Lady Griz Seeking Tournament Title This Week

By JOEL CARLSON

The Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament opens Wednesday with four quarterfinal games at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula. Montana, the No. 1 seed, will play No. 8 Idaho State at 8 p.m. in the final game of the day.

The tournament opens Wednesday with No. 7 Montana State facing No. 2 Sacramento State at 11 a.m. No. 6 North Dakota will play No. 3 Northern Colorado at 1:30 p.m., and No. 5 Northern Arizona will take on No. 4 Eastern Washington at 5:30 p.m.

Tournament semifinals will be played Friday at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The opening semifinal will be the winners of Wednesday’s first two quarterfinal games. The other quarterfinal winners will play at 1:30 p.m.

Saturday’s championship game will tip off at 2 p.m.

Coverage: All seven tournament games will be streamed on WatchBigSky.com. Montana’s game(s) will be aired locally on KGVO 1290 AM/101.5 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater.

Kellie Cole

Co-MVP of the Big Sky Conference, Kellie Cole Rubel. Photo by William Munoz for Make itMissoula.

What they’re playing for: The winner of Saturday’s championship game will be the Big Sky Conference’s representative at the NCAA tournament. The NCAA selection show will air Monday at 5 p.m. (MT) on ESPN.

The current ESPN.com Bracketology has Montana as a No. 15 seed and facing No. 2 Arizona State at Tempe, Ariz.

Montana to be playing next week: If Montana does not win the Big Sky tournament, the Lady Griz have a guaranteed spot in the WNIT, which is where Montana ended up last season after losing the tournament championship game to North Dakota.

If the Lady Griz hold home court and come out on top Saturday, second-place Sacramento State gets the Big Sky’s bid to the WNIT.

Quarterfinals breakdown:

No. 7 Montana State (15-14, 9-9 BSC) vs. No. 2 Sacramento State (15-14, 13-5 BSC): The teams met just once during the regular season, with Montana State posting a 91-64 victory at Bozeman. It was the only Big Sky loss of the season for the Hornets that came by more than eight points. … Both teams enter the tournament on a roll. The Hornets won six of their final eight regular-season games, with the two losses coming by a total of three points. The Bobcats have won five of six. The loss was an overtime decision at Idaho State after the Bengals hit a buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. One of the wins was Saturday, 65-57 over Montana in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score suggests.

No. 6 North Dakota (17-13, 9-9 BSC) vs. No. 3 Northern Colorado (18-11, 12-6 BSC): Two teams headed in opposite directions. The Bears enter the tournament as the hottest team in the Big Sky, winners of eight straight, with five of those wins coming by 20 or more points. Included in that streak were a road victory at Montana and a home victory over Sacramento State, the tournament’s top two seeds. … Defending tournament champion and preseason favorite North Dakota limps into the tournament having lost four in a row and six of seven. The last of those losses came on Saturday, when UNC went to Grand Forks and handed UND a 67-56 setback.

Lady Griz

Photo by William Munoz for Make itMisoula.

No. 5 Northern Arizona (13-16, 9-9 BSC) vs. No. 4 Eastern Washington (19-10, 12-6 BSC): The Lumberjacks are making their first tournament appearance since 2009, which is the good news. The bad news: NAU lost 73-42 to EWU at Cheney last month in the teams’ only meeting of the season. … The Eagles are making their sixth straight tournament appearance and will be trying to stop an ugly trend. Three times in the last five years Eastern Washington has gone 0-1 at the tournament, all three losses coming to lower-seeded teams. EWU has won eight of 10 entering the tournament.

No. 8 Idaho State (13-16, 8-10 BSC) vs. No. 1 Montana (21-8, 14-4 BSC): The Bengals and Lady Griz own the longest active streaks of advancing to the Big Sky tournament. Montana has now made all 27 tournaments and has played in a conference tournament every season since 1982-83. Idaho State is playing in its 12th consecutive Big Sky tournament, a streak overseen by two coaches (Jon Newlee and Seton Sobolewski). … Montana swept the season series from Idaho State, winning 77-65 in Missoula and 69-51 at Pocatello to make the all-time series 68-8.

Who didn’t make the tournament cut: Idaho (14-15, 8-10 BSC), which was picked third in the preseason coaches’ poll, had the most frustrating finish to the season. The Vandals throttled Idaho State on Saturday 77-53, their fourth win in six games, to pull even with ISU in the final standings, but Idaho is at home after losing out to Idaho State on tiebreakers. … Southern Utah (13-15, 6-12 BSC) and Weber State (11-18, 6-12 BSC) tied for 10th. The Thunderbirds missed the tournament after playing as the No. 2 seed last season. The Wildcats have not made the tournament since 2007. … Portland State (4-25, 2-16 BSC) won at home Saturday over Southern Utah to generate a tiny bit of happiness on what was a lost season. Since hosting the 2011 tournament, the Vikings have gone 21-53 in league and missed four straight postseasons.

Hosting is good: In the first 26 editions of the Big Sky Conference tournament, the host team has failed to win the championship just five times: Boise State in 1992, Idaho State in 2006, Montana in 2007, Eastern Washington in 2010 and Portland State in 2011.

