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Montana earns third NCAA tourney trip in four years

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Stephanie Stender and Kenzie De Boer each scored 11 points to lead Montana to a 62-58 win over Portland State on Saturday in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference tournament.

Stender was named the tournament's MVP.

"It wasn't necessarily me playing my best game," Stender said. "It was the team. It was the best time when we all played better. As a team, we were playing our best basketball. Everyone knew their role. We did it. We did what we were supposed to do, filled our roles and did what we needed to do."

Sarah Ena added 10 points, including a pair of late free throws, as the fourth-seeded Lady Griz (18-14) earned their third trip to the NCAA tournament in four years.

"You just think about how much you love your teammates, coaches and program," Ena said. "It just gives you that push and extra composure when you need to hit those down the stretch."

Montana held Portland State scoreless over a 6½-minute stretch late in the second half and forced the Vikings into 5-for-22 shooting from 3-point range.

"Our team played awesome defense and we knew we needed to play defense and not allow any easy shots, especially on transition," De Boer said. "We did an awesome job of communication and knowing where the shooters were. It was a total team effort on defense."

Portland State was ahead 52-46 with just over eight minutes to play but missed its next nine shots and didn't score again until 1:32 remained.

"They came to this tournament to play and they showed a lot of heart and grit," Portland State coach Sherri Murrell said. "I have to commend them. We did it last year doing three games and it's not easy."

Eryn Jones scored 19 points and Kelli Valentine added 14 for the top-seeded Vikings (20-11), who snapped an 11-game home win streak and lost for the first time this season against a conference opponent.

"It's just tough," said Jones. "I just really thought we had that one."