Lady Griz Facing Important Road Trip at Idaho State and Weber State

By JOEL CARLSON

The Montana women’s basketball team will face its final two-game road trip of the regular season this week with games at Idaho State and Weber State. The Lady Griz will play the Bengals on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pocatello and the Wildcats on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Ogden.

Coverage: Thursday’s game will air in the Missoula area on KMPT 930 AM, Saturday’s game on KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. … Video streaming will be available at WatchBigSky.com, live stats at ISUBengals.com and WeberStateSports.com.

Montana at a glance: The Lady Griz (17-7, 10-3 BSC) are sitting atop the Big Sky Conference standings with three weeks of regular-season games remaining, one game up in the loss column on both Sacramento State (11-13, 9-4 BSC) and Eastern Washington (15-8, 8-4 BSC).

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That means Montana has a clear, though difficult, path to the regular-season title and hosting rights to the eight-team tournament: win their final five games, and nobody can touch the Lady Griz.

But it won’t be easy. After two road games this week, Montana hosts Idaho and Eastern Washington, then ends the regular season at Montana State.

Idaho State at a glance: If the Big Sky Conference tournament was held today, the Bengals (11-13, 6-7 BSC) would be in as the No. 8 seed, but that is a tenuous position, because Idaho State is trending in the wrong direction.

Two weeks ago ISU was coming off a home sweep of Northern Colorado and North Dakota and sitting 6-4 in league, and Seton Sobolewski was on the watch list for Big Sky Coach of the Year. Three straight road losses — at Weber State, at Northern Arizona, at Southern Utah –have followed.

With a season-ending road trip to Eastern Washington and Idaho looming, Idaho State probably needs at least a split this week at home against Montana and Montana State. If not, ISU’s streak of 11 straight trips to the Big Sky tournament could be in jeopardy.

 

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Weber State at a glance: The Wildcats (11-13, 6-7 BSC) are tied with Idaho State for seventh in the league standings, but WSU is trending in a better direction. After starting its league schedule 0-4, Weber State has won six of nine, with two of those three losses by a total of seven points.

The Wildcats hold a two-game season sweep over ninth-place Southern Utah (12-10, 5-7 BSC), which could be huge, and play Idaho State next week at Pocatello. Weber State won the teams’ first meeting at Ogden, 63-57. Another sweep of a bubble team might propel WSU to its first tournament since 2007.

Weber State ends the regular season on the same Idaho-Eastern Washington road trip as Idaho State.

Montana last week: The Lady Griz picked up an important head-to-head victory over North Dakota on Thursday at Dahlberg Arena, 66-51. Montana outscored UND 23-5 over the final five minutes of the first half and opening five minutes of the second half to earn a season split with last year’s champion.

Montana was even with North Dakota on the boards for the second time in the teams’ two meetings this year, and the Lady Griz held UND, the Big Sky’s top shooting team at 44.7 percent, to 33.9 percent shooting and its lowest scoring output of the season.

Two days later Montana was on its way to another victory, holding a 10-point lead on Northern Colorado with eight minutes to play. But the Lady Griz made just two field goals the rest of the way, and D’Shara Strange’s fade-away bank shot from seven feet with 2.6 seconds left allowed the Bears to rally for a 52-51 victory.

The loss snapped Montana’s 23-game winning streak at Dahlberg Arena against Big Sky Conference opponents. The Lady Griz hadn’t lost at home to a league team since falling to Montana State back on Jan. 19, 2013.

Three takeaway points from the first Montana-Idaho State meeting:

* Montana won 77-65 over Idaho State at Dahlberg Arena on Jan. 10. What was notable about the game was that the Lady Griz had a hard time stopping the Bengals, who shot 40.0 percent. That was below ISU’s season percentage of 40.6, but the Bengals became the only team to shoot 40 percent against the Lady Griz in what was a 14-game stretch of dominant defensive efforts between early December and late January.

2015-02-17_1833_001* In their first time facing Montana, junior guard Apiphany Woods, a transfer from State Fair (Mo.) Community College, and redshirt freshman guard Grace Kenyon did not back down. Woods had 21 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Kenyon added 18 points and sixrebounds.

* Montana, which got 23 points from Kellie Rubel and 13 from Shanae Gilham off the bench, shot 54.2 percent against Idaho State. That is still the best shooting percentage for the Lady Griz this season.

