Hurricane Mandy enveloped Miami on Friday night.
Montana guard Mandy Morales, buoyed by a record 18-of-21 free-throw performance, scored 27 points to lead the Lady Griz past the Hurricanes 83-74 in a rousing nonconference basketball game at Dahlberg Arena.
The visitors from Florida trimmed an 18-point second-half deficit to three, but Morales and former Billings West teammate Dana Conway made big shots, and the Lady Griz (6-2) buried 15-of-16 free throws in the final 4fi minutes to secure their third straight victory.
In her first start - and only her third collegiate game - Morales twice erased All-American Shannon Cate from the Lady Griz record book while wowing a crowd of 3,454.
n Morales' 18 free throws broke the single-game UM record of 14, set by Cate in 1991 and 1992, and tied the Big Sky Conference mark, set by former Missoula Hellgate star Molly Hays for Idaho State last February.
n Her 21 free-throw attempts broke the Lady Griz mark of 17, shared by Ann Lake (1993) and Skyla Sisco (1998).
n Her 27 points were the most ever for a Lady Griz freshman, surpassing the 23 scored by Cate in 1990 and Brooklynn Lorenzen in 2001.
“Hey, it was just one of those nights," said Morales, who led West to a pair of state Class AA titles, then redshirted last season after transferring from Arizona State. “I loved it. The openings were there to take it to the basket, and I knew I had to power it up. If I kept driving, they had to foul me sometimes."
Montana continued its icy shooting from the field, making just 37 percent overall and 4-of-17 beyond the 3-point arc. But the Lady Griz fought Miami to a standoff on the boards, and finished 37-of-45 from the foul line.
Conway (13) and fellow sophomore Johanna Closson (16) also scored in double figures, as did senior forward Jody McLeod (10).
The 5-foot-9 Morales came close to a double-double, picking off nine rebounds to go with six assists and four steals.
“We saw it on film," said Coach Katie Meier after her Hurricanes dropped to 7-2. “She's good, really good. She knows how to generate free-throw opportunities, and that's a nice knack to have."
UM's matchup zone helped limit Atlantic Coast Conference scoring leader Tamara James to just 13 points, nine less than her season average. The Hurricanes' second-half rally was led by 5-2 point guard Renee Taylor, who converted several acrobatic drives en route to 18 points.
Closson, who was 9-of-10 from the line, hit two free throws after Miami closed within 62-59 with 5:18 remaining. Miami kept digging, but Morales buried a pull-up jumper, then fed Conway for a confident 3-pointer from the corner that made it 70-63 with 3:07 left.
“That was a huge shot, and I told Dana so as we were going back down the court," Morales said.
Miami never came closer than six the rest of the way, and was hit with a technical foul in the final seconds for taking too long to make a substitution.
Meier also picked up a technical late in the first half, setting up UM for a key five-point possession. Closson cashed both free throws awarded for the technical, then drilled a 3-pointer to put UM ahead 44-31 at intermission. That was part of 14-0 burst that crested at 49-31 early in the second half.
“This was our first road game of the season, and it was a great experience for our kids," Meier said. “We knew this would be a really tough place to play, and it lived up to that reputation. I thought our kids showed a lot of character."
Montana coach Robin Selvig could smile when it was over, even on a night when senior Katie Edwards - his season scoring leader - went just 1-of-10 from the field for four points.
“I'm excited," he said. “That's a good transition team, very fast, very quick. It seemed like we missed more good shots tonight than we have been, but we competed hard."
Despite their quickness, the Hurricanes couldn't stop Morales from slicing to the hoop.
“We aren't clinicing people with the things we're doing, but against pressure, Mandy's still able to make plays," he said. “She can break people down."
NOTES: Junior center Sara Gale matched her career high with nine rebounds. … Freshman center Tamara Guardipee had a career-high three steals. … Morales missed Montana's first five games after undergoing surgery to remove a cist from her knee. She's scored 3, 18 and 27 points since returning to the lineup last weekend. … Morales' 21 free-throw attempts were the second most in Big Sky history. Cindy Holcomb of Weber State attempted 22 against the Lady Griz in 1990. … The Lady Griz travel to Gonzaga on Sunday, then return home to host Idaho on Tuesday, their final game before the Christmas break. … Montana has shot better than 40 percent from the field just once in its past six games, yet won four of them. … Reserve guard Laura Cote returned to action Friday, going scoreless in eight minutes. She missed the win over Santa Clara on Tuesday because of illness.