MISSOULA, Mont.—The University of Idaho kicked off the 33rd Lady Griz Classic with a 59-56 loss to host Montana at Dahlberg Arena on Friday night.
Idaho used a 7-0 run late in the second half to jump in front of Montana, 53-52, with 3:14 left on the clock. The final three minutes of play saw three lead changes and one tie, with Montana just edging out the Vandals.
The Lady Griz used a three-point basket from Kellie Cole to break the tie at 56 and propel Montana ahead for good. Christina Salvatore took the final shot for the Vandals to try and force a tie and head to overtime. Salvatore, who had made two key three-pointers down the final stretch could not convert in the final seconds as the Vandals suffered their fourth loss of the season.
“I think it came down to that last minute,” head coach Jon Newlee stated. “They [Montana] made a couple of big shots and we had some pretty good looks but did not make them. I told our guys it was not won or lost then. I feel like we lost the game coming out flat to start the second half. I think there was a stretch in that first half where things kind of spiraled for us. One person is not going to win the game for us. We have to play together as a team when things get a little rocky.”
Montana (5-1) was led by Jordan Sullivan who totaled 16 points. Idaho stepped up defensively in the second half against Sullivan. She was unable to get on the scoreboard after halftime.
The Vandals saw three players score in double digits. Idaho got a boost offensively from sophomore Ali Forde. Forde totaled 13 points, a new season high, to lead the Vandals. Senior Alyssa Charlston posted 12 points on the night. She recorded six of those in an 8-0 run for the Vandals, helping cut Montana's lead to four at 41-37. Sophomore Connie Ballestero added 10 points and four assists.
Idaho (5-4) jumped out to a 17-14 lead midway through the first half. The Vandals and Lady Griz traded the lead a total of seven times in the first half. Idaho shot 9-of-29 (.310) from the floor to Montana’s 12-of-31 (.387) in the first half.
For the game the Vandals shot 34.9 percent (22-of-63) from the field and an uncharacteristic 19 percent (4-of-21) from three-point range. Montana finished the night shooting 35.9 percent (23-of-64) and 34.8 percent (8-of-23) from long distance. The Lady Griz were able to capitalize off Idaho turnovers, netting 14 points off takeaways. The Vandals forced 12 turnovers on the night, resulting in 10 points.
“Tonight kind of reminded me of the Gonzaga game a little bit,” Newlee said. “They had the one stretch that killed us, we had the one stretch tonight that killed us. We did a good job of regrouping after they took their biggest lead. We were down 12 and could have folded. I’m proud of our players for fighting back the way they did with this crowd here and this kind of team, taking it right to the end.”
Idaho will play Appalachian State for the first time in program history. The Mountaineers lost to UC Irvine in the early game on Friday, 85-77. The opening tip is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. PT.