Lady Griz Host Final Regular-Season Home Games

By JOEL CARLSON

The Montana women’s basketball team will play its final regular-season home games this week when it hosts Idaho and Eastern Washington at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz will face the Vandals Thursday at 7 p.m. and the Eagles Saturday at 2 p.m.

Seven notes to kick off this week’s notes:

1. With four wins in its last five games, Montana (19-7, 12-3 BSC) has put itself in the catbird seat as the Big Sky Conference regular-season schedule winds down to its final two weeks. If the Lady Griz win twice this week at home, where they’ve won 23 of their last 24 games against Big Sky opponents, they’ll lock up the outright regular-season championship and hosting rights to the eight-team postseason tournament, which will be held March 12-14. Montana ends its season next week with a single game at Montana State.

2. Eastern Washington (17-8, 10-4 BSC) also has a well-defined path to winning hosting rights to the tournament. Win out and the Eagles, who already hold a head-to-head victory over Montana, will host and at least share the regular-season title. EWU, which was 4-4 in league entering February, has won six straight games, and after playing at Montana State and Montana this week, the Eagles close the season with favorable home matchups against Idaho State and Weber State. Eastern Washington opens its road trip at Montana State on Thursday. The Eagles defeated the Bobcats at Cheney earlier this month 72-58.

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3. Idaho (12-13, 6-8 BSC) also is in the fight, but at the other end. If the season ended today (and who would want that with so much drama remaining?), the Vandals would be the tournament’s No. 8 seed. That’s tournament position, but Montana State and Weber State sit just a half game back at 6-9, and the Bobcats could complete a season sweep of the Vandals Saturday afternoon at Bozeman, a key tiebreaker. Of course sixth-place (and free-falling) Northern Arizona, at 7-7, is only a game up on Idaho, and 7-8 Idaho State leads the Vandals by only a half game, with a head-to-head meeting still to come.

4. Montana, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State (12-14, 10-5 BSC) are the only teams that have clinched tournament spots at this point. The Hornets could still host the tournament, but they would have to win their final three games (which they are likely to do, with home matchups against Portland State, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona) and have Montana lose its final three games and Eastern Washington stumble down the stretch as well. North Dakota (17-10, 9-6 BSC) and Northern Colorado (15-11, 9-6 BSC) have not clinched postseason spots, but they feel like locks.

5. That leaves six teams (Northern Arizona, Idaho State, Idaho, Montana State, Weber State and Southern Utah) fighting for the final three tournament spots. Only Portland State (3-23, 1-14 BSC) has been eliminated from postseason contention at this point. All six teams would like to make the tournament, and all six would like to do so without being the No. 8 seed, which would mean a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 1 seed on its home floor. Of the six, Montana State has the best end-of-season schedule, with three home games, though two of those are against the Big Sky’s leaders.

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6. This week’s list of the three hottest teams in the Big Sky: 1) Eastern Washington. The Eagles’ 65-64 victory over Montana started their current six-game winning streak. The streak has included an 80-79 win at Sacramento State, and EWU’s last three wins have come by a combined 66 points. 2) Northern Colorado. The Bears have won five straight. Right in the middle of that streak is a victory over Montana at Dahlberg Arena, something no other Big Sky team has done since January 2013. 3) Montana. The Lady Griz picked up a road sweep over Idaho State and Weber State last week to stay atop the league.

7. Saturday will be Senior Day for Kellie Rubel and Carly Selvig, both fifth-year players, and Maggie Rickman, a fourth-year player. Now take a moment and think back to the class signed by Montana in November 2009. It included Torry Hill and Jordan Sullivan, both accomplished players who finished their four-year careers last season, Rubel and Selvig, first-team All-Big Sky and the league’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, respectively, and Lexie Nelson, who left for Eastern Washington after one season at Montana. She was first-team All-Big Sky as a sophomore and junior.

Coverage: Both of this week’s games will air locally on KMPT 930 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. … Video streaming is available at either WatchBigSky.com or the All-Access section of GoGriz.com. … Live stats will be available at GoGriz.com.

