The Lady Griz canned a pair of 3-pointers with their first two shots in the opening minute, and the Cougars never did catch up. Montana won despite having its top two point guards sidelined with knee injuries, and after losing starting forward Carly Selvig to another knee injury early in the game.
"They came out with the first punch and we never recovered from it," said WSU guard Tia Presley, who scored her 1,000th career point.
"They hit shots. We knew they would. For some reason, we never bounced back."
The loss cost the 17-17 Cougars their first winning season since 1994-95. Playing in their first national tournament since their lone NCAA appearance in 1991, the Cougars fell to 0-4 all-time in national tournaments, counting an 0-2 showing in the old Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Championships in 1972.
Montana, a perennial powerhouse in the Big Sky Conference, improved to 23-10. The Griz has won nine straight and 22 of 23 against WSU, including 13 consecutive home games since a 1979 loss.
"We played really well," longtime Montana coach Robin Selvig said. "We played hard.
"It's a great win for us. They've beaten some really good teams."
The Cougars finished 4-5 against Top 25 teams this season, but they were beaten handily by the third-place team from the Big Sky. Montana led 36-25 at the half and never let WSU pull closer than eight in the second half.
"They start out hot, on fire, as they usually do at home," WSU coach June Daugherty said. "We didn't get the defensive stops that we needed early."
"I don't think we came out like we wanted to, or played defense like we wanted to," WSU forward-guard Sage Romberg said. "We knew they were really good from the 3-point line, and they were knocking them down."
The Grizzlies sank 13 of their first 26 shots, and the Cougars clanked 13 of their first 16. WSU had to shoot 55.9 percent in the second half to finish at 40 percent, including just 22.2 percent on 3-pointers (6 for 20). Montana shot 41.9 percent for the game, including 45 percent on 3's (9 for 20).
All-Big Sky wing Kellie Cole, moved to the point, led Montana with 22 points and nine assists. She played all 40 minutes and had just three turnovers.
"Hats off to her," Daugherty said. "She played spectacularly."
Montana forward Jordan Sullivan, one of two Selvig nieces in the all-Montana starting lineup of the Lady Griz, contributed 21 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Kayleigh Valley, a reserve forward out of University High School in Spokane Valley, scored a season-high 15 points off the bench. The Cougars did not recruit her.
Guard Lia Galdeira, playing with her injured left hand taped, led WSU with 22 points despite 7-for-23 shooting (including 1 for 10 on 3's). Romberg added 18 points and seven rebounds.
"Sage left it all out on the floor, as you'd expect any senior to do," Daugherty said.
Presley, WSU's leading scorer and a first-team All-Pac-12 Conference pick along with Galdeira, scored nine of her 11 points in the second half before fouling out with 3 minutes, 49 seconds to go.
Presley's fifth foul was one of several calls that drew the ire of Daugherty. Still, the coach was highly complimentary of the Lady Griz and the ability of Selvig – in his 36th year as Montana's coach – to adapt with his injury-ravaged lineup.
"It's a reflection of Robin and his system and how good a system it really is and how each kid knows it inside-out at this time of year," Daugherty said.
The Cougars were outrebounded by 10, even though Carly Selvig (another of the coach's nieces) went down with a season-ending knee injury after 2 1-2 minutes. An enthusiastic crowd of 2,125 turned out (the Lady Griz average 2,976) despite the game being scheduled less than 48 hours earlier.
"I liked the fact that we competed, played hard, got it back down to eight or 10 or whatever," Daugherty said. "We just didn't seem to be able to get over the hump.
"The first half, we just didn't sit down and play defense the way we can. We allowed them to be very, very comfortable in their own arena, in front of their crowd. Their crowd's always awesome here."