Lady Griz Topple UGF in Missoula

Alycia Sims scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, both game highs, to lead Montana to an 81-52 victory over Great Falls Monday night at Dahlberg Arena in the Lady Griz’ second and final exhibition game of the preseason.

Montana opens the regular season on Sunday with a home game against Seattle.

The Lady Griz had a hard time gaining any separation from Carroll in their 59-54 victory over the Fighting Saints on Wednesday, and it looked like that might be the case again Monday against a team that advanced to the Elite Eight at last year’s NAIA national tournament.

Eight straight points for UGF -- six coming from Nneka Nnadi, who led Great Falls with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting -- evened the score at 21-21 four minutes into the second quarter, but it was all Lady Griz after that.

Sims and junior Kayleigh Valley combined to score 13 of Montana’s next 16 points, and the Lady Griz closed the half on an 18-3 run to build a 39-24 halftime lead.

Montana outscored Great Falls 25-13 in the third quarter to build a 27-point advantage, and the lead stayed above 20 the entire fourth quarter.

The Lady Griz scored 20 more points in the paint than they did Wednesday, when Sims and Valley combined to go 5-for-21. On Monday they went 17-for-29. Sixteen of their 17 field goals came in the paint, helping Montana score 48 points from close range.

Sims, who was a quiet 1-for-6 against Carroll, went 10-for-15 in 26 minutes on Monday.

“Alycia was different tonight,” said UM coach Robin Selvig. “She shot it like she knew what she was doing with it. She was confident, and she didn’t hesitate. It was day and night from last game.”

It helped that Great Falls had neither the size nor the physicality of Carroll, which made getting open looks easier. Montana also had improved offensive execution, dishing out 21 assists against just eight turnovers.

“We had the ball around the basket a ton against Carroll. We just didn’t make many shots, and that made a world of difference tonight,” said Selvig.

“We need other players besides Kayleigh to be scoring threats, and Alycia was great tonight. Great Falls isn’t big or physical like Carroll, but this should give her some confidence.”

Valley finished with 17 points, McCalle Feller added 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Sierra Anderson came off the bench to contribute 10 points.

“Kayleigh was getting bodied some tonight and still finishing. I thought she was much better on the offensive end,” said Selvig. “And McCalle seemed to be involved in all the action for a while. She was getting steals and assists, and had a couple of nice feeds off the break when we got that going.”

Selvig went 10 deep for the second straight exhibition game, a clear indication that his three freshmen will probably redshirt, unless injuries dictate otherwise.

Unlike Wednesday, when only seven players saw more than 12 minutes of court time, 10 played 11 or more minutes against Great Falls.

Maddie Keast hit a 3-pointer off the bench, Rachel Staudacher had four points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes, and Jace Henderson grabbed seven boards, part of Montana’s 59-31 rebounding advantage.

“We got some kids time tonight, and that was good. We need to develop some depth,” said Selvig. “If we redshirt the three freshmen, that gives us 10, and we need to feel like they can all go in and contribute.”

Despite scoring so many baskets from close range, Montana shot just 37.0 percent, almost mirroring what the Lady Griz shot against Carroll while scoring 22 fewer points.

A 3-for-20 effort from 3-point range kept the shooting percentage low, as did Mekayla Isaak, Hannah Doran and Haley Vining combining to go 1-for-21. Twenty-seven offensive rebounds led to 81 shot attempts, 24 more than Wednesday, and that bumped the points up despite 37-percent shooting.

Erin Legel, who scored 30 against Montana last November, finished with 17 points this time around. She hit five 3-pointers and just one inside the arc. Nnadi had 19 points on high-percentage shooting and gained the respect of Selvig, who appreciates someone who scores 19 points on 11 shots.

“She’s a nice player,” he said. “I was impressed with her because she didn’t go wild. She made good plays and didn’t force things when she couldn’t make the play.”

Montana and Seattle tip off at 1 p.m. on Sunday. That will start a stretch of four games in eight days for the Lady Griz at home, with MSU Northern, Pacific and Portland to follow.

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