Lady Griz Clinch Outright Title, Hosting Rights to BSC Tournament


Montana women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig predicted the Big Sky Conference was going to be a season-long dogfight that would go down to the final weekend, maybe the last day, before a champion was crowned. What he didn’t foresee was that his Lady Griz would defang the rest of the league.

Montana improved to 14-3 in the Big Sky with a 69-59 victory over Eastern Washington Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena. The win gave the Lady Griz an insurmountable lead in the standings, the outright league championship and hosting rights to the postseason tournament.

Four starters scored in double figures, and Shanae Gilham came off the bench to score eight points in the first half to spark the Lady Griz after a slow start. Montana (21-7, 14-3 BSC) fought back from a nine-point first-half deficit to build a 33-29 halftime lead and led the entire second half.

“These ladies keep amazing me. They just have a determination to play as hard as they can for 40 minutes. I couldn’t be prouder,” said coach Robin Selvig.

Montana will host the eight-team Big Sky Conference tournament at Dahlberg Arena Thursday through Saturday, March 12-14. It will be the 16th time in 27 years of Big Sky women’s basketball that Montana is hosting the tournament.

The Lady Griz needed a win over Eastern Washington Saturday afternoon or a victory in their final regular-season game next Saturday at Montana State to claim the outright championship and hosting rights.

They took care of business on their first opportunity by bouncing back from a sluggish start.

Eastern Washington (17-9, 10-5 BSC), which shot 33.3 percent in its 63-53 loss Thursday night at Montana State, well under its season percentage of 44.5, opened the game hitting five of its first eight shots, and the Eagles went up 23-14 when Lexie Nelson turned a Montana turnover into an easy basket.

“They had a tough loss Thursday when they didn’t shoot it very well, and you wondered if maybe they were going to keep struggling,” said Selvig. “They didn’t shoot a good percentage for the game, but they did early on.”

With Montana’s starters hitting just three of their first 13 shots, it was Gilham off the bench who got her team going. She drained a pair of 3-pointers just over two minutes apart to energize the crowd of 3,615 and snap her team out of its offensive doldrums.

Shanae came off the bench and hit two big baskets when we weren’t making shots and struggling. What a lift that was,” said Selvig.

Montana rallied to tie it at 23 on a three-point play by Maggie Rickman, and the Lady Griz held the Eagles without a field goal the final 4:51 of the half.

A Gilham steal and end-to-end finish just before the halftime buzzer put Montana up 33-29, but all was not well. Kellie Rubel picked up her third foul with 3:06 left, and the Lady Griz, who only had 10 in uniform, were already shorthanded without the concussed Hannah Doran.

Eastern Washington tried to pin a fourth foul on Montana’s on-floor leader early in the second half by isolating her as a singled-out defender in the post, but the plan failed, mainly because Montana’s help defenders had Rubel’s back.

Rubel would play all 20 minutes of the second half — picking up just one more foul along the way — and finish the game with 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

“They came out attacking her (in the second half), but Kellie did a great job,” said Selvig. “I can trust her to know how to play in that situation.”

Eastern Washington made pushes to make it a one-possession game throughout the second half, but Montana always had an answer, and the lead remained seven or more the final 14 minutes, though never larger than a dozen.

After hitting five of their first eight attempts, the Eagles shot 30.4 percent the rest of the game. The Big Sky’s best 3-point shooting team connected on just 3-of-15 tries from the arc.

Hayley Hodgins, EWU’s leading scorer, finished with 14 points, but they came on 6-of-21 shooting. Nelson, the team’s second-leading scorer, was held to six points.

“Eastern has a heck of a basketball team, and they are hard to guard, so there was no resting on that end of the floor. If we do, we’re going to get beat in that game,” said Selvig. “I thought our defense, after a slow start, came through pretty good.”

Kayleigh Valley, in addition to doing stellar work on smaller Eastern players on the defensive end, led Montana with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Rickman had 16 points and eight rebounds, and McCalle Feller added 11 points and a career-high eight boards.

Montana shot better than 42 percent both halves to finish at 44.1 percent for the game, and the Lady Griz had a 45-35 rebounding advantage.

Delaney Hodgins led Eastern Washington with 19 points.

Montana will face Montana State next Saturday at 2 p.m. on the road in the final regular-season game for both teams. The Bobcats (14-14, 8-9 BSC) clinched a tournament spot with a 71-62 victory Saturday over Idaho at Bozeman.


Montana Sports Information