Depleted by injuries but determined to extend their season, the Montana Lady Griz dug deep and delivered an historic win on Wednesday night.
Behind the heroics of Jordy Sullivan and Kellie Cole and a big lift off the bench, they posted a 90-78 win over Washington State in the first round of the WNIT.
A frenzied crowd of 2,125 voiced its approval as Montana ended a 13-game skid in WNIT/NCAA play and an 18-game postseason dry spell for the UM men’s and women’s programs combined.
“That was a confetti game,” said Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig, whose squad dominated the boards, 48-38. “I tell you what, they’re really good.
“We just played great. I thought we did a good job defensively. We played hard and it was a great win for us.”
Montana (23-10) advanced to the second round of the WNIT where it will face the winner of Thursday’s San Diego-Cal Poly game. All the Lady Griz know for certain at this point is they will play some time between Saturday and Tuesday and there’s a chance the game will be held at Dahlberg Arena.
Certainly that would be welcome news for Montana after the way it fed off its crowd in moving to 15-1 at Dahlberg.
The Lady Griz entered Wednesday’s game without starting point guard Torry Hill and backup Haley Vining, who suffered knee injuries late in the season. Then less than three minutes into their battle with the Cougars, they lost center Carly Selvig, the Big Sky Conference’s defensive player of the year, with what appeared to be an ACL injury.
Rather than crawl into a shell, UM continued to play with confidence and tenacity. The Lady Griz stormed to a 16-point lead late in the first half and never looked back.
“It could have been easy to get distracted,” said Sullivan, who piled up 21 points and 10 rebounds. “ ... Those younger girls on our team sure stepped up and that’s really our only option. People get thrown into the spot – big minutes against a big team.
“I think it was a great opportunity for them and it was so fun for them to rise to the occasion. It was a great team effort.”
Washington State guard Tia Presley felt Montana’s fast start was critical.
“They came out with the first punch and we never recovered from it,” she said. “They hit shots. We knew they would. For some reason we just never bounced back. Our shots weren’t falling in the first half but our defense wasn’t working, either.”
You had a feeling it might be Montana’s night after Maggie Rickman and Cole hit consecutive threes to start the game. After Selvig’s injury at 17:22, Wazzu (17-17) cut its deficit to 6-2. But the Lady Griz answered with buckets by Sullivan and Alycia Sims.
Washington State replied with a Sage Romberg triple, slicing its deficit to 10-5. Cole answered with consecutive baskets and the Cougars never got that close again.
“We really wanted to redeem ourselves after losing (at the Big Sky Conference tourney) in North Dakota,” said Cole, who finished with a team-high 22 points and nine assists in 40 minutes at point guard.
“We wanted to prove ourselves and show we could beat a Pac-12 team. We just somehow found answers tonight.”
With hot shooting and dominance on the glass, the Lady Griz stretched their lead to 35-19 late in the first half. Montana’s lead was 11 at halftime, thanks to 12 points by Cole and Sullivan’s seven points and six assists.
“I thought we had the tempo our way and of course we were shooting pretty good early in the first half,” said coach Selvig, whose team was 15 for 38 at the break. “Everything was going right.
“Then I don’t know how in the heck ... Carly blows her knee. Good Lord. I mean, she’s a heck of a player ... Jordy played some (center), Alycia Sims did a good job. We had a lineup with Maggie (Rickman). We weren’t that big but they don’t play big so our lack of depth of size didn’t cost us.”
Washington State succeeded in keeping the game interesting in the second half. The Cougs used a 3-pointer by Dawnyelle Awa to pull within 36-28 before Montana’s McCalle Feller answered with one of her own early in the second half.
WSU was back within eight at 17:08. But again Montana responded, this time with a pair of Cole free throws. The theme continued for the duration and because Montana kept attacking, it was able to do draw a lot of fouls. The Lady Griz finished with a 29-16 advantage in points from the charity stripe.
“We had a lead and they were really getting after us,” coach Selvig said. “Well if you play strong when they’re getting after you, you get to the foul line. If you don’t play strong, you get turnovers. We did a pretty nice job of being strong. We only had six turnovers.”
Montana finished at 41.9 percent shooting from the floor (26 for 62). WSU finished at 40 percent (28 for 70).
Afterwards, Cole put the win in perspective.
“It’s really special and it was nice to have it at home,” she said. “I hope we get another bid to play at home for next week. Our fan support is just awesome.”
QUICK SHOTS: Guard Lia Galdeira led Wazzu with 22 points on 7 for 23 shooting ... Rickman and Sims finished second to Sullivan in rebounds with nine apiece ... Cole's nine assists and Kayleigh Valley's 15 points were both career highs for UM ... Montana held a 26-14 edge in bench points.
|WASHINGTON STATE (78)|
|Halftime score: Montana 36, Washington State 25.|
|3-point goals: WS 6-27 (Romberg 2-7, Galdeira 1-10, Presley 1-4, Awa 1-2, Williamson 0-1, Edmonson 1-3). UM 9-20 (Sullivan 2-3, Rickman 1-3, Feller 2-3, ,Cole 2-4, Valley 1-2, Sims 0-1, Doran 1-2, Reinhardt 0-2).|
|Turnovers: WS 3 (three with one), UM 6 (Cole 3).|
|Blocked shots: WS 4 (four with one), UM 2 (Sullivan, Rickman).|
|Steals: WS 5 (Awa 2), UM 1 (Rickman).|
|Officials: Steve Belnap, Rigo Vasquez, Laura Sundheim.|