Idaho State by the numbers: The Bengals are the worst free throw shooting team in the Big Sky (.658) and the least threatening from 3-point range (3.2/g). … However, ISU shoots 44.7 percent inside the arc, which is better than Montana (.422). … Woods is averaging 17.0 points in league on 51.8 percent shooting and is pretty much a lock to earn Big Sky Newcomer of the Year honors next month.

Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig on Thursday’s matchup: “I’m hoping we can defend them a little better than we did. Kenyon and Woods really gave them some scoring (in the first matchup). They have some things hopefully we can take away.

“We shot the ball real well the first time against them, which really helped us. That will be the key for us Thursday. Play great defense, win the battle of the boards and find some kids who can make shots.”

History: Montana leads the all-time series with Idaho State 67-8, with five straight wins. The Lady Griz are 28-6 at Pocatello. The Bengals’ last win in the series came at Pocatello, 54-48 in 2011-12. That was the season Idaho State swept the season series for just the second time.

Three takeaway points from the first Montana-Weber State meeting:

* The Lady Griz had 13 first-half turnovers against the Wildcats in their 53-43 victory at Dahlberg Arena on Jan. 8 and led just 23-21 at the break. Montana never did get going offensively, but it held Weber State to 6-of-29 (.207) shooting in the second half to pull away.

* Junior Jalen Carpenter had a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Wildcats, but she had little offensive support. WSU’s other four starters combined for just 12 points.

* Montana shot 34.0 percent and finished with 19 turnovers, two off its season high. Kellie Rubel scored 16 points (on 4-of-16 shooting), and Maggie Rickman grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds to help the Lady Griz finish +11 on the boards.

Weber State by the numbers: The Wildcats have held their last five opponents and eight of their last nine to 57 or fewer points. … WSU’s last five games have been decided by seven or fewer points. … At 35.4 percent, Weber State is the worst shooting team in the Big Sky. … Jalen Carpenter leads the Wildcats in both scoring (12.3/g) and rebounding (8.0/g).

Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig on Saturday’s matchup: “They are not a big pressing team like Sac State, but they are good defensively. They are good at creating turnovers, and it’s mostly in the half-court. That’s their biggest strength. They’ve held a lot of teams down.

“I felt they were a pretty good team last year, it’s just that they lost a lot of close games. I think they’ve gotten over that hump a little bit more this year. They probably have a little more confidence and feel they can win tight games, where they probably didn’t last year.”

History: Montana leads the all-time series with Weber State 64-12 and has won 14 of the last 16 meetings. The Lady Griz are 27-7 against the Wildcats at Ogden. WSU’s most recent win in the series came last season at Ogden, 56-54, on two free throws by Desiree Ramos with 18 seconds to go.

Montana Notes

2015-02-17_1833* Since the start of the 2012-13 season, a stretch of 53 regular-season Big Sky Conference games, Montana has lost consecutive league games just once. The Lady Griz lost to North Dakota and Northern Colorado on the road in January 2014. Montana will be attempting to avoid another two-game skid Thursdaynight.

* For whatever this is worth: Kellie Rubel’s shot at the buzzer that could have won the game Saturday against Northern Colorado was the 1,000th of her career. Had the shot gone in instead of bouncing on the rim twice before falling off, the 1,000th-shot happenstance might have been a little sweeter.

* The Lady Griz had a mere four turnovers Thursday against North Dakota. That was the fewest in a game since Montana had four against Idaho State in 2005-06. To find fewer than that, you have to go back to 2003-04, when the Lady Griz had three against Weber State.

* At .330, Montana ranks second nationally in field goal percentage defense, behind only Connecticut (.298). And at 6.9 per game, the Lady Griz rank third in blocked shots, behind Connecticut (8.1/g) and San Diego (7.4/g).

* Montana’s three Big Sky Conference loses have come by a total of nine points. … After Saturday’s one-point loss, the Lady Griz are 0-2 this season in games decided by five or fewer points. That’s important to note, because at least one of this week’s games is likely going down to the wire.

* Montana’s loss Saturday to Northern Colorado was its first of the season when leading with two minutes remaining. It was only the team’s second loss in 15 games when leading at the half.

* With three more wins Montana will reach 20 for the season. If it happens, that will be the 30th time in 37 seasons under coach Robin Selvig that the Lady Griz have reached 20 wins.

