Montana is the premier program in Big Sky Conference women’s basketball.
Coach Robin Selvig has won 855 games – eighth all-time among Division I women’s basketball coaches – and the Grizzlies have made 21 NCAA Tournament appearances in his 38 seasons.
For years, Sacramento State had little chance of beating the Grizzlies. Montana won the first 27 games in the series and entered Saturday’s game at the Nest with a 35-3 all-time advantage.
19 Steals by Sacramento State, which leads NCAA Division I in the category
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But in another sign of Sac State’s emergence as a formidable Big Sky program, the Hornets showed remarkable fortitude in outbattling the talented and taller Grizzlies 83-75 in overtime. Sac State (5-9, 2-1) defeated Montana (10-5, 3-1) at home for the third consecutive time and snapped the Grizzlies’ five-game winning streak.
Sac State prevailed despite shooting 36 percent, squandering a 14-point second-quarter lead and seeing the Grizzlies take the lead three times in the fourth quarter and once in overtime.
The Hornets also overcame a stellar performance by Big Sky scoring leader Kayleigh Valley. She had game highs of 23 points and 14 rebounds and played 43 consecutive minutes against the speedy Hornets’ constant fullcourt pressure before fouling out in overtime.
“We’re happy to get out of here with a win today,” said Sac State coach Bunky Harkleroad, who earned his 299th win as a college coach. “When we needed them the most, we finally hit some shots. At the end, I was really proud of our team for winning the game off some steals and digging in and grinding.
“Anytime you can beat Montana, you have to be happy because they do a great job and coach Selvig is a legend. They’ve been the cream of the crop in the Big Sky for years.”
Sac State, the NCAA Division I leader in steals, had 19 steals while forcing 25 turnovers and had a 32-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
Trailing 72-71 with three minutes left in overtime, the Hornets went on a 7-0 run and outscored the Grizzlies 14-6 in the extra period.
Adella Randle-El and Maranne Johnson led the way for the Hornets. Randle-El had 17 points, a career-high 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists. Johnson finished with 17 points and delivered in overtime with six points, two rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
At the end, I was really proud of our team for winning the game off some steals and digging in and grinding.
Sacramento State coach Bunky Harkleroad
Sac State’s Gretchen Harrigan added 11 points, including four free throws in overtime.
“It was very exciting,” said Randle-El, coming off a career-high 29-point performance Thursday against Montana State. “When it got to overtime, we came together and said, ‘We’ve got to lock down, we’ve got to play together, and we’ve got to execute.’ Everything clicked. It was a great win for us.”
Sac State fell 80-79 to Montana State, which won on a three-pointer with eight seconds to play. But the Hornets, who finished second to Montana in the 2014-15 regular season, now believe even more strongly that the program’s first conference championship since 1977 is realistic.
“George Karl had a quote I saw the other night that it’s a process and not just flipping the switch,” Harkleroad said. “That’s so relevant with where we are as far as building our culture, building our program … We’re proud of our team for sticking in there and fighting and staying after it. We just have to keep learning and getting better.”
Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP