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Montana 56, N. Colorado 43

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MISSOULA, Mont. (AP)

Legendary Montana coach Robin Selvig doesn't experience a lot of things for the first time. Saturday, having confetti rain down was one of those rare instances for the 35-year veteran.

''That was a first,'' Selvig said after Montana, behind Kenzie De Boer's 19 points, punched its ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 56-43 victory over Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference championship.

''We beat a really good team today, a really good defensive rebounding team,'' Selvig added. ''We played them twice and thought, `How in the heck are we ever going to score?'''

De Boer and Jordan Sullivan answered Selvig's offensive inquiry. The seniors combined for 29 of UM's 56 points.

Top-seeded Montana (24-7) and No. 2 seed Northern Colorado (20-12) exchanged defensive blows in the first half, with both teams shooting low percentages. UNC shot 28 percent in the first half, including 17 percent from the 3-point line.

Despite shooting well early, with three 3s in the first 5 minutes, the Lady Griz cooled off and shot 32 percent for the first half. De Boer led all first half-scorers with nine points.

Montana held the conference's defensive player of the year, D'Shara Strange, to three first half points and stymied her usual attack-the-basket style of play. After that, Strange never found a rhythm and finished the game with 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting.

Northern Colorado briefly threatened the Lady Griz in the second half, using a 10-2 run to pull within 38-28 with 11 minutes remaining. Kim Lockridge made a layup and Strange hit a step-back jumper to fuel the run.

UNC coach Jaime White said her team's switching to a zone defense contributed to the run.

''We went to a zone, little bit of pressure on the ball,'' White said. ''We made them pass it around, and then they got some shots, but that kind of a zone makes you take quick shots.''

UM's size advantage proved to be the difference-maker in the title bout. White said the Grizzlies' ability to switch defensive assignments on pick-and-roll plays gave UM a significant advantage. UM's starting lineup features three 6-foot-plus players, including 6-foot-2 forward Jordan Sullivan, who finished 10 points.

''They've got great size,'' White said. ''If they switch off, they're still 6-foot in the post. A lot of times we're able to get mismatches and get guards posted up. Against them, their guards are 6-foot, other than (Torry) Hill.''

UM's size and rebounding tenacity also helped Montana outrebound Northern Colorado 42-34. Montana came away with 19 offensive rebounds.

''As big as anything was the boards,'' Selvig said. ''They're a great rebounding team.''

The Lady Grizzlies will be making their 20th appearance in the NCAA tournament. They have an all-time record of 6-19 at the NCAAs.

''We're going dancing. I can't wait.'' De Boer said.

UNC fell for the second consecutive year in the tournament final. Last year, UNC lost 49-46 to Idaho State in the title game.

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