Griz Men & Women Advance to Big Sky Title Game - KFBB.com News, Sports and Weather

Griz Men & Women Advance to Big Sky Title Game

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Lady Griz advance to Big Sky championship game

It will be Montana and Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference women's basketball tournament championship game Saturday, and if it's anything like the last meeting between the two teams at Dahlberg Arena, expect something memorable.

The Lady Griz (23-8) advanced to the title game for the 20th time in the 27-year history of the tournament with a 55-51 victory over Eastern Washington Friday afternoon.

The Bears (20-11), the No. 3 seed, will be playing in their second championship game in three seasons after pulling out a thrilling 81-79 overtime victory over No. 2 Sacramento State Friday, UNC's 10th consecutive win.

Information contributed by UM Sports Information

Montana and Northern Colorado met in the championship game at Dahlberg Arena two years ago, a 56-43 Lady Griz victory, and played a game to remember last month on UM's home court.

The Bears rallied back from a 10-point, second-half deficit and won 52-51 on a jumper by D'shara Strange with 2.6 seconds remaining. It remains Montana's only home loss to a Big Sky Conference opponent in its last 28 games.

Strange scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds Friday as Northern Colorado knocked the Hornets out of the tournament.

Her left-handed drive to the basket in the closing seconds of regulation, redolent of her game-winner against Montana, sent the contest into overtime, and the Bears survived missed free throws and a Sac State potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime to hang on.

Eastern Washington attempted to make it two lower-seeded winners on the day in the second semifinal.

The Eagles matched the Lady Griz point for point through the opening 10 minutes of the game, but after a basket in the paint by the Eagles' Marly Anderson made it 14-14, EWU went cold, and the scoring drought put it in a hole from which it never climbed out.

Eastern missed 11 consecutive shots, and behind Kellie Rubel's nine first-half points, Montana built a 29-16 lead.

Melissa Williams' driving lay-in at the buzzer made it 29-18 at the break. It was the Eagles' first basket in more than 10 minutes.

"(Defense) was something we wanted to do really well today," said Rubel. "We haven't been playing our best defense the last couple of games, so that was something we really wanted to focus on."

The lockdown continued into the second half, with the Eagles going more than four minutes without a field goal, but for the second time in two tournament games, Montana was unable to pull away.

The Lady Griz missed nine of their first 12 shots of the second half, and Eastern Washington slowly crept back into the game.

The Eagles cut the lead to 45-40 on an Anderson jumper with 7:40 to play, and Jade Redmon trimmed the lead to 53-49 when she hit one of two free throws with 2:01 still on the clock.

But Eastern, which missed its final three shots, would never make it a one-possession game. Credit Montana's late-game defense, which held the Eagles to a season-low point total.

"That was just a fabulous battle by our ladies today," said UM assistant coach Shannon Schweyen. "We got off to a good start and did a great job defensively. We made it tough for them to get any easy ones.

"The second half was a different story. We seem to like to make it interesting. We had a tough time scoring for a stretch, but the ladies found a way to get it done. We had some great stops on the defensive end late."

It didn't help that Montana was forced out of its normal player rotation because of foul trouble. Maggie Rickman and Kayleigh Valley both picked up three fouls in the first half, and Valley, who fouled out in the second half, was limited to a season-low 15 minutes.

Alycia Sims had eight points and six rebounds off the bench, and Hannah Doran played 19 minutes, her most since January. Her 3-pointer from the left wing with one second on the shot clock to make it 48-40 was one of the plays of the game.

"Hannah came in and gave us some nice minutes, and Alycia came in and sparked us offensively and played some great defense," said Schweyen.

"Our kids are versatile enough that we can move them around a little bit, and they're still comfortable. Even though we lost some depth, we still felt like we could go with some different lineups and be successful."

Valley's minutes were limited, but her impact on the game wasn't. She finished with 12 points. Her seven points in the second half came on three putbacks following offensive rebounds, a hustle play that is immune to whatever cold shooting a team is enduring.

Rubel, who played all 40 minutes, and McCalle Feller also finished with 12 points. Rubel added a game-high five assists.

Lexie Nelson led Eastern Washington with 14 points. Hayley Hodgins, voted first-team All-Big Sky earlier this week, had 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting, with five turnovers.

Montana and Northern Colorado tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday. A win would send the Lady Griz to their 21st NCAA tournament.

"We're just excited to be in the championship," said Schweyen. "Northern Colorado is a great team that's been on a bit of a roll lately. We're going to come out and play our best and try to get it done."

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