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Feb 12, 2011 8:17 PM by Scott Breen - Q2 Sports

Lady Griz tighten Big Sky hoops race

GREELEY, CO - The University of Montana women's basketball team saw a 15-point, second-half deficit slip away, but the Lady Griz made the defensive plays down the stretch to knock off Big Sky Conference leader Northern Colorado 53-51 Saturday afternoon at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion in Greeley, Colo.

The win was the fifth straight for Montana (13-11, 8-3 BSC), which moved into a loss-column tie with Northern Colorado (14-11, 9-3 BSC) for second place in the Big Sky Conference. The Bears had their 11-game, home-court winning streak come to an end with the loss.

Both teams trail new Big Sky leader Montana State (15-10, 9-2 BSC), which won at Sacramento State (3-21, 0-11 BSC) Saturday afternoon, 92-79.

Idaho State (15-7, 6-3 BSC), which also has just three league losses, plays at Northern Arizona (8-15, 3-7 BSC) Saturday night.

Montana jumped out early on Northern Colorado, which was perhaps slow out of the gate after its emotional effort in Thursday's key 64-46 win over Montana State.

The Lady Griz built a 13-point first-half lead and had a 36-26 lead at the break after shooting 50 percent (13 for 26) and turning the ball over just five times.

Montana would build a 45-30 lead on two free throws by sophomore Kenzie De Boer at the 15:08 mark, but the Lady Griz would hit just two baskets and score just eight more points the rest of the game.

Following De Boer's free throws, Montana would go scoreless for nearly nine minutes.

"We played great for about 25 minutes offensively, then we played really bad," UM coach Robin Selvig said. "There is only one reason we won this game, and that was on the other end of the floor."

Despite Montana's scoring drought, Northern Colorado could only close the gap to one, 45-44, and a jumper by sophomore Katie Baker, who would make the defensive play of the game in the closing seconds, gave the Lady Griz a 47-44 lead with 6:27 to play.

The teams scored only from the free throw line the next four minutes (and also didn't score from the free throw line - Montana missed four free throws during that stretch).

Senior Sarah Ena changed that when she scored on a strong drive to the basket at the 1:36 mark.

She missed the and-one free throw, and Kim Lockridge scored inside for the Bears less than 20 seconds later to even the score at 51.

After Lockridge's basket, Montana gave the ball back to Northern Colorado, and the Bears had two pointblank shots with under 30 seconds to play that could have given them the lead.

They missed them both, and senior Jessa Loman Linford was there for the rebound. After getting fouled, she hit one of two free throws with 25.8 seconds remaining to give the Lady Griz a 52-51 lead.

UNC took a timeout to set up its options but ended up scrambling to get an open look against Montana's defense.

The ball finally made it to Lauren Oosdyke just inside the free throw line with less than five seconds to play. Her frantic, out-of-control drive to the basket was stopped short by Baker, who took a bold position in the lane to draw the obvious offensive foul.

The call with 2.4 seconds left produced the expected apoplectic response from the Northern Colorado bench and its fans, but there was no arguing the decision.

"Katie took a great charge on her," a proud Selvig said. "Oosdyke put her head down and drove down the middle (of the lane), and there is no ref in America who wouldn't call that.

"Katie stood there and got mowed down."

Baker was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass, and her free throw with 0.2 seconds remaining was the game's final point.

Montana pulled out the win despite a second half that produced just five baskets, 13 turnovers and a 6-for-13 (.462) effort from the free throw line.

"We played so well offensively for about 25 minutes, then they really got after us," Selvig said.

"We had turnovers and we quit scoring, and they got momentum. And then they put us on the foul line, and we proceeded to miss those.

"Through all that, we never allowed them to get much going. There is a huge difference between falling apart a little bit and losing the game and falling apart a little bit but keep defending and coming away with a win.

"I'm proud we won that one. We won it on the defensive end."

Sophomore Kenzie De Boer led Montana with a season-high 15 points.

After struggling with her shooting for much of December and January after coming back from an early-season broken finger on her shooting hand, De Boer was almost perfect Saturday. She hit three of her four shots and went 9 for 10 from the free throw line.

She was also her usual pesky self on the defensive end, where she came up with a team-high four steals for the third straight game.

Ena scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high six rebounds for her third straight double-figure scoring game.

Baker scored 11 points off the bench and produced the defensive play that will likely be looked back upon as a key moment in the race for the Big Sky Conference regular-season championship.

D'shara Strange led Northern Colorado with 13 points.

Oosdyke and Lockridge, who combined for 34 points on 11-of-15 shooting when the Bears won at Missoula in early January, were held to 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting.

Montana will get no break from the road next week. The Lady Griz play at Idaho State next Saturday night in their only game of the week.

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