Selvig Named Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year

By JOEL CARLSON

Montana women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig was named the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year Thursday. It’s the 21st conference coach of the year honor for Selvig, whose career spans play in three conferences.

Selvig won his first award in 1981-82, his fourth season with the Lady Griz, in the Northwest Women’s Basketball League. He won five Mountain West Conference coach of the year awards, and on Thursday he was named Big Sky coach of the year for the 15th time.

Montana opened the season 2-4 but won 19 of 22 games from mid-December to the end of February and finished the regular season with a 21-8 record.

Picked second in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Lady Griz went 14-4 in league to win the Big Sky title by a game over Sacramento State and collect the program’s 24th regular-season championship.

Robin Selvig

Photo by William Munoz for Make itMissoula.

Montana is seeking its 21st NCAA tournament appearance this week. The Lady Griz are hosting the eight-team Big Sky tournament and advanced to the semifinals with a 69-67 victory Wednesday night over Idaho State at Dahlberg Arena, Selvig’s 843rd win at his alma mater.

Montana has now won 20 or more games 30 times under Selvig, who is in his 37th season, so the team’s success in 2014-15 hasn’t been a surprise. But how it came about hints that this was maybe one of Selvig’s best coaching jobs.

The Lady Griz opened the season in October with three returning starters, but even that was a spurious claim. Redshirt senior Kellie Rubel was going to be a full-time point guard for the first time, and redshirt senior center Carly Selvig’s fate was up in the air after suffering an ACL tear in March in the WNIT.

Selvig was one of three returners who entered the season with knee concerns, and all three opened the season on the sideline. The rest of the roster: highlighted by a lot of inexperience and question marks.

The coach’s challenge: Develop a cohesive team, all while not knowing what players he would have available on any given day or if, when or in what capacity three key players — Selvig, redshirt junior Haley Vining and redshirt sophomore Shanae Gilham — would be returning.

For a younger, more callow coach, a nightmare scenario of having to mix and match personnel. For Selvig, who’s mostly been there and done that given any coaching situation that might arise, it just meant other players, who were recruited to Montana for a reason, would need to fill in the holes.

“From day one he just said, we can’t do anything about it, so we’re going to deal with it and move forward with what we have,” said Rubel, who was named the Big Sky Conference co-MVP on Tuesday and was the only player to earn unanimous first-team all-league honors.

Robin and Shannon

Photo by William Munoz for Make itMissoula.

“The way he dealt with everything allowed people to step up until everybody got healthy. And that just made it feel like an added bonus when everyone came back.”

The indefatigable Rubel leads Montana in both scoring and as a distributor. She is averaging a team-leading 14.1 points per game, and her 128 assists are more than double the total of anyone else on the team. They come against just 83 turnovers, a solid 1.5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Junior McCalle Feller (11.3/g) and sophomore Kayleigh Valley (11.4/g) both developed into honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference performers in their first year as starters, and Maggie Rickman, also honorable mention All-Big Sky, is enjoying her best season as a senior.

After missing the season’s first two games and being eased back into the lineup with limited minutes, Carly Selvig, who outside of a knee brace shows little evidence of March’s injury, leads the Big Sky in blocked shots and is a big reason the Lady Griz rank third nationally in field goal percentage defense.

On Tuesday she won her second consecutive Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year award.

Despite the coaching urge to want to have the sharpshooter on the court for longer stretches, Selvig has carefully managed Gilham’s minutes, a tack that has kept the reserve with the balky knees playing effectively into the postseason, and Montana’s bench has made the Lady Griz a team that goes 11 deep.

The team’s 22-8 record and regular-season championship? Given the history of the program, another That’s Montana season to most observers.

But the Big Sky Conference coaches, who vote on the award, did so with the understanding of what goes into a season, from making it from practice to practice and through injury to injury. It all pointed in October to a possible letdown for Montana in 2014-15. Selvig didn’t let it happen.

“I think Rob’s always been a great coach, but I think coming into this season and not knowing what we’d have, I don’t know how this award could have gone to anyone else,” concluded Rubel.

Montana Sports Information