Lady Griz Stay Atop Big Sky with Second-Half Rally


Montana trailed 48-37 at the half and was in a tie game with two minutes remaining, but the Lady Griz scored the game’s final 13 points to pull out an 87-74 victory over Idaho Saturday afternoon at the Cowan Spectrum at Moscow.

The win kept Montana (16-6, 9-2 BSC) atop the Big Sky Conference by a game over North Dakota (16-7, 8-3 BSC) and sets up a monster matchup with UND Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena. North Dakota, which has won six of its last seven games, won the teams’ first matchup 59-52.

Sacramento State (9-12, 7-3 BSC) could also pull within a game of Montana’s lead with a victory at Portland State Saturday night.

Idaho shot 60 percent and got 21 first-half points from Stacey Barr to take a 48-37 lead into the break Saturday. It was the second-largest halftime deficit of the year for Montana, which was trying to avoid its first two-game losing streak in more than two months.

Having taken the Vandals’ best shot, the Lady Griz wasted little time counterpunching. Kellie Rubel scored six straight points, and Montana opened the second half on an 8-2 run to quickly get back into the game.

Montana took its first lead of the second half on a Maggie Rickman 3-pointer from the top of the key that made it 73-71 with 4:16 remaining. That set up the team’s big finish, which improved the Lady Griz to 40-8 against the Vandals, who are back in the Big Sky after an 18-year absence.

“It was a great, great win for us,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “I remember a lot of wins that have been good, but I don’t remember too many that feel much better than this one.”

Montana looked like it was on the verge of getting run out of the gym in the first half. Idaho hit eight of its first 11 shots, and Barr, who was held in check the first three times she’d faced Montana in her career, exploded later in the half.

She went 7 for 10 overall, 3 for 4 from 3-point range, and scored 21 points, just two fewer than she totaled in three previous matchups against the Lady Griz.

Montana couldn’t match Idaho’s scoring, but it did enough to stay within reach. Rubel scored 11 first-half points, and the Lady Griz shot 41.0 percent and had just two turnovers.

“The first half we just couldn’t guard them,” said Selvig. “They shoot 60 percent, and it looked like Barr was going to get 50. We’ve got a pretty good defensive team, but we couldn’t guard them.

“At halftime I just appealed to their pride a little bit.”

Whatever the coach said worked. His team held Idaho to 8-of-32 shooting in the second half and a 1-for-14 (.071) effort from 3-point range. The Lady Griz outscored the Vandals 50-26 in the second half.

“They score almost 50 in the first half, then get down to 25 percent the second half,” Selvig said. “Maybe we played a little better defense, maybe they became a little human.”

Still, with things going back and forth and the clock winding down, the game needed a hero. Even better if it was off the usual Rubel-will-save-us-again script.

With the game tied 74-74, Alycia Sims found herself with the ball, uncovered at the top of the key. After hesitating — and with only five 3-pointers for her career, why wouldn’t she? — she let it fly.

The shot came up way short, and Sims knew it the moment it left her hand. She followed it, grabbed the rebound and finished the putback while getting fouled, a senior play coming from a coming-of-age sophomore with 1:47 on the clock.

She made the and-one free throw, and after Montana got the ball back, McCalle Feller hit the shot she was due after a long week of cold shooting. Her 3-pointer in front of the Lady Griz bench made it 80-74 with 54 seconds left, and Montana went 7 for 8 from the line the final 34 seconds.

Sims finished with a career-high 15 points and was one of four Montana players in double figures.

“Alycia had a great ball game,” said Selvig. “She hit big shots and of course had the play of the game. And McCalle hasn’t been lighting it this weekend, but she gets her feet squared up, we get her the ball, and she knocks it down to put us up six.

“Then we made all our free throws to not have to sweat it out.”

Rubel led Montana with 23 points, and Rickman finished off the best two-game series of her career with 17 points, a career-high six assists and three blocks. For the road trip, which opened with a 65-64 loss at Eastern Washington Thursday night, Rickman averaged 18.5 points on 61.5 percent shooting.

“Maggie played as well this week as she’s ever played in her career,” said Selvig. “She was confident in her shooting, but it wasn’t just that she was making shots. She also made good passes.”

Kayleigh Valley added 14 points, and Carly Selvig matched a career high with 11 rebounds.

Montana shot 48.3 percent in the second half, 44.1 percent for the game, and had a season-low six turnovers, a nice improvement after turning it over nearly 16 times per game its last five outings.

“We did a pretty good job offensively, which was good, because it was a game we were going to have to outscore them,” said Selvig. “We had a whole bunch of kids play great on the offensive end.”

Nobody matched Barr’s 27 points, but she came up empty when her team needed her the most. She hit just three of her 11 shots in the second half, none of her six 3-point attempts, and with the game hanging in the balance late, she turned the ball over after dribbling it off her leg.

Ali Forde had a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double for Idaho. Geraldine McCorkell added 13 points off the bench.

After hosting North Dakota on Thursday night, Montana will face Northern Colorado (11-11, 5-6 BSC) on Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena. The Bears beat up on Southern Utah Saturday afternoon 87-58 at Greeley to snap a three-game losing streak.

In other afternoon games, North Dakota won 78-62 at home over Northern Arizona, Weber State won 63-56 at home over Idaho State, and Eastern Washington won 72-58 at home over Montana State.