FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Montana, which hadn’t played a game in more than two weeks, jumped out to a 45-19 halftime lead and shot 56.1 percent on its way to an easy 87-67 victory at Northern Arizona Thursday night in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
Redshirt junior Kellie Cole was a perfect 5 for 5 from 3-point range and scored a career-high 25 points, and senior Torry Hill dished out a career-high 14 assists to come within one of the Lady Griz record.
Montana (7-3, 1-0 BSC), which had its best shooting night since the 2008-09 season, led 85-45 with just over four minutes to play before the Lumberjacks (3-7, 0-1 BSC) closed the game on a 22-2 run to make the final margin closer than it had been since the closing minutes of the first half.
Montana had eight of its season-high 22 turnovers in the final four minutes as coach Robin Selvig, who only had 10 healthy players to choose from, tried to get his starters some rest before Saturday’s game at Sacramento State.
“I thought we did a really good job tonight,” Selvig said. “Other than it getting sloppy the last four minutes, we played well. We passed it well, we shot it well, and we did a nice job defensively.”
Montana’s Jekyll-and-Hyde offense was absolutely Jekyll Thursday. The Lady Griz shot 19 for 34 (.559) in the first half and kept it up in the second half, going 18 for 32 (.563) to finish at 56.1 percent, the team’s best shooting night since going 40 for 64 (.625) in a 95-75 win over Montana State in 2008-09.
Hot shooting plus some salty defense allowed the Lady Griz to race out to a 32-6 lead, and the outcome was never in doubt the final 30 minutes of the game.
Cole, whose previous career high was 17, which she scored earlier this season in a loss to North Dakota State, had 15 by the half, and Hill had eight assists on Montana’s 19 first-half baskets.
And the shooting was contagious. Montana’s first-half subs, sophomore McCalle Feller and freshmen Alycia Sims and Kayleigh Valley, didn’t miss a shot in the opening half, going a perfect 5 for 5.
“We had some good runs and did a nice job on the defensive end to be up 45-19 at the half,” Selvig said. “To get away from them like that was pretty good and a nice way to start our league schedule.”
With Hill dishing and everybody else converting at a high percentage, the Lady Griz went up 85-45 on a lay-in by senior Jordan Sullivan with 4:38 to play.
From that point, turnovers and sketchy defense allowed Northern Arizona to finish strong and take some momentum into its game Saturday against Montana State. Montana had eight turnovers and just one shot attempt in the final 4:06.
Hurting Montana’s ability to rest its starters and still cleanly finish out the game was the absence of redshirt sophomore guards Haley Vining and Hannah Doran, both of whom have minor knee injuries, and redshirt freshman guard DJ Reinhardt, who is out with a concussion.
The margin allowed Selvig to get second-half playing time for redshirt freshmen Molly Klinker and Rachel Staudacher. Both are forwards, which left Montana with a ragtag lineup to face Northern Arizona’s late-game pressure.
“We had some kids out of position late, and it didn’t feel good to be that ragged,” Selvig said. “But we had a lead, so I was able to rest some kids and get some other players some more experience. I just wish we could have been a little more solid at the end.”
But the final four minutes did little to overshadow the fantastic opening 36, when Montana was both getting and making open shots and mostly keeping the Lumberjacks in check.
Junior Maggie Rickman, who went 7 for 8 from the field, scored a career-high 14 points, Sullivan had 13, and Hill, who came up one assist shy of the program record held by Brooklynn Lorenzen and Kelly Pilcher, added 10. Freshman Kayleigh Valley had 8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks off the bench.
Sullivan, Cole and redshirt junior Carly Selvig all grabbed a team-high seven rebounds as Montana finished with a 43-31 advantage on the boards.
Amanda Frost led Northern Arizona, which shot 53.1 percent in the second half to finish at 37.9 percent for the game, with 24 points.
The win sets up a delightful early-season match-up Saturday between Montana and Sacramento State (9-1, 1-0 BSC), which defeated Montana State (5-5, 0-1 BSC) Thursday night 107-95 for its seventh-straight victory.
The Hornets, who have not been held below 80 points in 10 games this season, host the Lady Griz Saturday at 3 p.m. (MT) at Sacramento.
In other Big Sky games Thursday, North Dakota (7-4, 2-0 BSC) won at home over Southern Utah (7-4, 1-1 BSC) 71-68, Eastern Washington (5-6, 1-1 BSC) won at home over Weber State (4-6, 0-1 BSC), and Idaho State (3-7, 1-0 BSC) won at Portland State (3-8, 1-1 BSC) 76-64.
Northern Colorado (6-5, 0-2 BSC), which plays at North Dakota Saturday afternoon, opened its road trip with a 74-70 nonconference win at North Dakota State.
— Montana Sports Information