MISSOULA -- Despite a spirited comeback, the Montana women’s basketball team saw its season come to an end Monday night.
Trailing by 10 points with seven minutes left, the Lady Griz rallied to tie on a McCalle Feller fastbreak layup with 1:05 remaining. San Diego senior guard Amy Kame answered with a clutch 16-footer and her team held on to beat Montana, 60-57, in WNIT second-round action in front of 3,240 fans at Dahlberg Arena.
“It was a heck of a battle and we definitely had a chance,” said Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig, whose squad finished with a 23-11 record.
“Things didn’t go ideally. Kellie (Cole) rolls her ankle. I’ve got Jordy (Sullivan) in foul trouble. Everybody is battling. It was a really good game and their pressure ultimately won it for them.”
Recognizing Montana was short on experience at guard because of injuries to Torry Hill and Haley Vining, San Diego coach Cindy Fisher spent extra time working on a customized press defense the day before the game. The work paid off as Montana committed 21 turnovers that led to 22 points by the Toreros.
“We just felt like we could get up and guard a little bit,” Fisher said. “And we felt like we needed to in order to be successful.”
Montana senior forward Jordy Sullivan put the night in perspective.
“Those guys are big and they’re good,” she said of a USD lineup that features cat-quick guards and long-armed post defenders. “And you know that pressure is hard, especially without our experienced guards.
“We made mistakes, but then we bounced back and we kept our heads up and I was proud of my teammates.”
The situation looked bleak for Montana when 6-foot-3 junior forward Sophia Ederaine hit a bucket to give San Diego a 48-36 lead with 13:14 left. Because the Lady Griz couldn’t get much accomplished in the paint – they were outscored 38-22 – they were forced to rally with perimeter shots.
Kayleigh Valley and Maggie Rickman hit back-to-back treys to prevent the Toreros from running away midway through the second half. Then with just under seven minutes left, Kellie Cole hit a 3-pointer and Feller added a two to pull Montana within five, 54-49.
The comeback stalled temporarily on a pair turnovers, then Cole hit a pair of free throws to trim San Diego’s lead to 55-53 with 3:48 remaining. From there Montana kicked it up notch with its man defense, forcing three straight turnovers.
The Lady Griz missed three shots and turned the ball over once before tying the game, 55-55, on Feller’s transition bucket. San Diego went back up on Kame’s 16-footer with a hand in her face with 41.8 seconds left.
“She’s hit a lot of those in her career,” Fisher said of her best sniper, who finished with a game-high 25 points on 11 for 26 shooting from the field.
“The fun thing about this one is she’s a senior and she doesn’t want her season to be over. When the game is on the line you’ve got to have a big shot. I have it in her hands and I have for a couple years now.”
Montana failed to answer Kame’s shot when forward Maggie Rickman threw the ball away on a pass along the baseline. The Lady Griz were forced to foul with 18.3 ticks left and Kame extended San Diego’s lead to 59-55 from the charity stripe.
Cole drove the length of the floor and hit a layup to cut Montana’s deficit to 59-57 with 9.4 seconds left. San Diego reserve guard Katherine Hamilton was immediately fouled and made the first of two free throws to stretch the Toreros’ lead to 60-57 at :8.4.
Hamilton missed the second attempt and a scramble resulted in a tie-up. The alternating possession arrow pointed to Montana, giving the hosts one last opportunity off an inbound pass with 3.3 seconds remaining.
Sullivan gathered in a pass near the midcourt line and after several dribbles launched a shot from six feet behind the 3-point line. The attempt fell short, marking the end of her career and Montana’s season.
“I have no reason to cry,” she said. “We have some great players out with injuries and I got to come back (for two WNIT games) and the crowd was amazing. They supported us like they always do and it was such a blessing to be part of.”
Fisher, whose team will face Washington in the WNIT round of 16 later this week, felt fortunate to get out of Dahlberg Arena with a win.
“The atmosphere is absolutely incredible,” she said. “It’s a big advantage.
“When it got to a two-point game and it’s crunch time, really the crowd takes over. This is an atmosphere I hope nobody takes for granted.”
Despite a sore ankle, Cole paced the Lady Griz with 16 points and five assists. Kayleigh Valley added 10 points and freshman center Alycia Sims of Stevensville played well in her first start for UM, collecting eight rebounds, seven points and two blocks.
“We put a heck of a charge on,” Selvig said. “Kind of the difference was we had two or three (shots) that went in and then came out.
“I’ll be danged if the one three(-pointer) they shoot right after that happens to us goes up on the top of the backboard and comes back and goes in. I’m thinking, this isn’t right. But I hope the (fans) are proud of the Lady Griz tonight because I am.”