The Lady Griz have come into their own, and so has Kellie Cole.
Cole, Montana’s resourceful junior guard, helped push her team to the brink of first place in the Big Sky Conference with a dynamic performance last week. Cole averaged 15.5 points, six rebounds and four assists in close victories over Northern Colorado and North Dakota at Dahlberg Arena.
Cole shot 57 percent from the floor (12 for 21) in the two games. She was named the league’s player of the week on Monday ahead of the likes of UNC’s Stephanie Lee and Northern Arizona’s Erikka Banks, who each posted 30-plus-point games.
“Oftentimes the success of a team gets overlooked in individual awards,” said Lady Griz assistant coach Shannon Schweyen. “So I think it’s great that the conference recognized the magnitude of our wins. Nobody had huge numbers for us, but Kellie had solid numbers.
“Those were big wins for us, and Kellie did a lot on both ends of the floor.”
Cole had 18 points, nine rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes in UM’s 61-55 victory over Northern Colorado on Thursday. Two days later, Cole had 13 points, three rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes in a 52-49 win over North Dakota.
The latter victory was huge for the Lady Griz. It put their record at 16-7 overall and 10-4 in the league, and pulled them within a half game of first-place UND (16-8, 11-4).
A former standout at Bozeman High School, the 5-foot-9 Cole is seeing considerably more playing time this season after the graduations of Kenzie De Boer and Alyssa Smith. Cole leads Montana in scoring (14.5 points per game) and shooting percentage (47.5 percent). She ranks second in assists and fourth in rebounds.
The Lady Griz are one of the hottest team in the league, having won seven of their past eight games. Consequently, they are in the hunt to host the Big Sky Conference postseason tournament for the 16th time.
The men’s tournament picture is still fairly clouded as 10 teams fight for seven postseason bids.
Despite an overtime loss at Idaho State on Monday, 11-3 Weber State is in the driver’s seat to host the tourney. The Wildcats are two games up on second-place Northern Colorado and three games ahead of third-place North Dakota and Northern Arizona.
Weber State, though, plays four of its final six conference games on the road, including two more this week. The Wildcats travel to both Montana and Montana State, where they were swept last year.
The Bobcats and Grizzlies are both 7-7 and tied for fourth place with Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Idaho State. Montana hoped to extend its four-game winning streak but lost twice last week at Northern Colorado and North Dakota. Montana State, meanwhile, split against UND and UNC.
Southern Utah is the only team eliminated from tournament contention. The Thunderbirds are 0-14 in the Big Sky and 1-22 overall.
Weber State is trying to win its first regular-season conference championship since 2010.
Eastern Washington’s Tyler Harvey is the predominant long-range bomber in the Big Sky. Harvey hit nine 3-pointers in a victory over Northern Arizona on Saturday, giving him 94 this season.
Harvey is poised to move into seventh place in league history for most single-season 3s. Right now he’s tied with former Weber State star Damian Lillard, who hit 94 3s in the 2011-12 season, and Northern Arizona’s Ross Land, who made 94 in 1999-2000.
The single-season Big Sky record for most 3-pointers is held by NAU’s Stephen Sir, who made 124 treys in 2006-07.
Harvey is shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc (94 for 206), which ranks ninth in Division I. He averages 3.76 3s per game, which ranks fourth.
Oakland (Mich.) guard Travis Bader leads the nation in 3-point field goals made with 126. Harvey’s 94 3s rank fifth.
On Monday, Harvey was named the men’s player of the week.
Around the league
Northern Colorado G Tate Unruh has made 216 career 3-pointers and ranks 12th in Big Sky history. He needs three 3s to pass Montana’s Kevin Criswell in 11th place. … UNC is the only men’s team yet to lose at home. The Bears, after sweeping the Bobcats and Grizzlies last week, are 13-0 at Butler-Hancock Pavilion, and have won 14 straight dating back to last year. … Montana G Kareem Jamar is 28 points from cracking the top 20 on the league’s all-time scoring list.