RENO, Nev. – The Idaho Vandals picked the wrong time for a defensive letdown.
Montana shot 65 percent from the field on the way to a 81-72 win over the Vandals in a Big Sky Conference semifinal showdown Friday night.
While the Vandals contemplate their postseason future, the second-seeded Grizzlies will move on to Saturday night’s title game against top-seeded Weber State, which outlasted North Dakota 83-78 in overtime in the first semifinal game.
Fighting an uphill game from the start, the Vandals (20-12) were in the game until the final two minutes, when the Griz hit their ninth straight field goal to take a 75-63 lead with 2:15 left.
Montana (21-10) is a game away from returning to the NCAAs for the first time since 2013, while Idaho must wait at least another year for its first berth since 1990.
Until Montana’s closing run, the second half saw few big swings – solid defense from both sides saw to that.
Montana needed less than a minute of the second half to regain its 10-point lead, but the Vandals forced the action and began to draw fouls.
Four minutes into the half, Idaho had attempted just one field goal – and missed that one. However, the Vandals were 7 of 8 from the line and trailed just 38-33.
After going the first six minutes of the second half without a field goal, Idaho got a pair of 3s from Perrion Callandret and Jordan Scott to pull within 42-40.
Its lead cut to 50-48 with 10 minutes left, Montana hit seven straight shots over the next three minutes to go up 60-52.
The Vandals brought aggression to the glass from the opening tip. It paid off after two offensive boards led to Callandret’s jumper that gave Idaho a 15-9 lead eight minutes into the game.
The lead didn’t last. While Idaho missed seven of its first eight shots from long range, the Griz hit three straight to take a 20-15 advantage with 8:25 left.
The drought didn’t there for Idaho, which was outscored 13-0 over a 5 1/2-minute span before Callandret hit a 3 with 5:44 left.
Montana’s lead hit double digits at 28-18 as Idaho committed nine turnovers in the half, offsetting its 15-11 advantage on the boards.
Sanders got few good looks in the first half – and missed his first three shots – before hitting a pair of 3s.
The lead was down to six when a scramble led to a stunning no-look pass from Colfax product Brandon Gfeller to Michael Oguine for the final points of the half.
The halftime lead would have been bigger, but Montana missed 7 of 11 free throws.
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