GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- 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.
Buck said UND felt comfortable the whole way.
"I just think it was a really huge thing being able to play in front of our fans," she said." I think all of us felt really confident going into this game. We had a big win yesterday. We were feeling good and we were fortunate enough to keep rolling with it."
Montana pulled to 63-53 with 3:30 left, but UND's Siri Burck, whom coach Travis Brewster calls his utility player, answered with a 3-pointer with the clock winding under 3 minutes. That was the start of a 10-0 run to put it away.
Brewster had taken Burck out earlier in the game when she failed to pull the trigger on an open shot.
"We've been talking with Siri all year long about knocking down shots and taking open shots," Brewster said. "She has a very good shot and she just needs a little more confidence. We saw that come out today."
North Dakota scored the first six points of the game and held Montana off the board until 16:10, when Jordan Sullivan made one of two free throws. It was the only appearance at the line in the first half for the Lady Griz.
The home team led by 11 points on two occasions in the first half. The Lady Griz, who set a single-season record for 3-pointers, kept it close with four 3-pointers, including Hill's third of the half in the final seconds.
North Dakota shot 57 percent from the field, to 37 percent for Montana. Montana was 4 of 8 on 3-pointers in the first half, but made just 3 of 13 from that range after intermission.
"We played pretty good, but we would have needed to shot the heck out of it to get it tonight and we didn't do that," Selvig said.
It was the 19th appearance in the Big Sky championship game for Montana.