Lady Griz open WNIT tonight

The Montana women’s basketball team will host Washington State Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena in an opening-round game of the 64-team Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Coverage: Video streaming will be available through the All-Access page at GoGriz.com.

How they got here: Montana (22-10) earned an at-large bid out of the Big Sky Conference. Washington State (17-16) received an at-large bid out of the Pac-12 Conference.

“First of all, playing in the WNIT is an honor, because not everybody is playing at this time of year,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, who has taken 20 teams to the NCAA tournament. “You have to have had a good year to be in it.

“Second, that we’re at home is a tribute to our program and the support we have. The reason we’re playing this game at home is because we draw, so it’s really a thank you to the people who support us.”

Up next: The winner of Wednesday’s game will advance to the WNIT round of 32 and face the winner of the San Diego-Cal Poly game, which will be played Thursday at San Diego. Round-of-32 games will be played on campus sites in the March 22-25 window.

Tournament bona fides: Montana is playing in its 26th national tournament. The Lady Griz played in the 1982 AIAW tournament (the precursor to the NCAA women’s tournament), have advanced to 20 NCAA tournaments and Wednesday will be playing in their fifth WNIT.

Montana has a 1-7 record in WNIT games. The Lady Griz went 1-5 at the 1985 and 1987 WNITs, when the tournament had a multiple-game format and played games at Amarillo, Texas. Montana lost at Wyoming in 2003 and fell at Utah in 2007. Wednesday is Montana’s first WNIT home game.

Washington State is playing in its first WNIT and second national tournament. The Cougars made the 1991 NCAA tournament as an at-large selection.

A coaching rivalry renewed: Wednesday will be the 19th meeting between Montana coach Robin Selvig and Washington State coach June Daugherty. Selvig has a 14-4 record against Daugherty-coached teams.

Daugherty got her head-coaching start at Boise State and built a strong program in the 1990s. In seven seasons at BSU, Daugherty led the Broncos to six top-three finishes in the Big Sky Conference.

Boise State won the outright Big Sky title in 1992 and shared the regular-season championship with Montana in 1994. That was the season both the Lady Griz and Broncos had top-25 rankings and both made the NCAA tournament, Montana as an automatic, Boise State as an at-large.

Daugherty left for Washington following the 1995-96 season and spent 11 years coaching the Huskies. She has spent the last seven years at Washington State.

New look for the Lady Griz: Through its first 32 games this season, Montana started the same lineup. That will change Wednesday after senior point guard Torry Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury in Saturday’s Big Sky Conference tournament championship game at North Dakota.

At tip-off Wednesday, expect redshirt junior Kellie Cole to be at the point, with sophomore McCalle Feller making her first career start at the two.

Adding to the injury discussion, redshirt sophomore Haley Vining, Hill’s backup at the point all season, is also done for the season with her own knee injury.

“It’s not how you would draw it up, because having a senior point guard was one of our strengths, but we have different ways of doing things, which is what we’ll have to do Wednesday,” Selvig said.

“It will open up time for other kids. The reason some kids aren’t playing very much isn’t that they aren’t very good, it’s that they had people ahead of them. Now it’s somebody else’s chance to step up.

“We’ve used those lineups at different times this season, just not for extended periods of time.”

With Hill out of the lineup, will Washington State employ more pressure than usual on Montana’s ball-handlers? Selvig doesn’t think so.

“I’m going to assume that they’ll do what they do well,” he said. “You play to your strengths at this time of year.”

Hill’s injury came at a time when she was playing the best basketball of her career. She scored 60 points in three games at the Big Sky tournament and was the best player on the court in the championship game against North Dakota.

More on Montana: The Lady Griz went 14-6 in Big Sky Conference play to finish a game behind co-champions North Dakota and Southern Utah.

At last week’s Big Sky tournament at Grand Forks, N.D., No. 3 Montana defeated No. 6 Montana State 75-66 and No. 2 Southern Utah 73-69 to reach the championship game, where Montana fell to No. 1 North Dakota 72-55.

More on Washington State: The Cougars finished seventh in the Pac-12 this season at 9-9. The six teams finishing ahead of WSU all made national tournaments, including five that made the NCAAs.

Washington State won a pair of games at the Pac-12 tournament, 107-100 over Oregon, which made the WNIT, and 91-83 over California, which made the NCAAs. The Cougars fell in the tournament semifinals, 70-60 to Oregon State, which is NCAA-bound.

Strength in numbers: Not impressed by Washington State’s 17-16 record? You should be, because it came while playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules. The Cougars’ 2013-14 slate ranks No. 12 on the NCAA’s list of hardest schedules. Montana’s ranks No. 257.

WSU had four wins over teams then ranked in the top 25. The Cougars won at Nebraska, defeated Arizona State and Colorado at home and beat California on a neutral floor at the Pac-12 tournament.

Speaking of rankings: Washington State’s latest RPI is 56. Montana’s is 101.

Who to watch for: Washington State will have the best backcourt Montana has faced this season, and it goes three guards deep. Junior Tia Presley averages 19.3 points, sophomore Lia Galdeira averages 18.4 points, and sophomore Dawnyelle Awa averages 3.4 assists.

Shalie Dheensaw, a 6-4 forward/center, averages 6.6 rebounds per game.

“They are a guard-oriented team. Their guards are athletic, good off the dribble and good scorers, but it’s not like their insides kids are bad,” Selvig said.

History: Montana leads the all-time series 22-8 (based on UM’s records that go back to 1974-75). The Lady Griz have won 21 of the last 22 meetings and are 12-4 against the Cougars at Missoula. The last WSU win at Missoula came in 1978-79, which was coach Robin Selvig’s first year coaching the Lady Griz.

Home cooking: Montana has won 10 straight games at Dahlberg Arena and finished the regular season with a 14-1 mark at home. The only loss came 61-52 against Temple back on Dec. 14.

Another 20-win season: When the Lady Griz defeated Northern Arizona on March 8, it gave Montana its 29th 20-win season under 36th-year coach Robin Selvig.

Also dancing: North Dakota earned the Big Sky Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will face Texas A&M Sunday at College Station, Texas. Southern Utah received the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the WNIT. The Thunderbirds will play at Colorado State Thursday.

The Pac-12 was loaded with tournament teams. Stanford, California, Oregon State, Arizona State and USC all made the NCAA tournament. Washington, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon made the WNIT.

Montana Notes

* Torry Hill and Kellie Cole were both named to the Big Sky Conference All-Tournament team. Hill averaged 20 points on 52.8 percent shooting and 4.3 assists in three games. Cole averaged 12.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists. She had 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals against Montana State.

* Hill finishes her career with 1,060 points, which ranks No. 27 on the UM scoring list. She also ranks fourth in 3-point field goals (202) and seventh in assists (436) and steals (199).

* Hill’s 71 3-pointers this season came up one shy of Sonya Rogers’ program record of 72 from 2007-08. Her 76 steals rank No. 5 on the single-season list.

* Wednesday will be Jordan Sullivan’s 128th career game. The previous program record for career games was 125, set by Sarah Ena (2007-11).

* Carly Selvig’s 88 blocks match Hollie Tyler’s single-season record from 2004-05.

* Montana has hit 224 3-pointers this season. The previous single-season record was 201, set by the 2007-08 team.

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