Four University of Montana seniors will play what could be their final game at Dahlberg Arena on Thursday when the Lady Griz (19-6, 13-3 Big Sky Conference) take on the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds (13-13, 7-9 BSC) at 7 p.m.
These Lady Griz seniors come from different backgrounds. Alyssa Smith and Kenzie De Boer are from Washington, Katie Baker hails from Idaho and Alexandra Hurley, from Anaconda is the lone Montana native.
For the girls and their No. 1 BSC-ranked Grizzlies, the Thursday night battle might not be the last game at home this season.
Whoever finishes first during the regular season will host the conference tournament. Last year, the Griz men’s basketball team hosted and this year the women have a chance. They still remain atop the standings over No. 2 Northern Colorado who fell to Southern Utah last Saturday.
“The girls talk a lot about it,” head coach Robin Selvig said. “There are a lot of games left. It’s silly to overdo thinking about it when we have a couple tough ones left.”
If Montana wins the regular season conference title, it will be the first time in four years.
Before they can think about the tournament, Montana first has to worry about the Thunderbirds. In their first official conference matchup, the Lady Griz beat Southern Utah 78-63. In the first half, Montana had 14 turnovers and SUU went to the free throw line 18 times. Luckily for the Lady Griz, a hot second half carried them to victory. This win came after losing to Montana State and sent Montana on a five-game win streak.
Montana is coming off a 12-day break while the Thunderbirds come to Missoula after a noteworthy 73-57 victory over Northern Colorado. Last Saturday SUU sophomore guard Hailey Mandelko had 20 points and Tayler Anderson led the team with nine rebounds. Northern Colorado came into the game undefeated at home and in a close battle with Montana for the No. 1 seed.
The fact that SUU beat Northern Colorado does not change the mentality for the Lady Griz.
“We know everyone can basically beat everyone in our conference,” Hurley said. “I don’t think we ever go into games thinking we’re going to kill them. When we played Weber at Weber it was super close.”
After Thursday, Montana will hit the road for their final three road games against Montana State, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State.
The starting lineup this season has included three seniors and two juniors. While it may be senior night, it will also be time for new players to step into some very large shoes the seniors leave behind.
“It’s going to be an emotional day — I don’t think it’s quite hit me that my career is coming to an end,” Hurley said. “I think I’ll be crying at the beginning when they do all the senior introductions and they have a video going. This is my fifth year so I’ve been here for a while. It’s crazy to think that it’s almost over.”
Montana leads the all-time series against SUU 7-0.