Lady Griz Aiming to Make it Five Straight Saturday

By JOEL CARLSON

The Montana women’s basketball team will host Big Sky Conference leader Montana State Saturday afternoon in the only game of the week for both teams. The Lady Griz and Bobcats will tip off at 2 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.

Coverage: Saturday’s game will be available to much of the state on Cowles Montana Media stations, with local broadcasting celebrities Dominic Shelden and Shaun Rainey calling the action. In the Missoula, Bozeman, Butte and Kalispell markets, the game will air on ABC. In Billings it will be on SWX.

Radio coverage in the Missoula area will be on KGVO 101.5 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater. Free internet viewing will be available through Eversport.tv, live stats through gogriz.com.

Where they stand: Montana (15-9, 8-5 BSC) is tied for fifth in the Big Sky standings with North Dakota (12-12, 8-5 BSC). Both teams are just half a game behind fourth-place Weber State (16-7, 8-4 BSC), an important demarcation for the upcoming tournament.

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Montana State (19-5, 12-1 BSC) is atop the Big Sky standings, one game clear of second-place Eastern Washington (17-8, 11-2 BSC), which has the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bobcats, and two games up on third-place Idaho (18-7, 10-3 BSC).

Winning streaks on the line: Montana has won four straight games, Montana State is riding a six-game winning streak and has won 13 of 14 since falling in overtime at Wyoming prior to Christmas. The teams own the two current longest win streaks in the Big Sky.

What’s at stake (Montana): With the standings as they currently are, the Lady Griz are sitting outside the top four and would be playing an opening-round game at the Big Sky tournament next month in Reno if the season ended today. With fourth-place Weber State at home this week for winnable games against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona (and home for four of its last six), a Montana win would keep the Lady Griz within reach of the Wildcats, who pay a visit to the Montana schools next week. A loss would be costly in terms of tournament byes.

What’s at stake (Montana State): If the Bobcats win out, or at least remain ahead of Eastern Washington, Idaho and everyone else through the final three weeks of the regular season, they will win their first outright Big Sky title, to go along with their shared titles in 1992-93, 2001-02 and 2002-03. And no matter what happens, MSU is a lock to be a top-four seed at the tournament and get a bye to the quarterfinal round. Too bad Reno had to start this year. MSU would have been on track to host for the first time since 1992-93.

And there is this: Since Montana coach Robin Selvig took over the Lady Griz program in 1978-79, Montana State has earned just a single regular-season, two-game sweep of the Lady Griz, that coming in 1998-99.

History notes: Montana leads the all-time series 76-24 (73-19 under Robin Selvig) and has gone 44-6 against the Bobcats in Missoula. The Lady Griz won 41 of 42 meetings against the Bobcats in Missoula between 1977-78 and 2008-09. Since then the teams have split their six games at Dahlberg Arena. … Robin Selvig is 17-7 against Tricia Binford. Only Eastern Washington coach Wendy Schuller, with eight in 31 games, has more wins against Selvig among current Big Sky coaches. … Montana State is going for its third straight win over Montana on Saturday. It would be the first time since the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons that’s happened.

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The first meeting: When the teams met last month in Bozeman, Montana led 30-25 at the half, by nine early in the third quarter and 43-42 entering the fourth. Then it all went downhill. The Lady Griz shot 0 for 9 in the final period to lose 61-52.

Kayleigh Valley led Montana with 17 points, McCalle Feller added 14, though neither scored a basket in the second half, and the Lady Griz got just six points from their bench. Montana shot 26.5 percent, its third-worst shooting game of the season.

Peyton Ferris scored 16 for Montana State, which had four players in double figures and shot 43.8 percent.

“We played pretty well,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, whose team led for more than 28 minutes. “Not scoring in the fourth quarter was the difference in the game. That was pretty much it. No big secrets.

“We didn’t score in the fourth quarter, and they made big shots and made plays and ended up getting us. It was a tough loss, because we had the lead quite a bit of the game.”

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Photo courtesy of UM SportsInformation

Three ways Montana might win:

1. McCalle Feller returns from injury and unleashes the pent-up points she’s been collecting while missing the last three games. (17 points per game x 3 = FUN) And she is a Dahlberg Arena girl: 20.7 points on 49.2 percent shooting. Away from her home court: 13.9 points on 35.1 percent shooting.

2. Montana finishes what it started in Bozeman. Montana State is averaging more than 75 points per game this season, and the Lady Griz had the Bobcats stymied for most of the first meeting. It was the fewest points scored by the Bobcats since their 65-52 loss at Gonzaga on Dec. 6.

3. Kayleigh Valley (20.8/g) and McCalle Feller (17.8/g) do their thing, and one or more of their teammates, who went just 7 for 26 at Bozeman, step up their scoring. Alycia Sims or Hannah Doran or Haley Vining could each be the X factor.

Three ways Montana State might win:

1. If the Bobcats, the Big Sky Conference’s top defensive team (.352 field goal percentage defense), repeat what they did in Bozeman and hold Montana below 35 percent. The Lady Griz, who made a season-low 13 field goals at Bozeman, are 0-5 this season when shooting 35 percent or worse.

2. If Montana plays without McCalle Feller (ankle) for the fourth straight game. The Lady Griz have gone 3-0 without their second-leading scorer, but those wins came against Portland State, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, the bottom three teams in the Big Sky standings. Montana State has more Big Sky wins (12) than those three teams have combined to win all season (11).

