That's a wrap: Lady Griz final news and notes
Robin Selvig will be in his 35th season next winter

Robin Selvig will be in his 35th season next winter

March 14, 2012

The Montana women's basketball team ended its season last Thursday with a 68-59 loss to Montana State in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament. The Lady Griz ended their season 16-14 and finished fifth in the Big Sky at 9-7.

News and notes to take into the off-season:

* If you thought this year in the Big Sky Conference was unpredictable and exciting -- the No. 5 pick in the preseason coaches' poll (Idaho State) won the regular season and the near-unanimous top pick (Portland State) did not make the six-team postseason tournament -- wait until next winter. The nine league teams lose a total of 10 starters, with no team losing more than two.

Eastern Washington, with the losses of MVP Brianne Ryan and second-team All-Big Sky selection Chene Cooper, will take the hardest personnel hit. Weber State also loses two starters from a team that ended the season on a 19-game losing streak.

Idaho State loses first-team selection Chelsea Pickering, Northern Colorado loses Kaisha Brown, Montana State loses first-team selection Katie Bussey, Sacramento State loses Emily Christensen, Portland State loses second-team selection Eryn Jones and Northern Arizona loses Caty Huntington.

Montana goes into the offseason the envy of the league: All five starters from a team that was thisclose to having a really good season instead of just a good season will be back. How experienced will the Lady Griz be? They'll return 98.8 percent of their scoring from 2011-12 and 99.1 percent of their rebounding.

"It feels good (to be in this position) because they are a fun group," Robin Selvig, who be going into his 35th season next October, said.

"The nice thing about these ladies is they're motivated to spend time getting better for next year. If you have players motivated for next year, which we do, we'll have great leadership.

"It will be interesting to see what we can do next year."

* An early stab at the 2012-13 rankings:

 

 

1. Northern Colorado (D'shara Strange should be the preseason MVP)
2. Idaho State (learned how to win this season, have nearly everyone back)
3. Montana (Katie Baker should make a strong case for MVP)
4. Montana State (frontcourt of Semansky, Banis and Albert will be back)
5. Sacramento State (Hornets should stay in the tournament mix)
6. Portland State (Jones, the 2010-11 Big Sky MVP, will be tough to replace)
7. Eastern Washington (potential Chene Cooper replacement: Lexie Nelson)
8. Northern Arizona (tough to move up standings with no one moving down)
9. Weber State (year two of Bethann Ord era starts with a 19-game losing streak)

* What kept Montana from winning the league this season? Shooting. The team was good enough defensively (58.5 points per game allowed on 36.3 percent shooting), outrebounded its opponents and almost had a 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but tight games are almost always going to turn into loses when you shoot 36.8 percent for the season.

Montana went 3-12 in games when it did not shoot 35 percent.

The season's percentage of 36.8 was the lowest shooting percentage of any of coach Robin Selvig's 34 teams. The second-lowest percentage was .378, and that was last season's team, which had a lot of the same players as this year's team.

With five starters and the top four reserves back next winter, it will be interesting to see how the team's shooting percentage improves. If it gets up to 40 percent, look out. (And 40 shouldn't be a stretch. Only eight of Selvig's 34 teams have not shot 40 percent.)

And it wasn't like Montana was the only team in the Big Sky not able to hang its hat on its offensive performance. Northern Colorado was the Big Sky leader in shooting percentage at .415. That was the second-lowest leading percentage in league history.

Idaho State went 14-2 in league this season while shooting 37.9 percent in conference games.

"We have not been a great shooting team, but we have been good in other areas," Selvig said. "If you look at the league, there are not any 45-percent shooting teams.

"We had our opportunities to win more games, but we didn't get it done. Idaho State won it because they did. They were the best team, but only by the slightest of margins."

* If you quit paying attention to the Big Sky tournament after Montana's loss to Montana State last Thursday, No. 1 Idaho State beat No. 6 Sacramento State 70-57 and No. 2 Northern Colorado topped No. 4 Montana State 51-43 in the semifinals, which set up only the second 1 vs. 2 title game from the last six tournaments.

In the title game, Idaho State got out to a 21-10 first-half lead. Northern Colorado cut it 22-21 by the break and led 40-35 with six minutes to go. The Bengals fought back and took a 45-43 lead on an Ashleigh Vella basket with 2:00 to play.

D'shara Strange missed the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds left when two made free throws could have tied it. Chelsea Pickering was good on a pair at the other end with 21 seconds left to make it a two possession game, and the Bengals won their first tournament title, 49-46, since 2007.

Strange cost her team dearly in the title game. She went 2 for 15 and missed three of her five free throw attempts and turned the ball over four times.

Pickering was named tournament MVP. Her teammates Vella and Lindsey Reed made the all-tournament team, as did Strange and Victoria Timm from Northern Colorado and Emily Christensen from Sacramento State.

