It may not be the Big Dance, but it represents a golden opportunity for the Montana women’s basketball team.
The Lady Griz will play Washington State in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night at Dahlberg Arena. The game will start at 7 p.m.
Montana can put an end to a 13-game dry spell in NCAA and WNIT postseason competition dating back to 1995.
“We’re excited to be in it,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, whose team nabbed an at-large berth. “I’m sure the girls would like to play another game.”
The game marks the Cougars’ first trip to a postseason tournament since 1991. Washington State owns a 17-16 overall record – its most wins since 1996 – and went 9-9 in the Pac-12 Conference, reaching the semifinal round of the league tournament.
The Cougars beat four ranked teams during the season, the most by any team in program history. They knocked off No. 10 Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., beat No. 25 Arizona State and No. 21 Colorado in Pullman, Wash., and posted a 75-68 victory over No. 20 California at the Pac-12 tourney.
You might say Wednesday is a peek into the future for the Lady Griz. They lost their point guard and No. 2 scorer, senior Torry Hill, to a knee injury in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference tournament on Saturday at North Dakota.
“We’ve got two injuries at point guard,” noted Selvig, alluding to Hill and her backup, Haley Vining. “But we’ve got Kellie (Cole) and McCalle (Feller).
“We’ll do some different things, which will be a good experience for us. It will be a different look but I have to think that all kinds of experiences help you get better.”
Like most of the teams in the WNIT, Montana enters the event with mixed emotions. The Lady Griz (22-10) were determined to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.
Instead North Dakota is going after a comfortable 72-55 win over Montana. Wednesday gives the Lady Griz a chance to put that experience in the rearview mirror.
“I think it’s a pretty cool honor, I guess,” Cole said of the WNIT bid. “Not all teams get to do that. But it’s still a bummer we had to lose the (Big Sky) championship.
“I think we can learn a lot playing teams we never get to play. It will be interesting with Torry being out and Haley being out. We won’t have our full team dynamic there. I’m not really sure what to expect.”
Cole and her teammates endured a rough weekend in more ways than one. After losing to North Dakota, they hopped on a bus for a grueling all-night ride back to Missoula.
“At least you could fold out the seats into beds,” Cole said. “That made it a lot better.
“But still, I’ve never had to do that, just drive all night and then stay up the next day.”
Washington State will be making its first postseason appearance since earning the program’s first and only trip to the NCAA tournament in 1991 as an at-large selection. The No. 11-seeded Cougars lost at sixth-seeded Northwestern, 82-62.
WSU coach June Daugherty will take her third school to the postseason after leading Boise State to the NCAA tournament in 1994 and Washington to the NCAA tournament six times along with two trips to the WNIT (1999, 2004).
WSU is one of four Pac-12 teams selected to the WNIT field of 64, joined by Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
According to Selvig, no one on the Lady Griz is more excited to be playing again than senior forward Jordy Sullivan. The fact Montana has that opportunity in front of the home folks makes it twice as nice.
“If we get all our fans to come watch I think it would be really awesome,” Cole said. “But also just to stay here and not miss more school, that’s really good because we’re all behind in our classes.”
Quick shots: Selvig used to coach against Daugherty regularly when she guided Boise State from 1989-96 … The Lady Griz hold a 21-9 lead in their series with the Cougars … Montana lost at Utah in the 2007 WNIT and to Wyoming in the 2003 WNIT, but beat DePaul in the 1987 WNIT event, 75-73, in Amarillo, Texas … North Dakota is a 14 seed in the NCAA tournament and will face third-seeded Texas A&M on Sunday on the Aggies’ home floor. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. Mountain time. Texas A&M is ranked No. 15.
Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or email@example.com.