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WOMEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Celebration of Native American connection to Montana Lady Griz to be held this week

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Keeli Burton-Oliver in Lady Griz turquoise uniform

Montana forward Keeli Burton-Oliver models the special turquoise uniform the team will wear for Saturday's home game.

MISSOULA — In celebration of Montana's long and layered history with Native American peoples, the Lady Griz women's basketball program will hold special events this weekend.

It's all part of an important two-game homestand that tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. when Montana hosts Big Sky Conference leader Sacramento State. The Hornets boast an impressive 6-1 mark in league play while UM is at 4-4 and hungry to end a two-game skid.

The Lady Griz will then host Portland State on Saturday at 2 p.m. in their inaugural N7 game. The N7 program is a Nike initiative, led by Sioux and Assiniboine tribal member Sam McCracken of Fort Peck, centering around Nike's commitment to inspire and enable two million Native American and Aboriginal youth in North America to participate in sport and physical activity.

Montana will wear custom uniforms with the primary color of turquoise, which symbolizes friendship and fellowship in Native American cultures. The Lady Griz will also wear a logo designed by UM alum Benji Headswift, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

In between the two games, there will be a free screening of the documentary, “The House That Rob Built,” at Dahlberg Arena on Friday at 7 p.m. Directed by former Lady Griz player Megan Harrington, the film tells the story of Montana's legendary former women's basketball coach Robin Selvig. It also dives into the history of Native American basketball in the state of Montana.

At least five former Lady Griz players who are Native American will be on hand for the special weekend and will be recognized, along with Selvig, during the N7 game on Saturday. The list includes Malia Kipp (Blackfeet), Tamara Guardipee (Blackfeet), Simarron Schildt (Blackfeet), LeAnn Montes (Chippewa Cree) and Corrie Villegas McDonald (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes).

January has been a roller-coaster ride for the Lady Griz. The ride actually started on New Year's eve when the team lost at Idaho. That started a two-game skid, which was followed by a three-game win streak, which was followed by two home losses last week.

Last week was especially hard for Montana's top scorers and senior leaders Carmen Gfeller and Sammy Fatkin. Both average about 13 points per game but were held to 20 points combined in losses to Eastern Washington and Montana State. 

"You can't have performances like that from your three seniors and expect to win a big game," said Montana coach Brian Holsinger, including reserve Katerina Tsineke along with Gfeller and Fatkin.

"Give credit to (Montana) State," he added, referring to Saturday's 72-63 loss. "For whatever reason our three seniors didn't play right. That's being aggressive and having the right mindset. I didn't feel like they did that."

Montana will need to improve on the defensive end to turn things around. The Lady Griz rank ninth out of 10 teams in the Big Sky, allowing an average of 72 points per game in league action.

Sacramento State (15-3 overall) leads the conference defensively, allowing 57 points per game. Portland State (4-3, 9-8) ranks fourth, allowing 60.7 per game.

The Lady Griz will play five of their eight February games on the road, making it crucial to come out with a pair of wins this week.

"We have to figure this out," Holsinger said. "We're too talented to be throwing away games. It's disappointing because we're a lot better than we've played."

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 16 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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