GRAND FORKS, N.D.- In just its second season in the Big Sky Conference, the University of North Dakota has claimed the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Tournament by virtue of its 72-55 win over Montana at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in the Big Sky Championship game Saturday afternoon. Sophomore Mia Loyd was named the tourney's Most Valuable Player after a 10-point, seven-rebound effort tonight.
Senior Madi Buck was also named to the all-tournament team. Montana's Kellie Cole and Torry Hill joined her along with Southern Utah's Hailey Mandelko and Idaho State's Lindsey Reed.
UND never trailed in the tournament, jumping out to a 19-2 advantage in the semifinals Friday and securing a quick 10-1 lead in Saturday's championship. A raucous crowd of 1,937 helped push a wave of momentum that had Montana searching for answers early.
Hill was the Lady Griz' answer for most of the game, pouring in a game-high 21 points including timely three-pointers, four for the game. She nailed three triples in the first half to help keep it close as North Dakota had a 35-27 advantage at the break.
Coming out of halftime, Hill had a conventional three-point play to slice the deficit to a half-dozen, but North Dakota followed with a 9-2 spurt to fend off any shift in game flow. Freshman Leah Szabla scored a jumper then finished on a fastbreak layup to push the lead back to double digits where it remained throughout.
The North Dakota advantage grew to 20 on a deep triple from Makailah Dyer, but the Lady Griz had one final push. Montana trimmed the deficit down to 10 with just over four minutes left when Siri Burck helped ice the game. Her wide-open three from the top of the key followed by a fastbreak bucket put the game out of reach as North Dakota improved its home record to 15-1 this season.
Four different UND players finished with double figures in scoring, led by 14 from Buck. Loyd added two assists and two steals to her stat sheet in the win while Szabla recorded 10 points, four steals and three assists. Allyssa Wall charted 10 points to go along with six rebounds and Emily Evers had eight points and 10 boards in the win. Kelsey Knox added seven assists with just one turnover.
Hill had 22 of Montana's 55 points before exiting late in the game with a knee injury. She tallied three assists, three rebounds and three steals as well. Maggie Rickman had seven points and four rebounds for the Lady Griz, who finish the season at 22-10 overall.
UND (22-9) will find out its opponent in the NCAA Tournament when the Selection Show announces the 64-team field Monday night at 6:00 p.m. Central on ESPN. Fans and media are encouraged to join the team from the Ground Round in Grand Forks for the live unveiling.
Notes: The UND women's basketball team is the first to advance to the NCAA Tournament among its sports competing in the Big Sky Conference ... UND is 8-0 this season when Wall scores in double figures ... North Dakota shot 57.1 percent from the floor, second-best of the season ... UND has doubled its win total from a season ago (11).