Lady Griz 2015-16 basketball schedule finalized

MISSOULA — With three lost starters, two returning players coming off redshirt seasons and three newcomers joining the team in the fall, next year’s Montana women’s basketball team could use an extended early-season meet-and-greet with its fan base.

The Lady Griz will get the chance thanks to a fan-friendly schedule that was finalized recently by coach Robin Selvig, who will be in his 38th season at his alma mater in 2015-16. Schedule

In addition to a pair of home exhibition games in early November, Montana will play its first four regular-season games at Dahlberg Arena — against Seattle, MSU Northern, Pacific and Portland — all coming in a span of eight days from Nov. 15-22.

It will mark the first time since 2008-09 that Montana will open the season at home against a Division I opponent and the first time since 1999-2000 that the Lady Griz will begin the season with four straight home games.

Montana will play nine of its first 13 regular-season games at home.

“It wasn’t necessarily by design. You’ve got to get games scheduled when you can. But it will be nice to open at home with some games. Fans will be able to get engaged with our team early on,” said Selvig, who will have just two returning starters next season, senior McCalle Feller and junior Kayleigh Valley.

Montana defeated both Seattle and Portland on the road last season and lost 62-50 at Pacific, a team that would go 21-10, advance to the WNIT and ultimately lose its coach. Lynne Roberts turned nine years of increased success with the Tigers into the head job at Utah.

Montana will face just two road trips prior to January. Both are daunting.

The Lady Griz, who went 24-9 last season and advanced to their 21st NCAA tournament, will play in Lehigh’s tournament in Bethlehem, Pa., the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving. The field features four teams that won at least 19 games last season. Three played in national tournaments.

Lehigh, of the Patriot League, went 19-12 last winter. Villanova, of the Big East, finished 22-14 and advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals, and Drexel, of the Colonial Athletic Association, went 20-11 and also played in the WNIT.

It will be the second time in four years Montana will travel to eastern Pennsylvania. The Lady Griz played at Temple, located in Philadelphia, to open the 2012-13 season. Bethlehem sits 60 miles north of Philadelphia.

“It will be good competition in a different part of the country than we’re used to,” said Selvig. “Some of the kids have been there because we played Temple a couple of years ago, but most haven’t, and that’s an interesting part of the country.”

After hosting Cal State Fullerton on Dec. 6, the start of a home-and-home series with the Titans, Montana will face its second road trip, with games at Colorado State and Wyoming on Dec. 10 and 12.

The Rams, who went 23-8 in 2014-15, won the Mountain West Conference regular-season title last season and advanced to the WNIT. Montana will bookend the trip with a game at Wyoming against a team that handed the Lady Griz one of just two home losses last season in 17 games at Dahlberg Arena.

“We only have two (nonconference) road trips, but both are going to be very tough,” said Selvig.

Montana will conclude its nonconference schedule by hosting the 35th Lady Griz Classic Dec. 19-20. The tournament field will be made up of Utah State, Tennessee State and Florida Atlantic.

Utah State, of the Mountain West Conference, went 8-23 last season; Florida Atlantic, of Conference USA, finished 13-17; and Tennessee State, which played in the 2012 Lady Griz Classic, went 18-13 and used a late-season, 10-game winning streak to make its first NCAA tournament since 1995.

The Big Sky Conference schedule begins with a full slate of games on Thursday, Dec. 31, and Saturday, Jan. 2. Montana will open at home against Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The Lady Griz-Lumberjack game on New Year’s Eve will tip off at 4 p.m.

Montana will play at Montana State on Saturday, Jan. 30, and host the Bobcats on Saturday, Feb. 20. Both games will be part of day-night doubleheaders with the Montana-Montana State men’s games.

With the Big Sky Conference in its second year using an unbalanced, 18-game schedule, a number of longstanding home and road series will come to an end.

For the first time since 1978-79, Selvig’s first season at Montana, Eastern Washington won’t be playing at Missoula, and for the first time since 1981-82 Montana won’t be playing games at Idaho State and Weber State.

Montana will face Idaho and Eastern Washington only on the road next season and Idaho State and Weber State only in Missoula.

With the league holding both men’s and women’s tournaments at Reno, Nev., next season, a six-day event that will need to start on Monday, March 7, something had to change with the end of the regular season, which was scheduled to conclude with games on Saturday, March 5.

For Montana, North Dakota and Northern Colorado, it meant moving their season-ending games up a day to cover the possibility of any of the three not finishing in the top four in the final regular-season standings and having to play a first-round tournament game the following Monday.

The Lady Griz will face UND at Grand Forks on Wednesday, March 2, and the Bears at Greeley on Friday, March 4. Montana faced North Dakota in the 2014 Big Sky tournament championship game at Grand Forks and Northern Colorado in the 2015 title game in Missoula.

Montana’s exhibition games, on Nov. 4 and 9, will be against Carroll and Great Falls. The team’s Maroon and Silver scrimmage will be held in late October.

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