MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) – Legendary Montana coach Robin Selvig doesn’t experience a lot of things for the first time. Saturday, having confetti rain down was one of those rare instances for the 35-year veteran.
“That was a first,” Selvig said after Montana, behind Kenzie De Boer’s 19 points, punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 56-43 victory over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference championship.
“We beat a really good team today, a really good defensive rebounding team,” Selvig added. “We played them twice and thought, ‘How in the heck are we ever going to score?'”
De Boer and Jordan Sullivan answered Selvig’s offensive inquiry. The seniors combined for 29 of UM’s 56 points.
Top-seeded Montana (24-7) and No. 2 seed Northern Colorado (20-12) exchanged defensive blows in the first half, with both teams shooting low percentages. UNC shot 28 percent in the first half, including 17 percent from the 3-point line.
Despite shooting well early, with three 3s in the first 5 minutes, the Lady Griz cooled off and shot 32 percent for the first half. De Boer led all first half-scorers with nine points.
Montana held the conference’s defensive player of the year, D’Shara Strange, to three first half points and stymied her usual attack-the-basket style of play. After that, Strange never found a rhythm and finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Northern Colorado briefly threatened the Lady Griz in the second half, using a 10-2 run to pull within 38-28 with 11 minutes remaining. Kim Lockridge made a layup and Strange hit a step-back jumper to fuel the run.
UNC coach Jaime White said her team’s switching to a zone defense contributed to the run.
“We went to a zone, little bit of pressure on the ball,” White said. “We made them pass it around, and then they got some shots, but that kind of a zone makes you take quick shots.”
UM’s size advantage proved to be the difference-maker in the title bout. White said the Grizzlies’ ability to switch defensive assignments on pick-and-roll plays gave UM a significant advantage. UM’s starting lineup features three 6-foot-plus players, including 6-foot-2 forward Jordan Sullivan, who finished 10 points.
“They’ve got great size,” White said. “If they switch off, they’re still 6-foot in the post. A lot of times we’re able to get mismatches and get guards posted up. Against them, their guards are 6-foot, other than (Torry) Hill.”
UM’s size and rebounding tenacity also helped Montana outrebound Northern Colorado 42-34. Montana came away with 19 offensive rebounds.
“As big as anything was the boards,” Selvig said. “They’re a great rebounding team.”
The Lady Grizzlies will be making their 20th appearance in the NCAA tournament. They have an all-time record of 6-19 at the NCAAs.
“We’re going dancing. I can’t wait.” De Boer said.
UNC fell for the second consecutive year in the tournament final. Last year, UNC lost 49-46 to Idaho State in the title game.
– By ERIK C. ANDERSON, Associated Press
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