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.