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Women’s tourney staple in Missoula

MISSOULA – The University of Montana isn’t the permanent site for the Big Sky Conference women’s tournament. It only seems that way.

The Grizzlies have hosted 21 of them, including this year’s event. That may change if the conference approves an official permanent site beginning next year.

On the other hand, it could still be in Missoula, which is proposing to host the women’s tournament and is making a strong case this week at Dahlberg Arena.

At Friday afternoon’s semifinal game against Eastern Washington, the Lady Griz drew a spirited crowd of 2,794, a number that might be hard to match on a neutral site. On the other hand, crowds were sparse for other games.

Montana is the only site bidding for a women’s-only tournament; UM athletic director Kent Haslem said it would be too much to host a pair of 12-team tournaments, although an expanded format is still on the table.

Spokane-Cheney and Reno have proposed hosting both tournaments, while Ogden, Utah, and Billings want to host men’s-only events. A special committee is making the rounds, inspecting the five finalists. The panel will be in Spokane and Cheney on Wednesday.

The panel includes officials who have no direct interest in the selection process. They are University of North Dakota president Robert Kelley; athletic directors Bill Macriss of Sacramento State and Ken Beazer of Southern Utah; Idaho State faculty representative Scott Benson; Valerie Cleary, senior women’s administrator at Portland State; Torre Chisholm, former PSU athletic director, and deputy commissioner Ron Loghry of the league office.

League presidents approved the site visits. The committee will make recommendations in the first half of April. The presidents could say yes or no by April 17.

Nelson’s final game in Missoula

Eastern Washington guard Lexie Nelson’s Big Sky career began ended where it began, at Dahlberg Arena.

The high school all-star from Butte played for Montana in 2010-11 – playing in 32 games and helping the Lady Griz reach the NCAAs – then transferred to Eastern.

After sitting out a year, Nelson was a first-team all-conference selection for two straight seasons, and was a second-team pick this year after averaging 13.9 points per game.

“I just want to thank coach (Wendy) Schuller for allowing me to this opportunity,” Nelson said after the Eagles’ 55-51 loss to Montana.

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