Most recently: Montana got the bad taste out of its mouth from a 52-51 home loss to Northern Colorado with a satisfying road sweep of Idaho State and Weber State last week. The Lady Griz shot 51.9 percent in winning 69-51 over the Bengals on Thursday. On Saturday, Kayleigh Valley scored 16 second-half points, a career-high 26 for the game, to help Montana top Weber State 64-60.

Idaho has won three of its last four, all by 20 points or more. On Thursday Stacey Barr, the Big Sky’s leading scorer, put up 28 points and Idaho raced out to a 38-13 halftime lead on its way to a 78-43 victory over Northern Arizona. Barr added 18 more on Saturday to help the Vandals get past Southern Utah 76-49. Idaho outscored SUU 39-20 in the second half to pull away.

Eastern Washington has been getting hotter and hotter as its win streak has grown. The Eagles shot 48.4 percent on the road in its 77-63 victory at Portland State, then shot 55.0 percent Thursday at home to defeat Southern Utah 88-67 and 49.2 percent in a 73-42 victory over Northern Arizona. EWU is shooting 47.9 percent in league play, 39.0 percent from the arc. Both figures lead the Big Sky by a wide margin.

Three takeaway notes from Montana-Eastern Washington I (EWU 65, UM 64, Feb. 5 at Cheney)

2015-02-25_16301. The Eagles have the Big Sky’s most balanced scoring team. Junior Hayley Hodgins (16.4/g) and senior Lexie Nelson (15.2/g), both guards, lead the way. EWU also has three other double-figure scorers: sophomore guard Jade Redmon (11.1/g), senior forward Melissa Williams (10.5/g) and freshman guard Delaney Hodgins (10.5/g). That quintet has started all 25 games thisseason.

The bench adds just 8.4 points per game, but when your starters score nearly 64 points, why get into quibbles?

In the first meeting, Hayley Hodgins had 14, Redmon 13, Delaney Hodgins 10, Nelson and Williams nine each.

“They get quality minutes out of (their reserves). It’s not like they have a weak bench. It’s just that they don’t look for scoring from them,” said UM coach Robin Selvig.

2. Eastern Washington shot 40.0 percent, which is below its season average (.450) but well above what Montana is allowing per game (.332). Helping the Eagles: They turned it over just seven times, and Montana went 7 for 24 (.292) from 3-point range.

“We shot poorly from three that game. And we got the shots we wanted. When you make 40 percent instead of 20-something, that’s nine or 10 points,” said Selvig, whose team lost by one.

3. The Eagles did just enough offensively to pull out the win. The teams were tied 28-28 at the half and 41-41 midway through the second half. Eastern then scored three times in four possessions, including 3-pointers by Delaney Hodgins and Nelson, while Montana was going 0 for 3 with a turnover. That upped the lead to eight, and Montana never led again.

Three turnovers and a missed free throw in the final 30 seconds by EWU, which led 62-52 with a minute left, almost allowed Montana to come all the way back.

“I thought our defense was okay, but it could have been better. They got a couple of transition baskets, and we let them get the ball inside too easily a couple of times,” said Selvig.

“There was a stretch in the second half when we didn’t score, and they crept up. It wasn’t any big runs on their part, but we couldn’t overcome it.”

Three takeaway notes from Montana-Idaho I (UM 87, UI 74, Feb. 7 at Moscow)

2015-02-25_1631_0011. Montana could not stop Idaho in the first half. The Vandals hit eight of their first 11 shots and finished 18 for 30 (.600), with Barr scoring more than a point per minute. She had 21 at the break. Thankfully the Lady Griz shot well enough (41.0 percent) that they were within 11 at the half,48-37.

“We can play better defense than we did that first half. It’s wasn’t just Barr. They were getting everything and playing well. Had we struggled offensively the first half, it would have been ugly,” said Selvig.

“When we have a hard time stopping somebody, we’d better be scoring ourselves. The good thing was we stuck with it.”

It was the second-largest halftime deficit of the season for Montana.

