Jordan Sullivan will be one of two seniors in 2013-14
June 12, 2013
For Lady Griz basketball fans who prefer to spend their early winters easing into a new season instead of going total immersion, the 2013-14 Montana women's basketball schedule was created just for them. Not on purpose, but out of necessity.
Montana's nine nonconference games next season -- five of which will be at home -- will be spaced out between Nov. 10 and Christmas, all of which will be a prelude to the Big Sky Conference schedule. The league season opens in early January and will be a steady 10-week, 20-game schedule without break.
That will lead up to the seven-team Big Sky tournament, which will be held March 13-15 at the site of the regular-season champion.
Montana won the regular-season title last year with a 16-4 Big Sky record. The Lady Griz hosted and won the conference tournament with double-digit wins over Sacramento State and Northern Colorado before falling to Georgia in an NCAA tournament first-round game at Spokane.
Every schedule has its quirks and storylines, and the 2013-14 version is no different.
* The Lady Griz will be opening their regular season at home for the first time since 2008-09.
* Robin Selvig, who will be entering his 36th season with a record of 798-255, is two wins shy of joining the exclusive 800-win club. With Montana playing its first two games of the season at home, the milestone victory could come at Dahlberg Arena.
* Montana will play in two nonconference tournaments, first at Loyola Marymount's on the Friday and Saturday following Thanksgiving, then hosting the 33rd Lady Griz Classic the first weekend in December.
* The 2012-13 schedule was changed to accommodate the playing of the Montana-Montana State women's and men's games at the same location on the same day. Not only will that not be the case in 2013-14, the games next winter will be played on Monday nights.
Montana, a veteran team in 2012-13 and anything but in 2013-14, will play home exhibition games against MSU Billings on Oct. 28 and Montana-Western on Nov. 7 as a lead-up to the regular-season opener against MSU Northern (17-13, 8-8 Frontier Conference in 2012-13) on Sunday, Nov. 10.
It will be Montana's first time opening the season at home since hosting Wyoming in 2008-09, and that's where the slow start to the season begins.
After facing the Skylights, the Lady Griz won't play again for eight days, when they host Portland (11-20, 5-11 WCC) on Monday, Nov. 18, a game that should have Selvig on the brink of win No. 800.
That will be followed by an even longer break. As part of its trip to Loyola Marymount, Montana will play at Denver (14-17, 8-10 WAC) the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a nine-day break between games.
The matchups at Loyola Marymount's tournament have not been set, but the field has been. Joining the Lady Griz and LMU (13-18, 6-10 WCC) will be UC Irvine (9-21, 5-13 Big West) and North Dakota State (10-19, 6-10 Summit).
"It's hard to get schedules done. When you get them done and you've finally got the games locked into place, you play them whenever you can get them," Selvig explained.
"With 20 Big Sky games all coming this year after Jan. 1, you only get nine nonconference games, and those games have to fill a big space on the calendar."
The gems of the nonconference schedule will come in December, starting with the Lady Griz Classic Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-7.
Montana will be joined at the tournament by Idaho (17-16, 11-7 WAC), Appalachian State (20-11, 13-7 Southern) and, in a scheduling coincidence, UC Irvine, a team Selvig lined up for the Classic before finding out UCI would also be at Loyola Marymount.
The Vandals, who Montana beat twice last season, once on the road and once at home, were 14-15 at the end of the regular season last year, but they won three WAC tournament games in four days by a total of seven points to make their first NCAA tournament since 1985.
The reward? A trip to Storrs, Conn., to face eventual national champion Connecticut. The result? A 105-37 beat down that had coach Jon Newlee saying, "We certainly got the full show. We can't replicate that in practice, and we can't replicate that in the Western Athletic Conference. I don't think there are many teams that can replicate that."
Appalachian State is known around Montana for its football program, and the Mountaineers will be in Missoula to face the Grizzlies in late August under the lights at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, but the ASU women's basketball team has also had recent success.
App State has now won 20 games for four consecutive seasons and last year made the WNIT for the third season in a row.
And though UC Irvine, with just nine victories, won fewer games in 2012-13 than any of Montana's other nonconference opponents, the Anteaters are in just their second year under Doug Oliver, a name that should be familiar to Montana fans.
Oliver was on former Griz coach Mike Montgomery's staff at Stanford from 1986-98, the final season ending with a run to the Final Four, before taking over the head men's job at Idaho State, where he worked from 1998-2006.
"Irvine is up and coming," said Selvig. "Doug is getting them going. He coached at Stanford under Monty and actually coached (boys' basketball) at Whitefish (High School) at one time, so he has Montana ties."
Montana will host Temple (14-18, 5-9 Atlantic 10) in the Lady Griz' final nonconference home game on Dec. 14, a return trip for UM's season-opening game at Philadelphia last November, then finish nonconference play at Wyoming (24-8, 12-4 Mountain West) on Dec. 17, always a save-the-date match-up.
The game at Wyoming was originally scheduled as part of the Denver-Loyola Marymount road trip, but it was moved to mid-December to cut down on the time between the end of the nonconference schedule and Montana's Big Sky opener at Northern Arizona on Jan. 2.
Had the game not been changed, the Lady Griz would have been off for 18 days. Instead it's just 15 without a game.
"There is no perfect way to do it," Selvig said. "I'd rather not have such a big Christmas break, but that's just the way it is. That's not one of the things I worry about too much."
The Cowgirls, one of two teams to win at Dahlberg Arena last winter, made the WNIT last season, their sixth trip to a national tournament the last eight years.
Fans looking for routine will get it once the calendar turns to 2014. Big Sky Conference games will be played every Thursday and Saturday with only three exceptions and without a weekend off like Montana had last winter.
"The Big Sky schedule has been interesting the last two or three years and will be again next season," Selvig said. "I didn't know how the 11-team thing was going to work out, but we won the league, so maybe those weird things are good for us."
The only times when the schedule varies from its Thursday-Saturday regularity will be playing at Southern Utah, at the Thunderbirds' request, on Wednesday, Feb. 26, instead of Thursday, Feb. 27, and the Monday night games against Montana State on Feb. 3 in Missoula and March 3 at Bozeman.
Last season, first-year Big Sky member Southern Utah acquiesced when asked to adjust its schedule (for the worse) so Montana and Montana State could play its women's and men's games on the same day at the same location. That won't be repeated next winter.
When the Lady Griz are hosting the Bobcats on Feb. 3, the men will be playing in Bozeman. The scenario will be flipped on March 3.
"That's something that's different again," Selvig said. "You'd rather not play those games on a Monday, but that's the nature of the league right now with 11 teams."
Montana (24-8, 16-4 BSC) won the 2012-13 regular-season title by a game over Northern Colorado (21-13, 15-5 BSC). The Lady Griz will be hard-pressed to repeat the feat in 2013-14.
Montana will have just two seniors next season, Torry Hill and Jordan Sullivan, who are also the team's lone returning starters. Ten of the team's 15 players will be sophomores or younger in eligibility, including three redshirt freshmen and three incoming freshmen.
"It will be a challenge, but it's also going to be fun, just like the first 35 seasons have been," Selvig concluded.
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