player in program history to reach 1,000 next week at home against Weber State and Idaho State, but don’t be surprised if it happens as soon as Saturday.

* Montana has shot 40 percent or better just three times in 11 games this season — and won at Seattle despite shooting 29.9 percent — so why are the Lady Griz 7-4 and on a five-game winning streak? Montana is allowing its opponents to shoot 33.7 percent, the 18th-best defensive field goal percentage in the nation. During the Lady Griz’ five-game winning streak, Carroll, Portland, Seattle, Utah Valley and Austin Peay have combined to shoot 28.4 percent. (Full disclosure: Portland [2-11], Seattle [2-10], Utah Valley [6-8] and Austin Peay [3-9] are a combined 13-38.).

Montana three-dot notes: In their last three games, the Lady Griz have not faced a deficit larger than four points. … Carly Selvig, in addition to her blocking, has grabbed 10 rebounds three of the last four games. … Selvig had this unusual box-score line against Utah Valley: 10 rebounds, 10 blocks, two points. … Maggie Rickman’s career-high 15 rebounds against Austin Peay were noteworthy. What made them remarkable was that her previous career high was nine. … Noteworthy only because she’s a pretty good shooter: Hannah Doran is 0 for 16 from 3-point range the last six games and 2 for 24 (.083) for the season. … Shanae Gilham went 6 for 12 from 3-point range at the Lady Griz Classic, which is a good sign. She had been 10 for 38 (.263) entering the tournament. … During its five-game winning streak, Montana has outrebounded its opponents by 56. … Montana hit nine 3-pointers in both of its Lady Griz Classic wins, a season-high from the arc. … Montana ranks 21st in the nation in free throw percentage (.758) and 23rd in turnovers (13.1/g). … Montana had a delightful 39 assists against only 17 turnovers at the Lady Griz Classic and on its five-game winning streak has more blocks (59) than turnovers (57).

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

Non-Montana game to follow: Idaho at Idaho State. Vandal coach Jon Newlee makes his return to Pocatello, where few bridges went unburned when he left for That School Up North following the 2007-08 season.

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

Non-Montana game to follow: Two days after facing offensively challenge Portland State, Southern Utah hosts high-scoring Sacramento State. Good early test for first-year coach Chris Boettcher. The Thunderbirds swept the Hornets last season under JR Payne.

Montana Sports Information