2. Idaho could not stop Montana in the second half. The Lady Griz needed less than seven minutes to tie it, and with the score even at 74, Montana scored the game’s final 13 points the last two minutes to pull away. The Lady Griz scored 50 second-half points, the Vandals 26.

“It’s a 40-minute game. That’s what I always preach. Whether you’re ahead or behind, you go until the buzzer, and the ladies did that game,” said Selvig.

3. After scoring 21 first-half points, Barr had just six in the second half on 3-of-11 shooting, with a pair of turnovers. She had the bigger scoring game with 27 points, but Kellie Rubel was the best player on the court. She had 23 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals while shooting 7 for 11.

Random Montana-related notes:

* It means nothing, but it’s still fun to think about: ESPN likes Montana to be the Big Sky representative at the NCAA tournament, which it has for weeks now. The site’s Bracketology has Montana as a No. 15 seed, playing at No. 2 Oregon State in a first-round game. Tough draw. The Beavers are 25-2 and top the Pac-12 standings at 15-1. OSU hosted both Idaho and Sacramento State during the regular season and came away with 75-53 and 109-61 victories over the Vandals and Hornets.

* Montana is up to 19 wins. One more will give the Lady Griz their 30th 20-win season under 37th-year coach Robin Selvig.

* Montana is 40-4 against Eastern Washington in Missoula, though two of the Eagles’ wins have come since 2010-11. … Montana is 24-1 at home against Idaho, with wins in the teams’ last 20 meetings in Missoula. The Vandals’ lone win came in 1984-85, a 78-76 victory. That season Idaho won the Big Sky at 13-1. The Vandals went 3-0 against the Lady Griz, who went 11-3 in league. Idaho swept the regular-season meetings and rolled to an 80-57 victory in the Big Sky tournament championship game on their way to a 28-2 overall record.

* Montana coach Robin Selvig is 19-3 against Idaho coach Jon Newlee, who coached at Idaho State before taking over the Vandals.

 

* Montana’s bench contributed just nine points in its road wins last week at Idaho State and Weber State.

* Carly Selvig went without a blocked shot in Saturday’s win at Weber State. It marked the first game since Nov. 29 against Wake Forest at Cancun that she went without.

* Kayleigh Valley’s 26 points Saturday were a career high and the most scored by a Montana player this season. It surpassed the 25 points McCalle Feller dropped on Portland State on Jan. 29.

* Montana’s largest deficit its last four games has been four points.

* Montana lost 62-50 at Pacific back on Nov. 21 in the second game of the season. The Tigers have been doing pretty well since then. They are up to 20 wins, and they upset Gonzaga 71-59 on Saturday to snap the Zags’ 16-game winning streak. Also hot is Princeton, which dominated Montana 80-55 at Cancun in late November. The Tigers are 25-0 and have won all but two of their games by more than 10 points.

* Kayleigh Valley attempted 13 free throws at Weber State. It was the third game this year she has attempted 13 free throws.

* Speaking of Valley and last week, she averaged 18 points in the two road wins on 65 percent shooting.

* Montana ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.332), fifth in blocked shots (6.6/g) and 20th in (fewest) turnovers (12.7/g).

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* With 40 points in two road wins last week, Kellie Rubel moved up to No. 15 on the Montana career scoring list with 1,207 points. The names she is passing now are part of Lady Griz lore. At No. 14: Skyla Sisco (1994-98), who scored 1,238 points. Rubel ending up in the top 12 is totally realistic, which would be quite a feat for someone who scored 175 points as a redshirt freshman and 179 as a redshirt sophomore.

* Rubel has scored 14 or more points the last seven games.

* McCalle Feller is up to 59 3-pointers, which has her sitting No. 6 on the Montana single-season list. Sonya Rogers’ record of 72 from 2007-08 is in play.

* If Montana wins the regular-season title, results of the MVP voting will be telling. Would it be Kellie Rubel, the best player on the best team, or Northern Colorado’s D’Shara Strange, the player with the league’s best numbers (16.2 points per game/8.9 rebounds per game) on a pretty good team? Feels like it’s down to a two-player race right now.

Montana Sports Information