Lady Griz season officially underway

Oct. 2, 2012

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When Katie Baker knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:45 remaining in Montana's quarterfinal game against Montana State in Pocatello, Idaho, at the Big Sky Conference tournament last March, it gave her 1,000 points for her career. That milestone was mostly forgotten just minutes later when the Lady Griz lost to the Bobcats 68-59.

It's that loss and the looming prospect of her senior season, and not the pursuit of more personal achievements, that drove Baker over the summer.

"It a here-today, gone-tomorrow world," Baker says. "Remembering what a disappointment that loss was and not reaching our goals, it's given me more of a sense of urgency this year.

"I'm on board and ready to go. I want to win more than anything and make this a masterpiece season."

The 2012-13 edition of the Lady Griz, sporting a roster flush with 16 players, opened its season Monday. It was the team's first chance to put brush strokes to a blank canvas in the pursuit of that masterpiece.

Playing for the Picasso of the hardwood -- coach Robin Selvig, now in his 35th year, enters the season with a career record of 774-247 -- the team is hoping its season can turn into a work of art, something worthy of hanging among the rafters in Dahlberg Arena. Something titled "2012-13 Big Sky Conference Champions."

Kenzie De Boer, one of Baker's fellow seniors, says, "I want to end with a bang. We want to host the (Big Sky) tournament and make the NCAAs, and I think we have a really good shot at doing that this year."

Preseason Notes

1. Montana returns five starters from last year's team. It's the first time since the 2007-08 season that the Lady Griz return all five starters, and that team ended up winning 25 games and making the NCAA tournament.

Baker, De Boer, senior Alyssa Smith and juniors Torry Hill and Jordan Sullivan not only started all 30 games last season, they all averaged more than 25 minutes per game and were five of the team's six leading scorers.

Baker was a unanimous first-team All-Big Sky selection. De Boer was honorable mention.

2. Montana lost just a single player off last year's roster, Tianna Ware. And Ware accounted for just 12 points and 11 rebounds her senior season.

The team's key reserves from last season, current senior Alexandra Hurley and sophomores Kellie Cole, Maggie Rickman and Carly Selvig, are all back, one more year experienced, and in the case of Rickman, who appears to have purchased Ryan Lochte's shoulders over the summer on eBay, one year stronger.

3. With everything in place, one might be tempted to think the team is game ready. Just stick with the same starters and off-the-bench rotations of a year ago, and bring on Temple. But that would be admitting that finishing fifth in the Big Sky Conference (with a 9-7 record) and losing in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament would once again be acceptable.

Try selling that to a coach who has led his team to 22 regular-season conference championships and 19 NCAA tournaments.

"We don't want it to be last year. We want to be better," says Selvig, who has yet to have a four-year class play its final game without claiming at least one regular-season championship during its career. (This year's senior class is still chasing its first, though it was a part of Montana's 2010-11 Big Sky tournament champion and NCAA tournament team.)

"We've got a lot of kids who have been playing, so we maybe don't have as many question marks this season, but this is always going to be an equal-opportunity team. Basically you start anew."

4. Montana only had 12 scholarship players last year. Ware graduated, and nine were mentioned in points No. 1 and 2 above. That leaves sophomore Haley Vining and Hannah Doran as the other returners.

Doran redshirted last winter as a true freshman, and Vining, who unknowingly played on an ACL tear in the 12 games she played last season, will redshirt the 2012-13 season to return to 100 percent.

5. Selvig filled his allowable 15 scholarship players with Shanae Gilham of Bozeman, Mont., Molly Klinker of Fairfield, Mont., DJ Reinhardt of Missoula, Mont., and Rachel Staudacher of Bothell, Wash.

The team also added guard McCalle Feller, of Lewistown, Mont., who will be a non-scholarship player her first season. Feller, a three-time Class A high jump champion for Fergus High and the state javelin champion as a senior, will also compete for the Griz track and field team during its outdoor season.

