Life’s hurdles don’t deter Montana’s Katie Baker

Katie Baker is a glass-full person. And she counts her blessings daily.

The former Lake City High (Coeur d’Alene) basketball standout can check one goal off her list. When she signed to play at the University of Montana, it was with the express purpose of playing in the NCAA tournament.

Baker gets that opportunity Saturday when the Grizzlies (18-14), a 14th seed, face No. 3 UCLA (27-4) at Gonzaga University’s McCarthey Athletic Center.

The 6-foot Baker started right away her freshman season, but halfway through suffered a season-ending knee injury that required surgery. Then halfway through this year, she had an emergency appendectomy.

Baker, who started the first 19 games this season, was back in the hospital almost a year to the date from when she had knee surgery.

It should come to no surprise to those who know Baker that she harbors no ill feelings about the hurdles she’s had to overcome.

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Baker said Wednesday in a phone interview. “I’ve had an awesome time here. It’s been a blessing.”

Baker’s doctor told her that she most likely would be finished for the season when she had her appendix taken out. That’s exactly what she needed to hear because she immediately took it as a challenge to get back as soon as she could.

As it turned out, Baker missed just one game. She had surgery on a Monday, spent four nights in the hospital, missed an away game at Montana State that weekend, but returned for the next game and played – 10 days after surgery.

She has come off the bench in Montana’s last 12 games. And she’ll likely continue that role Saturday.

And that’s fine with her.

“It’s been a learning and growing experience,” she said of her first two seasons.

Baker was named first-team All-Big Sky Conference this year. She leads the Grizzlies in scoring (11.9), rebounds (7.4), blocked shots (35), free throws made (96 of 119) and free-throw percentage (81 percent).

The day after Montana lost to Montana State at home 72-69, Baker felt sick to her stomach. She thought if she just slept it off she’d be fine for school the next day. Instead the pain in her abdomen was so severe that she awoke at 3 a.m. and drove herself to the hospital.

She was taken to surgery immediately where the doctor discovered a small leak in her appendix. The fact that it hadn’t ruptured was good news for her ultimate recovery.

“When I went in it hurt so bad,” Baker said. “It was excruciating. I remember thinking I could take the ACL (anterior cruiciate ligament knee injury) pain much better than this pain, but not the recovery so much. My brother took care of me when I got out of the hospital. I felt good the next weekend.”

She returned to see the doctor a week later and was told she could start playing again.

“It’s really a Godsend how it all happened,” Baker said. “I consider it a miracle. If I hadn’t gone to the emergency room when I did it could have ruptured and been worse. God took care of the rest.”

It will take a miracle perhaps for the Grizzlies to knock off eight-ranked UCLA.

“We know we’re playing a really tough team, but we’ve been playing well the last two weeks,” Baker said.

She’s looking forward to a homecourt-type atmosphere. And many family members and friends will be on hand.

“I came here to play in the NCAA tournament,” Baker said. “Hopefully this is the first of three trips.”

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