The mathematics behind the idea is simple enough. Never trail in a game, and a team will never lose. Pulling it off is a bit more difficult, however, especially in the crucible of a championship tournament setting.
But that’s what Montana did over two games at the 2013 Big Sky Conference Women’s Basketball Championship, and because of it the Lady Griz are going to their 20th NCAA tournament in the last 31 years.
One day after leading No. 5 Sacramento State wire to wire in Friday’s semifinals, No. 1 Montana (24-7) jumped out to an 11-4 lead on No. 2 Northern Colorado (20-12) and claimed a 56-43 victory in the championship game Saturday afternoon in front of 4,119 fans at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.
Senior Kenzie De Boer, who was named tournament MVP, scored 19 points and led a united defensive effort that limited Northern Colorado’s D’shara Strange, who scored 52 points in UNC’s quarterfinal and semifinal wins, to 12 quiet points, half of which came from the free throw line.
Montana won — and by double figures — despite shooting just 27.3 percent. The Lady Griz led 30-18 at the break, then maintained their lead by going 14 for 15 from the line in the second half, 20 for 21 (.952) for the game.
“It’s hard to believe you’d ever shoot 27 percent and win by double figures, but on the other end of the floor we were just really, really good,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, who has guided the Lady Griz to all 20 of their NCAA tournament appearances.
“We didn’t light it up, for sure, but we just did a great job defensively, and they never really got much going. We were never in danger.”
On Friday Montana built a 10-0 lead on Sacramento State in the semifinals and led by at least 16 points the entire second half.
Like they did in that game, the Lady Griz used early 3-point shots to gain separation on the Bears. Junior Jordan Sullivan, who scored eight points in the opening four minutes Friday, knocked down a three just 13 seconds in, and Montana had a lead it would never give back.
A three from Anaconda junior Torry Hill and another from De Boer 30 seconds later gave the Lady Griz an 11-4 lead.
“We came out on fire again and were able to build a lead,” Selvig said.
Northern Colorado, which split with Montana during the regular season, was down but hardly rattled, and the Bears steadily quieted the crowd and got back into the game, pulling within 18-14 after a Strange free throw and Kim Lockridge basket.
That’s when Montana authored what would be the game’s decisive run. De Boer and fellow senior Katie Baker, who joined De Boer on the all-tournament team, scored UM’s next eight points as part of a 10-2 run that gave the Lady Griz their largest lead of the half, 28-16.
The teams traded late baskets, and Montana took a 30-18 lead to the locker room.
Needing a strong start to the second half to get back into the game, Northern Colorado continued to be stymied by Montana’s defense. The Bears were 0 for 3 with five turnovers the opening five minutes of the second half, and that allowed the Lady Griz to build a 36-18 lead.
Northern Colorado put together a 10-2 run of its own to trim the lead to 10, 38-28, midway through the half, but the MVP did just what players do to earn that designation: De Boer hit back-to-back threes to push the lead back to 16, and the countdown to a championship was on.
De Boer’s second of those 3-pointers, at the 9:35 mark, would be Montana’s final basket of the game as the Lady Griz scored their final 12 points from the line.
With Northern Colorado using an extended half-court zone defense for much of the second half to try to up the tempo and find some easy transition baskets off turnovers, Montana never cracked.
The Lady Griz made just five second-half baskets, but they also had just six turnovers and used patience and nine offensive rebounds to extend their possessions. Despite UNC’s plan to create more possessions, the teams combined to take 18 fewer shots in the second half than they did in the first.
“They went to that zone, and we weren’t able to make any shots, but we were able to take time,” Selvig said. “We got good shots, we just missed them.
“We were taking care of it, so they couldn’t score quickly off turnovers. That forced them to put us on the foul line, and we made all of them.”
Sullivan, with 10 points, joined De Boer in double figures. Sophomore Maggie Rickman came off the bench to contribute 6 points and 8 boards. Baker finished with 8 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
Victoria Timm had 10 points for Northern Colorado, which shot 31.9 percent.
Next up for Montana? Selection Monday, then an NCAA tournament game next weekend, likely in Spokane, Wash.
“The team believed all the time that this is what they were going to do,” Selvig said, “and they did it.”
Note: Joining De Boer and Baker on the all-tournament team were Strange and Lauren Oosdyke of Northern Colorado, Eastern Washington’s Carrie Ojeda and Sac State’s Alle Moreno.
— UM Sports Information