GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Navigating through North Dakota’s big, strong and long defenders was a real bear for the Montana women’s basketball team on Saturday.
The Lady Griz just couldn’t get much done in the paint and their frustration seemed to carry over to the other end. North Dakota used stifling defense and sizzling shooting to beat Montana, 72-55, in the Big Sky Conference tournament final at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center.
“Not only are they good, they’re all big,” Montana senior Jordy Sullivan said of a UND team that includes two post players who stand roughly 6-foot-5. “They collapse inside of the post and it’s hard to even get a pass against them let alone get a shot off.
“You work for the NCAA tournament, so it’s really hard to swallow this. When you’ve been there twice and know what it’s like, you just want that for your teammates and the younger girls. Just to not get back is tough to swallow, but it was a good run.”
The Lady Griz, who will find out at about 7 p.m. on Monday whether they’ve been invited to the WNIT, were outscored in the paint, 34-18, and out-rebounded, 40-26. Montana coach Robin Selvig knew his team needed to shoot well to win in front of a rowdy crowd of 1,937, and it didn’t happen.
“They played a heck of a game,” Selvig said after watching the hosts shoot 57.1 percent from the floor (28 for 49).
“We pride ourselves in pretty good defense and we had a tough time guarding them. They do what they do well, which is get to the hole. They got too many high-percentage shots and did a nice job defensively. We had a hard time getting good shots.”
The win was historic for UND (22-9). The Green and White will play in the Big Dance for the first time in program history.
“Credit Montana, a very well-coached team that battled,” North Dakota coach Travis Brewster said. “But it’s an exciting experience for these players to get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament and to do it in front of our fans was awesome. It’s a pretty unique honor and takes a special group.”
One positive Montana (22-10) had going for it Saturday was the play of senior point guard Torry Hill. She scored almost half of the Lady Griz points (21), hitting 8 of 14 shots from the floor and 4 of 7 attempts from 3-point range.
But in the end, the day was even tougher for her to take than her teammates. With 7:24 remaining she injured her knee and immediately called for the trainer. The gym went silent and Hill was later carried off the floor by her teammates to a spine-tingling standing ovation.
Selvig said Hill probably tweaked her ACL. Regardless of whether UM plays in the WNIT, Hill’s college career appears over.
“North Dakota played a great game and it was nice of their fans to show respect and stuff,” Hill said afterward. “It makes you feel a little bit better to have the opposing team give you applause like that.”
From the beginning Saturday afternoon it was obvious Montana had its hands full. The Lady Griz, who hit 23 of 62 shots on the day, missed their first six and UND made six of its first seven in building a 13-4 bulge.
Hill’s 11 points helped prevent North Dakota from running away with it early. But UND had a lot to be happy about at intermission with a 35-27 lead and 15-for-25 shooting from the floor.
“Just being able to play in front of our fans was a really big momentum builder for us,” said North Dakota senior Madi Buck, the Big Sky’s MVP. “All of us felt really confident going into this game after the way we played Friday (against Idaho State) and we were fortunate enough to keep rolling with it.”
Hill’s 3-point play with 18:49 remaining cut North Dakota’s lead to 36-30. But the hosts responded with a 5-0 run to go back in front by double digits, 41-30.
Montana’s deficit ballooned to 56-36 with 10:24 left on a bucket by 6-5 Emily Evers. The Lady Griz kept battling though, using a 9-0 run led by Hill’s five points to pull within 12, 60-48, with 6:26 left.
“I looked up at 7:00 and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got them right where we want them.’ That’s exactly where we were last night,” joked Selvig, whose team overcame a 13-point deficit in the final seven minutes of its semifinal win over Southern Utah. “We actually put together a little run, we scored, they turned it over. But then they came, boom, and answered. They hit a three.”
Actually Montana cut its deficit to 63-53 on a Kellie Cole triple at 3:28 before the roof caved in. Siri Burck nailed a 3-pointer for the hosts and it started them on a 9-2 run to finish the game.
“They really don’t have weaknesses,” Selvig marveled. “Earlier in the year they turned it over probably more than they liked, but they aren’t now.
“We didn’t do a good job of forcing them to shoot from the perimeter to start with. They got to the hole way too much. But credit them. It would have taken a heck of a game for us today, two or three hot hands. It didn’t happen.”
Quick shots: Buck led a balanced UND attack with 14 points … UND sophomore forward Mia Loyd scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in being named tourney MVP. She was joined on the all-tourney team by Hill, Cole, Buck, Southern Utah’s Hailey Mandelko and Idaho State’s Lindsey Reed … Sullivan, who grabbed a team-high six rebounds for UM, added to her program record number of game appearances with her 127th … Selvig said his team would look forward to playing another game if it has the chance. Sullivan said she, for one, would like the opportunity.
|NORTH DAKOTA (72)|
|Halftime score: North Dakota 35, Montana 27.|
|3-point goals: UM 7-21 (Hill 4-7, Cole 1-3, Sullivan 0-2, Rickman 1-1, Feller 0-6, Sims 1-1, Reinhardt 0-1). ND 4-11 (Buck 2-5, Knox 0-1, Burck 1-2, Dyer 1-3).|
|Turnovers: UM 11 (Hill 5), ND 15 (Szabla 3, Wall 3, Dyer 3).|
|Blocked shots: UM 2 (Sullivan, Rickman), ND 2 (Wall, Evers).|
|Steals: UM 8 (Hill 3), ND 10 (Szabla 4).|
|Officials: Bob Scofield, Penny Davis, Karen Lasuik.|