Robin Selvig knows women’s basketball.
He has coached at the University of Montana for 36 years and won 805 games, eighth all-time in NCAA Division I.
So when Selvig says the Sacramento State team that beat his defending Big Sky Conference champion Grizzlies 91-81 on Saturday at the Nest is special, it comes with plenty of validation.
“I’ve been saying in Missoula that they have established themselves as the team to beat based on their preseason,” Selvig said. “Right now, they are better than just good. They beat a Pac-12 team (Oregon) on the road. They beat a Saint Mary’s team that has only (three losses). They beat a good San Diego State. It’s no fluke they are winning games.”
Montana (7-4, 1-1 Big Sky) went into Saturday’s game having allowed opponents 59.6 points per game. Sac State had 55 by halftime, though the taller Lady Griz had 52, thanks to 57.5 percent shooting.
But clearly, the pace of coach Bunky Harkleroad’s “System” took something out of Montana in the second half of a game that had 14 lead changes.
Sac State had its best defensive second half of the season in holding the Lady Griz to 29 points to extend its school-best start to 10-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky. It was the Hornets’ third win over Montana in 36 games.
“Fatigue comes into play,” Selvig said. “You can’t simulate this. We play a tough nonconference schedule, but we haven’t seen anything like this style of play where it’s 40 minutes of defensive pressure at both ends of the floor.
“We shoot (51.5 percent) and outrebound them (43-38) and still lose. But they’ve done that to a lot of teams.”
Hornets senior guard Alle Moreno had a strong performance with 15 points, seven rebounds, five assists, five steals and no turnovers. Freshman Hallie Gennett led the Hornets with 17 points, making five 3-pointers. Redshirt junior Andrea Chenier had 13 points and four steals, and junior Fantasia Hilliard had 12 points and five assists.
Jordan Sullivan, a 6-foot-2 senior forward, led Montana with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Kellie Cole scored 21 points.
Sac State, averaging an NCAA-leading 14.4 3-pointers per game, finished with 15,though the Hornets missed their last nine attempts. The Hornets also had 16 steals – they lead the NCAA with 16.4 steals per game – and forced 20 Montana turnovers.
“Momentum swings,” Harkleroad said. “Our coaching staff was talking after the first half that we cannot rely on the ball going into the basket. So that means playing good defense and keeping the pace as hot as we can get it. That makes beating a good Montana team even better because we had to get some rebounds, get some stops and hit some free throws.”
Harkleroad said a key was how well Hilliard and junior guard Takara “TK” Burse kept the ball out of the hands of Montana senior point guard Torry Hill. The leading scorer (12.4 ppg) for the Griz going in was limited to five points and made three turnovers in 33 minutes.
“Everything goes through her. She’s the heart and soul of that team,” Harkleroad said. “ ‘TK’ and Fantasia did an amazing job of disrupting her and frustrating her.”
Montana 82, Sac State 70 in Missoula, Mont. – Zach Mills scored 14 points, Mikh McKinney had 11, and Jordan Salley had 10 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Hornets (4-7, 0-2), who lost to the Griz (6-5, 1-1) for the
11th consecutive time in Missoula.