Hornets shoot past Lady Griz

MISSOULA — Sacramento State got the tempo it wanted in Saturday afternoon’s 91-81 victory over Montana at Sacramento, Calif., and maybe more important got a statement win over the defending Big Sky Conference champions that further stamps the once-beaten Hornets as the league’s top team.

UM-SAC stats

Sacramento State (10-1, 2-0 BSC) hit 15 3-pointers and held the Lady Griz (7-4, 1-1 BSC) to a pair of baskets over an 11-minute stretch of the second half to pull away for its eighth-straight win and remain one of just two teams — along with North Dakota (8-4, 3-0 BSC) — without a league loss.

Montana trailed 55-52 at the half and was still matching Sac State offensively through the first six minutes of the second half until UM’s lengthy dry spell allowed the Hornets to pull away.

“The difference was we had a stretch in the second half where we didn’t get shots,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “We’d been passing, catching and shooting it well before that.”

Montana also had nine of its 20 turnovers in the final 11 minutes as Sac State’s tempo wore down the Lady Griz, who were getting their first shot at facing a team that only Oregon State has managed to defeat this season.

“The key to beating these guys is 40 minutes of mental toughness,” Selvig said. “We tried to keep kids fresh, but we did have people get tired, and fatigue causes those types of plays that lead to turnovers.

“You can’t mimic this type of game in practice. They are tough to guard and a good basketball team.”

Under first-year coach Bunky Harkleroad, the Hornets play a high-risk, high-reward style that is unique in the staid Big Sky Conference, and both sides of the risk-reward equation were on display in a high-scoring first half that ended with the Hornets leading 55-52.

Sac State, which entered the game leading the nation at 14.4 3-pointers per game, hit 10 first-half threes, but after five turnovers in the opening four minutes Montana settled down and got easy looks at the other end nearly every time the Lady Griz broke the Hornets’ relentless full-court press.

Montana opened the game 12 for 15 and finished the half shooting 57.5 percent, but even that wasn’t enough to outscore the Hornets, who at one point knocked down three 3-pointers in a span of 50 seconds.

“We were hot to start with. If you handle their pressure, you’re going to get good shots, and we were making all of them,” Selvig said. “But they shot it really well from 3-point range.”

The most frustrating thing for Montana Saturday: The Lady Griz sharpened up their defense in the second half, but their limited offense didn’t allow them to capitalize. Sacramento State outscored Montana 36-29 in the second half.

The Lady Griz grabbed a pair of one-point leads early in the second half, but after senior Jordan Sullivan hit a 3-pointer at the 14:22 mark to bring Montana within one at 69-68, they started missing shots and turning it over.

At the other end, Sac State slowly built its lead and went up 85-74 with just over four minutes to play on a lay-up by Alle Moreno. The lead remained at nine or above the rest of the game.

“We did a better job defensively in the second half, but we quit scoring,” Selvig said. “We shoot 57 percent in the first half, and if we shoot 50 percent in the second half, we probably get them.”

Despite scoring 81 points, Montana, which shot 51.5 percent for the game, had just two players reach double figures in scoring.

Sullivan scored a career-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting and added 10 rebounds for her third career double-double. Redshirt junior Kellie Cole, who scored a career-high 25 points in Thursday’s 87-67 victory at Northern Arizona, scored 21.

Junior Maggie Rickman grabbed nine rebounds and dished out five assists, both career highs, and freshman Alycia Sims scored eight points and blocked two shots off the bench.

It wasn’t just the Hornets’ scoring from the 3-point line that hurt Montana. Sac State’s spread offense allows for frequent drives to the basket, and when they weren’t kicking it out for threes, they were drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line.

Sac State went 16 for 21 from the line while Montana was going 4 for 9.

“They got to the foul line too much, but they create that off the dribble,” Selvig said.

Hallie Gennett went 5 for 10 from 3-point range to lead Sacramento State with 17 points.

Next week Montana will host a pair of teams that improved to 2-1 in Big Sky play with home wins Saturday afternoon.

The Lady Griz will host Eastern Washington (6-6, 2-1 BSC), a 67-55 winner over Idaho State, on Thursday and Portland State (4-8, 2-1 BSC), a 66-60 winner over Weber State, next Saturday.

— Montana Sports Information

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