MISSOULA, Mont. — Big Sky MVP Mandy Morales scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help Montana claim the league tournament championship with a 69-62 win over Portland State on Saturday.
Sarah Ena added 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Sonya Rogers finished with 12 points for the Lady Griz, who advanced to the NCAA tournament for the 18th time in school history. Montana’s 28 wins match a school record set by the 1987-88 team.
The Lady Griz (28-4), who also won the regular-season title, pulled away from Portland State (22-9) after a 3-pointer by Claire Faucher gave the Vikings a 48-47 lead with 6:08 remaining. Two free throws by Ena with 5:04 remaining gave Montana the lead for good and started a 17-of-20 run from the free throw line for the Lady Griz.
Portland State came to within 59-55 on a 3-pointer by Faucher with 1:29 remaining, but could get no closer.
Morales, playing in her final home game, made her last two points from the free throw line with 48 seconds left to put Montana ahead 63-55.
“It was pretty emotional. I got chills,” the senior from Billings said. “The crowd was great. They were really into the game. I love it when the crowd is like that. I’m really going to miss this place.”
Both teams shot only 33 percent from the field but performed much better from the free throw line. Portland State was 17-of-18 from the line, while Montana went 24-of-27.
“We’re both pretty good offensively, but that game was dominated by intense defensive play. Every possession was a dogfight,” Montana coach Robin Selvig said.
Portland State coach Sherri Murrell agreed, saying, “It’s tournament time. We’ve got a girl with a black eye and a couple of bloody lips. It’s going to get physical.”
Ena, a sophomore forward, had 13 points and nine rebounds after halftime. Seven of her rebounds were on the offensive end, a key factor in the minds of both coaches.
“If I can find one of those kids (like Ena), recruiting-wise, I will do everything within the realms of the NCAA compliance to get her in my program,” Murrell said.
Faucher led Portland State with 17 points and five rebounds, while Kelli Valentine had 16 points.
The Lady Griz, who earned the right to host the tournament with a 70-60 win over the Vikings a week ago, led 27-26 at halftime. Montana watched a 13-4 lead quickly disappear in the face of 10 straight Portland State points, seven of them by Faucher. The lead changed hands 13 more times.
“I’m proud, excited and thrilled for my ladies,” Selvig said. “They’ve had a great year, and we beat a great basketball team tonight for the second week in a row.”
The NCAA pairings will be announced Monday. Montana earned a 12th seed in last year’s NCAA tournament, and Selvig said he expects something similar this time.