GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — Big Sky Conference player of the year Madi Buck put the finishing touches on a surprising season for North Dakota when she led her team to victory in the conference championship and then summed up the feeling about the school's first berth in the NCAA Division I women's basketball tournament.
"We're going dancing," a smiling Buck said Saturday after pacing a balanced attack with 14 points in 72-55 victory over Montana before more than 1,900 fans at Betty Engelstad Arena.
North Dakota was picked to finish eighth and ninth in a pair of pre-season polls, but fixed an early season turnover problem and bolstered its depth to become the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. The home team never trailed in the finale.
"It's literally every player's dream," sophomore Mia Lloyd said about reaching the NCAA tournament. "You look at the people who play there, the teams that play there every year and you say, 'I want to be there one day.' I'm just so glad I get the opportunity."
Lloyd, Leah Szabla and Alyssa Wall each scored 10 points for North Dakota (23-9). Emily Evers added eight points and 10 rebounds to help UND to a 40-26 advantage on the boards.
Torry Hill had 21 points for Montana (22-11), including four 3-point field goals. She was carried off the court with 7:24 left because of a leg injury, and didn't return. She was the only Lady Griz player in double figures.
Veteran Montana coach Robin Selvig said UND's depth and quickness was the difference.
"They did a nice job defensively. We had a hard time getting good shots," Selvig said. "We hung around, hung around, but they played a great game."
North Dakota took control with a 9-0 run midway through the second half to take a 56-36 lead. Buck, the Big Sky player of the year, scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer, followed by layups by Makallah Dyer and Evers. The Lady Griz could not get within single digits.