* Two Big Sky teams are playing in national tournaments. As tournament champion, Idaho State made the NCAAs and has a similar draw as Montana had last season. The No. 14 Bengals will face No. 3 Miami in Spokane Saturday, right after No. 11 Gonzaga gets done playing No. 6 Rutgers.

Last year No. 14 Montana faced No. 3 UCLA in Spokane, right after No. 11 Gonzaga got done beating No. 6 Iowa. Selvig sees a lot of similarities between Idaho State's draw and the Lady Griz' matchup with the Bruins last year.

Montana and UCLA were in a four-point game when the clock ticked down to 1:00 remaining. The Bruins' Jasmine Dixon scored inside with 54 seconds left to make it a six-point game, and UCLA pulled out a low-scoring 55-47 win.

"I don't know much about Miami, but I know Idaho State has a chance to defend just about anybody because they are really good defensively. Whether they can score against Miami will be the key," Selvig said.

"I would expect them to do a nice job defensively. And if they can find a couple of kids who are shooting the ball, they should have a chance."

Northern Colorado is the league's other team playing in a national tournament. The Bears play at Colorado Wednesday night in the opening round of the WNIT.

* From the Why Even Waste the Coaches' Time with Voting file: Idaho State's Seton Sobolewski, whose team was picked fifth in the preseason coaches' poll then finished three games clear of the rest of the league in the regular season, was a unanimous choice as Big Sky coach of the year.

* If you're wondering what sparked Idaho State to a 14-2 Big Sky record and the Bengals' unexpected regular-season title, look back to early January. ISU beat Northern Colorado at home by five, then went on the road and picked up wins at both Montana State, 59-58, and Montana, 58-51.

Just like that the Bengals were 3-0 and had wins over three of the four teams picked ahead of them in the preseason poll, two on the road.

"I think Idaho State won the league because of that early sweep of us and MSU," Selvig said. "That was huge for them and really set the stage, because that was two road wins against contenders. Teams sweeping that trip doesn't happen very often."

* Montana's early signees from November all had special senior prep seasons.

DJ Reinhardt led Sentinel High to a Class AA state title last Saturday with an overtime win over previously unbeaten Bozeman High. Reinhardt scored 38 points in the title game and was named tournament MVP.

Shanae Gilham of Bozeman was on the losing end of Sentinel's championship. Gilham scored 19 points in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team. In her three seasons with BHS the Hawks went 65-5.

Molly Klinker was named the Class B state tournament MVP after leading Fairfield High to the title, the Lady Eagles' third title in four seasons. Klinker ended her season with FHS riding a 52-game winning streak, the fourth-longest streak in state history.

Rachel Staudacher was recently named to the Seattle Times' all-state team after averaging more than 20 points per game for Cedar Park Christian. She was also the Emerald City League MVP for the second straight season.

* Junior forward Katie Baker was a unanimous choice for All-Big Sky Conference first team by the league's coaches. She, Eastern Washington's Brianne Ryan, who was MVP, Montana State's Katie Bussey and Northern Colorado's D'shara Strange were the only unanimous picks.

Baker will be sitting at 1,000 career points when she begins her senior season next fall after scoring 19 against Montana State in the teams' tournament quarterfinal game. That makes her the 28th player in Lady Griz history to reach 1,000 points.

With a similar season next winter, Baker should break into the top five all-time. She would have had a shot at the top three if not for missing the final 14 games of her freshman season with a torn ACL.

She'll also break into the top 10 on the career rebounding list.

* Junior guard Kenzie De Boer will join the 1,000-point club probably next January. She is currently at 838 points.

* After a season with 12 scholarship players in 2011-12, Selvig will have a maxed-out roster next winter with all 15 allowable scholarships filled.

The senior class will be loaded with experience: Katie Baker, Kenzie De Boer, Ali Hurley and Alyssa Smith.

The junior class will have Torry Hill and Jordan Sullivan.

The sophomore class will feature Kellie Cole and Carly Selvig, both third-year sophomores, and second-year players Maggie Rickman and Haley Vining.

Hannah Doran redshirted this season and will join the four newcomers in next winter's freshman class.

* Next season's schedule will be different. With two new league additions (North Dakota and Southern Utah), that will mean a 20-game conference schedule instead of 16. That means four fewer nonconference games, a league schedule that begins before Christmas and a Holiday Classic that will no longer be a holiday tradition because it will be held the first weekend of December.

Gonzaga will be one of the nonconference casualties, but expect Wyoming and Denver, who make convenient travel partners for a weekend road trip, to remain.

With the size of the league going up by two, the postseason tournament will expand from six to seven teams and be held at the site of the regular-season champion. No. 2 will play No. 7, No. 3 will play No. 6 and No. 4 will play No. 5 on the Thursday of championship week.

The host and top seed will face the lowest remaining seed in one Friday semifinal and the other two quarterfinal winners will meet in the other semifinal, with the championship game being played Saturday.

The men's tournament will also follow the same format and will now be played the same days, which could create the need for some creative scheduling if the same school wins both the men's and women's titles.

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