MISSOULA, Mont. - *** ARTICLE COURTESY GRIZZLY ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT
A Montana women's basketball player, someone who averaged 17.5 points on 50 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds in a pair of wins last week over North Dakota and Northern Colorado, was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Monday. And if that's as specific as it gets, that's fine with her.
"I have to give all the credit to the team," said Katie Baker, the humble co-winner of this week's award, along with Sacramento State's Fantasia Hilliard. It was the second career player of the week award for Baker and the second for Montana this season. Senior Alyssa Smith was recognized last month.
"We have great chemistry and confidence in one another, and everyone is contributing right now, including a bench that I'm so proud of. No single player goes into a game with a load of responsibility on her shoulders, and that's what I love about this team."
Playing at home last week in front of enthusiastic crowds that are starting to realize their return to Dahlberg Arena this winter needs to become a regular occurrence, the Lady Griz picked up the kind of victories a team needs if it wants to be in the chase for a Big Sky Conference championship when the calendar reaches March.
Baker had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and needed to play just 22 minutes as Montana ran away from North Dakota on Thursday 77-45.
The Lady Griz jumped out to an 11-1 lead, held UND without a field goal through the opening eight minutes and limited North Dakota to 28.3 percent shooting for the game.
Baker followed that up with 18 points and 10 rebounds, her fourth double-double in six league games, against Northern Colorado in Saturday's 56-42 win.
Montana relied on its defense once again, but this time in a game when its offense wasn't clicking. The Lady Griz held the Bears without a field goal the final 10:36 of the first half, and that allowed Montana to turn a 13-9 lead into a 28-11 halftime advantage.
"We just watched the film (from last week's games), and our defense was incredible," Baker said. "There was communication, there was grit, there was hustle. It takes a solid team effort to hold Northern Colorado to 11 points for a half and force North Dakota into 21 turnovers.
"It's encouraging to know we have our defense to rely on so that in games like Saturday, when we're not shooting it well, we know we're still going to be in it."
Montana shot just 31.5 percent against Northern Colorado, and that allowed the Bears to hang around in the second half and cut what had been a 17-point lead down to nine with more than seven minutes still to play.
That's when Baker put her stamp on the game. She scored inside, she scored inside again, and she knocked down a pair of free throws -- she was 7 for 8 from the line in the two games -- to push the lead to a more comfortable 15 and for the most part end UNC's threat.
Of course Baker's baskets that pushed the lead to 11, then to 13, came by way of assist, both from Smith, and it's the passes and not the finishes that Baker points to when asked about a key stretch in the game.
"As a player, my instinct at a time like that says, Get me the ball," Baker said, "but really I just wanted to do my part. They were amazing reads and passes from Alyssa, so it's really just a matter of teamwork."
Baker currently ranks fourth in the Big Sky during league action in both scoring (16.3) and rebounding (10.2) and is second in blocks (1.8/g). She is one of four players in the Big Sky averaging a double-double.
Montana (11-4, 5-1 BSC) sits atop the Big Sky Conference standings with Montana State (11-4, 5-1 BSC) with the league schedule already 30 percent complete.
The Lady Griz will host the Bobcats, who play at third-place Southern Utah (9-6, 3-2 BSC) Thursday night, Saturday at 3 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.