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Montana women earn NCAA tournament berth

Montana forward Katie Baker goes up under the basket as Lindsay Mallon defends. (Associated Press)
Montana forward Katie Baker goes up under the basket as Lindsay Mallon defends. (Associated Press)

MISSOULA – Montana coach Robin Selvig doesn’t experience a lot of things for the first time. Saturday, having confetti rain down was one of those rare instances for the 35-year veteran.

“That was a first,” Selvig said after Montana, behind Kenzie De Boer’s 19 points, punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 56-43 victory over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference championship.

“We beat a really good team today, a really good defensive rebounding team,” Selvig added. “We played them twice and thought, ‘How in the heck are we ever going to score?’ ”

De Boer and Jordan Sullivan answered Selvig’s offensive inquiry. The seniors combined for 29 of UM’s 56 points.

Top-seeded Montana (24-7) and No. 2 seed Northern Colorado (20-12) exchanged defensive blows in the first half, with both teams shooting low percentages. UNC shot 28 percent in the first half, including 17 percent from the 3-point line.

Despite shooting well early, with three 3s in the first 5 minutes, the Lady Griz cooled off and shot 32 percent for the first half. De Boer led all first half-scorers with nine points.

Montana held the conference’s defensive player of the year, D’Shara Strange, to three first-half points and stymied her usual attack-the-basket style of play. After that, Strange never found a rhythm and finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

Northern Colorado briefly threatened the Lady Griz in the second half, using a 10-2 run to pull within 38-28 with 11 minutes remaining.

UM’s size advantage proved to be the difference-maker in the title bout. White said the Grizzlies’ ability to switch defensive assignments on pick-and-roll plays gave UM a significant advantage. UM’s starting lineup features three 6-foot-plus players, including Jordan, a 6-foot-2 forward who finished 10 points.

“They’ve got great size,” White said. “If they switch off, they’re still 6-foot in the post. A lot of times we’re able to get mismatches and get guards posted up. Against them, their guards are 6-foot, other than (Torry) Hill.”

UM’s size also helped Montana outrebound Northern Colorado 42-34.

The Lady Grizzlies will be making their 20th appearance in the NCAA tournament. They have an all-time record of 6-19 at the NCAAs.

Forward Katie Baker, who played high school ball at Lake City, led the Grizzlies with nine rebounds. The senior scored eight points.

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