Montana is hosting the tournament for the 16th time in the 27 years of Big Sky women’s basketball. The Lady Griz are 28-1 in Big Sky tournament home games, 41-10 overall. Their lone home loss was a 64-59 setback to No. 4 Northern Arizona in the 2007 semifinals.

Dating back to the old Mountain West Conference and the 1982-83 season, Montana has a conference tournament record of 51-12 and home mark of 37-2. (The Lady Griz lost 77-74 to Eastern Washington in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game in 1987.)

Montana-Idaho State postseason history: The Lady Griz and Bengals have met six times in the Big Sky tournament. Montana holds a 5-1 edge in those matchups, with a 4-0 record at Dahlberg Arena.

The teams’ most recent tournament meeting came in 2011, when Montana won 66-53 in the quarterfinals at Portland State.

More on Montana-Idaho State: Not only did the Lady Griz sweep the regular-season series from the Bengals, Montana did so in surprising fashion. Montana shot 54.2 percent in its victory at Missoula, 51.9 percent in its win at Pocatello.

They were the two best shooting games of the season for the Lady Griz, who are shooting 39.3 percent for the season.

“We played really well both times we played them, particularly at their place. That was one of our better games of the season on both ends of the floor,” said coach Robin Selvig. “Some games we get good shots and don’t make that many. Those games we did.”

Robin Selvig

Head Coach Robin Selvig. Photo by William Munoz for Make itMissoula.com

Idaho State had been one of the best defensive teams in the Big Sky Conference under Sobolewski, holding opponents to sub-.390 shooting each of the previous four seasons. This year ISU’s opponents are shooting 41.8 percent, the highest percentage in Sobolewski’s seven-year tenure.

Speaking of Sobolewski: He’s about to hold every major coaching record at Idaho State. Wednesday will be his 215th game at ISU, breaking the mark he currently holds with Ted Anderson. After Wednesday night he will hold the record for most games coached, most overall wins and most conference wins.

Awards season: The All-Big Sky Conference teams were announced Tuesday. The Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year will be awarded Thursday.

The results of the voting for coach of the year will be telling. It’s either going to be Montana’s Robin Selvig or Sacramento State’s Bunky Harkleroad (though Northern Colorado’s Kamie Ethridge will also get some consideration).

Selvig coached a team that was picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll to the program’s 24th regular-season championship.

Harkleroad coached a team picked ninth in the preseason poll to a second-place finish. The Hornets, who led 86-84 at Dahlberg Arena in January with two minutes left, were a better finish in that game from hosting this week’s tournament.

Which is most award-worthy? Taking a team expected to do well and doing well, or taking a team few thought would do well and surprising people.

Prediction: The coaches will go with Harkleroad, who is convincing people (through a lot of blowout wins) that his style of play is going to be successful for the long haul.

Bounce-back ability: Montana hasn’t lost back-to-back games since dropping three straight to Princeton, Wake Forest and Wyoming in late November and early December.

That (non) trend will be put to the test Wednesday night after Montana suffered a 65-57 loss at Montana State Saturday afternoon, the Bobcats’ first victory over the Lady Griz at Bozeman since 2007-08.

Montana enters the tournament coming off a game in which it shot 32.8 percent, dished out a season-low five assists and scored just 17 first-half points.

BBQ“I think it will be more of a motivator than anything,” said Selvig. “I know we’ve been really good this year coming off aloss.”

The last time Montana came off a loss, the Lady Griz whipped Idaho State 69-51, five days after losing a 52-51 heartbreaker at home to Northern Colorado. In its most recent four losses before Saturday, Montana bounced back with wins of 30, 10, 13 and 18 points.

Reason to worry? Montana may have gone 14-4 in league, but it isn’t exactly rolling into the tournament given Saturday’s performance.

But how they finished hasn’t been a factor for the Lady Griz in recent years. In 2013 Montana lost its final regular-season game at Sacramento State, then won two tournament games by a total of 34 points, including a 21-point victory over the Hornets.

In 2011 Montana lost three of four going into the tournament, then won three games in three days at Portland State to win the championship.

Montana notes: Kellie Rubel (recently named Co-MVP of the Big Sky Conference)  will be playing in her 126th career game Wednesday night, moving her into second place in UM history behind Jordan Sullivan (2010-14), who played in 129. … With two triples Saturday at Montana State, McCalle Feller is within six of Sonya Rogers’ single-season 3-point record. Rogers nailed 72 in 2007-08, the season she led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (.486). Feller has 66 makes, with 38 more attempts than Rogers took in her record-setting season (though with a shorter 3-point line). … Carly Selvig has just a single block over the last four games, which doesn’t mean she’s forgotten how. It just means that the player who had 29 blocks in a four-game stretch in December is being game-planned for, which, given Selvig’s defensive positioning in the paint, is beneficial for Montana. … McCalle Feller has 22 straight games with a 3-pointer, the longest active streak on the team. In 18 of those 22 games she has hit two or more. … Kayleigh Valley’s six points Saturday at Montana State snapped her streak of nine straight games in double figures.

 

Montana Sports Information