3. If the league’s most balanced offense gets clicking. Montana State is shooting 45.0 percent for the season, the best mark in the league (For perspective: The last Montana team to shoot 45 percent was the 1997-98 Lady Griz) and has plenty of weapons an opponent has to account for. Jasmine Hommes, likely Big Sky MVP; Riley Nordgaard, likely Big Sky Newcomer of the Year; Peyton Ferris, likely Big Sky Top Reserve. And there is point guard Hannah Caudill, who does not even start but leads the Big Sky in assists.

Other Montana State notes: Does anyone else wonder how things might be different today had Montana State dropped to 1-1 on Jan. 2 with a home loss to Northern Arizona? The Lumberjacks led by 17 points early in the fourth quarter at Bozeman and by 15 with 3:15 left before the Bobcats rallied, winning 86-77 in overtime. NAU was 5 for 12 from the line over the final two-plus minutes of regulation. … MSU’s five losses this season: To 21-5 San Diego, at 11-13 Cal Poly, at 17-9 Gonzaga, at 12-11 Wyoming and at 17-8 Eastern Washington. Pretty solid body of work. … Montana State’s next win will be No. 20 of the season. It will be the first time the Bobcats have reached that standard under 11th-year coach Tricia Binford and the first time for the program since it went 21-9 in 2002-03. … In the latest ESPN.com Bracketology, Charlie Creme has Montana State representing the Big Sky as a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament and playing at No. 2 Oregon State. It’s not like having to play at Notre Dame, which Montana had to do last year, but it’s still pretty daunting. … Montana State is 8-4 away from Bozeman this year and 5-1 in Big Sky road games. … Wondering when the last time Montana State finished ahead of Montana in the Big Sky standings? You don’t have to go back very far. The Bobcats edged out the Lady Griz by a game in both 2010-11 and 2011-12. But it’s only happened five times in the Big Sky era, which started in 1988-89.

Valley does it again: Montana junior Kayleigh Valley was named the Big Sky Player of the Week for the third time this season on Tuesday. It was the fourth time in her career she’s been honored.

Valley averaged 28 points on 61.1 percent shooting last week as Montana swept Southern Utah and Northern Arizona on the road. She had 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting in Montana’s 81-50 win at SUU and 26 on 10-of-19 shooting in its 61-57 win at NAU.

Bonus Kayleigh Valley notes: Valley leads the Big Sky in scoring (20.8/g) and ranks second in field goal (.528) and free throw (.827) percentages and ninth in rebounding (7.2/g). She would be the frontrunner for Big Sky MVP if Montana was higher up in the standings. … Valley reached 1,000 career points in Thursday’s win at Southern Utah to become the 32nd player in program history to reach that milestone. If she scores similarly the rest of this season and does the same next year, she has a chance to end up as one of the top three scorers in program history, joining Shannon Cate and Mandy Morales. Pretty sweet company to be in. … Should Valley end up averaging 20 or more points this season, she would become just the third player in program history to do so. Shannon Cate did it three times, Jeanne McNulty once. … Valley is averaging 19.2 points on 50.5 percent shooting in 13 home games this season. Away from home? Try 22.7 points on 55.3 percent shooting. … Valley’s 499 points this season are already tied for the eighth most in program history, with at least six more games to be played.

Montana notes: The Lady Griz will host Idaho State and Weber State next week, then play at North Dakota and Northern Colorado the first week of March to conclude the regular season. … With the Big Sky tournament opening in Reno on Monday, March 7, league games the week before are being played on Wednesday and Friday. … Montana has held the lead for 28-plus minutes in each of its last six games. … The Lady Griz lead the Big Sky in just one statistical category: turnovers (12.7/g). They rank 14th in the nation. … Montana is 11-2 at home this season, with losses to Seattle in the season opener and last month to North Dakota. … Montana averaged 1.26 points per possession in Thursday’s win at Southern Utah, the team’s third-best average this season. That dropped off to 0.89 at NAU, the team’s second-lowest in 13 Big Sky games. … Saturday’s win over the Lumberjacks was the first for the Lady Griz this season when getting outrebounded. It was also Montana’s first win this season in a game decided by five points or fewer. … Hannah Doran has averaged 12.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.0 steals in her three starts in place of McCalle Feller. She played 77 of 80 minutes on last week’s road trip. … Haley Vining still leads the Big Sky in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4), even after an uncharacteristic eight-assist, seven-turnover road trip. She ranks 18th in the nation. … Rachel Staudacher‘s three steals at Southern Utah, part of Montana’s season-high 12, were a career high. … On Montana’s four-game winning streak, Alycia Sims is averaging 17 points on 60 percent shooting. … Kayleigh Valley has scored 15 or more points in 19 straight games. … Montana’s last three games: 61 assists, 30 turnovers.

Thursday in the Big Sky: NAU at ISU, SUU at WSU, SAC at EWU, PSU at UI

Thursday breakdown: Expect all four home teams to win, though Sacramento State is always the wildcard. Eastern Washington won 100-83 when the teams met at The Nest.

Saturday in the Big Sky: MSU at UM, UND at UNC, SUU at ISU, NAU at WSU, PSU at EWU, SAC at UI

Saturday breakdown: Montana fans should be cheering for Northern Colorado to knock off North Dakota. … Eastern Washington gets a rematch against the team that handed the Eagles one of their two league losses. … Sacramento State ranks first in the nation in 3-pointers (12.3/g), Idaho ranks fourth (10.3/g). There were just 12 makes between them, however, when the Vandals won 98-88 at Sacramento last month.