* With 35 points last week, Kellie Rubel moved up to No. 16 on the Montana career scoring list. She is 103 away from catching Kenzie De Boer at No. 12. That’s probably as high as Rubel could climb, unless Montana makes a surprising run to the Final Four. Then Sonya Rogers, at No. 11, would be catchable.

* With 249 career blocked shots, Carly Selvig ranks third in Big Sky history behind Eastern Washington’s Brenda Souther, who had 364 from 1984-87 (in the old Mountain West Conference), and Montana’s Hollie Tyler, who had 297 from 2001-05.

* McCalle Feller hit four more 3-pointers last week, giving her 55 for the season and moving her into the Montana single-season top-10 list. When she makes two more, six of the top seven seasons in program history will be from players from Lewistown, Mont. (Feller, Sonya Rogers and Katie Edwards).

* Montana’s .305 shooting percentage Saturday against Northern Colorado was its worst at home since shooting .302 against Montana State in January 2013. Those games were both losses and bookend the 23-game winning streak at Dahlberg Arena against league teams that just ended.

* Montana split at home last week despite holding North Dakota and Northern Colorado to scoring halves of 23, 28, 21 and 31 points. How frustrating.

* Montana has suddenly gone cold from 3-point range. The Lady Griz followed a four-game stretch of 37 for 88 (.420) from the arc with four games of 23 for 87 (.264).

* Maggie Rickman’s 10 rebounds Saturday against Northern Colorado was her fourth double-figure rebounding game of the season.

Around the Big Sky Conference:

* Nobody can touch Montana if the Lady Griz keep winning, but if they slip, the two teams nipping at their heels have favorable schedules to keep the pressure on.

Sacramento State, which needs to finish ahead of Montana because of a head-to-head loss in the teams’ only meeting this season, has a difficult road trip this week at Northern Colorado and North Dakota. From there: home for Portland State, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, all likely wins.

Eastern Washington, out of the discussion after a four-game losing streak in late January, has won four straight, including at home over Montana, to work its way back into the picture. And the Eagles have the ideal end-of-season setup: home this week for Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, then games at Montana State and Montana before closing at home against Idaho State and Weber State. Four home games out of six, plus the chance to go head-to-head against the team currently one game ahead in the standings with a chance to complete the season sweep. In other words: get your tickets for the Montana-Eastern Washington game on Feb. 28. Might be the game of the year in the Big Sky.

* That North Dakota (16-9, 8-5 BSC) lost at Montana Thursday wasn’t a major shock. What was surprising was that UND didn’t rebound with a better game Saturday at Montana State. North Dakota hit just one field goal through the opening nine minutes against the Bobcats and trailed by double figures the final 17 minutes in the 80-62 loss.

* At 7-5 in league, Northern Arizona, which has won five of six, has played itself into solid tournament position, but the Lumberjacks’ closing schedule is a beast. At Idaho and Eastern Washington this week, at home for North Dakota and Northern Colorado, at Portland State and Sacramento State. NAU hasn’t made the tournament since the 2008-09 season.

* Is there a frontrunner for Big Sky MVP at this point? It will probably be Kellie Rubel if Montana wins the regular-season title, but who else is in the discussion? Stacey Barr leads the league in scoring (20.7/g), but Idaho is in jeopardy of missing the tournament, so how valuable is that? Hayley Hodgins and Lexie Nelson lead Eastern Washington, but is either one an MVP candidate? The same can be asked of Fantasia Hilliard of Sac State. Maybe this is the year it goes to the best individual talent, which would be Northern Colorado’s D’Shara Strange, who is averaging 18.4 points and 10.0 rebounds in league.

Thursday’s games: UM at ISU, MSU at WSU, PSU at UND, SAC at UNC, SUU at EWU, NAU at UI

Game to monitor (I): Montana State at Weber State. The tenth-place Bobcats trail the eighth-place Wildcats by a game in the standings. A win would give MSU an important season sweep.

Game to monitor (II): Sacramento State at Northern Colorado. The Hornets need a win to keep the pressure on Montana. The Bears are flying high after sweeping the Montana-Montana State road trip. Sac State won the first meeting 76-71.

Saturday’s games: UM at WSU, MSU at ISU, SAC at UND, PSU at UNC, NAU at EWU, SUU at UI

Game to monitor: Sacramento State at North Dakota. The loser of this game is likely out of the running to host the Big Sky tournament.

Montana Sports Information