Selvig has had time with the Lady Griz since school opened, both in individual workouts and team practices, but he is noncommittal about the roles his freshmen can have on a team that appears to have few openings.

"You can't really tell yet, because (our time with the team) has been mostly conditioning and fundamentals," he says. "So I would hesitate to answer that question.

"Sometimes you get fired up about somebody, then you get a couple of weeks into practice and it's different when you're running things."

6. Montana will hold 16 practices leading up to its public debut: the Maroon and Silver scrimmage on Thursday, Oct. 25. The Lady Griz will start at 7:30 p.m. following the men's scrimmage.

Montana will host Carroll (Oct. 30) and Minot State (Nov. 5) in exhibition games at Dahlberg Arena, then open its regular season on the road on Friday, Nov. 9, against a good Temple team that won 23 games a year ago.

7. At 36.8 percent, Montana ranked 258th last year out of 336 Division I teams in field goal percentage. It was the lowest shooting percentage of any of Selvig's 34 teams. And yet the Lady Griz won 16 games.

The reason: When Montana shot well and combined that with its typical solid defense, they were rarely going to be beat.

In its 16 wins last season, Montana shot 41.2 percent and averaged nearly 70 points (69.6) per game. In its losses: 31.6 percent shooting and 53.6 points per game.

In other words, if the Lady Griz can shoot the ball consistently well this season (even 40 percent shouldn't be asking too much), they could be REALLY good and become Selvig's 28th 20-win team.

8. Back in 2008-09, the final year of the Mandy Morales, Sonya Rogers and Britney Lohman teams that had a four-year record of 101-23, Montana shot 42.7 percent. It's no wonder that team won 28 games and had a scoring differential of nearly 14 points (13.9) per game.

In the three seasons since, Montana has shot 39.3, 37.8 and 36.8 percent, and its wins have dropped to 15, 18 and 16. The scoring differential has dropped to +2.2, +1.7 and +3.6, and blowout wins have been replaced by game after game of tight contests.

The Lady Griz have played 27 games the last three seasons that have been decided by seven points or fewer and those have been tossups, with 13 wins and 14 losses.

9. But it's not just Montana. It's the current trend in the Big Sky Conference.

Idaho State won the league last season at 14-2, finishing three games clear of second-place Northern Colorado. But it wasn't the dominant run through conference that it first appears.

The Bengals shot just 37.9 percent in 16 league games last season, just two clicks better than Montana's 37.7. Both were among the top three defenses in the league (along with Northern Colorado).

So why did Idaho State win 14 Big Sky games and Montana nine? Seven of ISU's 16 league games were decided by seven points or fewer, and the Bengals went 7-0 in those games, including seven- and six-point wins over Montana. The Lady Griz also played seven such games and went 3-4.

In its two losses to Idaho State, Montana averaged 49.5 points on 34.6 percent shooting. It's the thin margin by how Big Sky Conference championships are now won and lost.

Six of the Lady Griz' seven league losses last season were by 10 points or fewer, with only the game at Northern Colorado, a 59-42 setback, getting away from them.

"We could have won (the Big Sky championship) last year. Just look at our losses," Selvig says.

"We played well in a lot of areas, but we're not going to be a great team this year unless we shoot the ball better.

"We have kids who on occasion score well, but what we haven't had from them is consistency. I'm hoping being more experienced makes us more consistent."

10. We started with Katie Baker, we end with Katie Baker.

"I still feel like a freshman," she says when asked if she can believe her senior season is here. "You still remember your dad dropping you off in the Craig Hall parking lot, your first team picture, your first conditioning with the team.

"It's gone by so fast. It's been an amazing experience, and it's unbelievable that this is it. So I'm going to be the hardest-working player, I'm going to be encouraging, and I'm going to be a good teammate.

"I'm going to have fun with everyone off the court as well and build those friendships we'll all have for life. I'm going to make the most of it."



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