Lady Griz Take No. 8 Seed to Reno


The Montana women’s basketball team has reached the win-or-go-home stage of its season. In other words, the Big Sky Conference tournament — and the madness that is March — is upon us.

The Lady Griz will take the No. 8 seed into this year’s tournament at Reno and will face No. 9 Sacramento State on Monday at 1 p.m. (MT) at the Reno Events Center in a first-round game.

Opening tip: Montana is 13-16 and tied for seventh in the final Big Sky regular-season standings with Montana State at 9-9. The Lady Griz enter the tournament having lost six of their last seven games.

Sacramento State is 7-22 and tied for ninth in the Big Sky with North Dakota at 5-13. The Hornets went 4-4 over their final eight regular-season games and picked up their first true road win of the year on Wednesday at North Dakota.

What’s at stake: The season will come to an end for the losing team. The winner will advance to face No. 1 Northern Colorado in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, with tip at 1 p.m. (MT).

The field: No. 1 Northern Colorado, No. 2 Idaho, No. 3 Eastern Washington and No. 4 Weber State all received first-round byes and won’t have to play their first game until Wednesday.

Monday’s schedule:

(8) Montana vs. (9) Sacramento State, 1 p.m. (MT) — The teams split their regular-season matchups, each winning on its home court.

(5) Idaho State vs. (12) Southern Utah, 3:30 p.m. (MT) — The teams split their regular-season matchups, each winning on its home court.

(7) Montana State vs. (10) North Dakota, 6:30 p.m. (MT) — The teams split their regular-season matchups, each winning on its home court.

(6) Portland State vs. (11) Northern Arizona, 9 p.m. (MT) — The Vikings won the teams’ only regular-season meeting, 68-59 two weeks ago in Portland.

Coverage: All 11 games of the women’s tournament can be found on Pluto TV channel 231 and at, with Jon Oglesby and Krista Redpath calling the action for the eight games on Monday and Wednesday.

Eleven Sports, with Ann Schatz and Redpath on the call, will broadcast the semifinals on Friday and Saturday’s championship game.

Monday’s game will air in the Missoula area on KGVO (1290 AM, 98.3 FM), with Tom Stage and Dick Slater.

The Montana-Sacramento State matchup:

The Lady Griz and Hornets split their regular-season matchups, with Montana winning 68-59 in Missoula on Jan. 11 and Sacramento State winning 79-64 in Sacramento on Feb. 10.

In the first meeting, the Lady Griz, sparked by Madi Schoening‘s 12 first-quarter points on 6-of-6 shooting, jumped out to a 25-8 lead after the opening period and never trailed.

Montana led 45-25 at the half and 60-42 going into the fourth quarter before Sacramento State cut the lead to eight twice in the final 75 seconds.

Schoening led both teams with 20 points, and Montana held Hannah Friend and Maranne Johnson to 24 combined points on 9-of-27 shooting.

In the second meeting, the Hornets led 39-35 at the half, then opened the third quarter on a 13-0 run to take control. The lead was 19, 63-44, early in the fourth and still 17 with four minutes to go before a late charge by Montana cut the lead to nine with a minute to play.

Montana only shot 37.3 percent against a team that ranks in the bottom five nationally in field goal percentage defense (.464 for the season).

Caitlin Lonergan came off the bench to score 15 for Montana. Justyce Dawson, on 8-of-10 shooting, scored 20 for the Hornets. Tiara Scott, on 6-of-10 shooting, scored 17. Friend finished with 18 but those points came on 25 shot attempts.

Montana turned the ball over 15 times in the first matchup, 17 times in the second.

“It’s an opponent we’ve played twice, so it’s a team we know well,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “I don’t feel like we played all that well down there. We had more turnovers than we needed to.”

Montana held senior guard Maranne Johnson to 22 points in the two games on 8-of-26 shooting, but she remains dangerous. She matched the then-Big Sky single-game scoring record with 41 points against Northern Arizona two weeks ago.

Friend has also scored more than 30 points on three occasions.

“They are extremely talented with guards who can shoot it,” said Schweyen. “They have some very explosive scorers, so we’ll have our hands full.”

The game will pair two teams that have decided home-court advantages and two teams who have struggled to approach that level of play on the road.

Montana went 10-6 in Missoula but just 3-10 this season away from home. Sacramento State has gone 2-17 away from home this year.

“Sac is always a team that is extremely tough at home. When they are not at home, they can be a different team, but that’s the case for almost everyone,” said Schweyen.

Trending (Montana): Down. The Lady Griz are 1-6 in their last seven games, all coming since emerging star Sophia Stiles was lost for the season with a knee injury in Montana’s home win over North Dakota on Feb. 3.

Last week’s road losses came with Jace Henderson, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, on the bench with a lower-leg injury.

Of Montana’s six recent losses — split up only with an encouraging 87-63 home win over Montana State on Feb. 24 — all six opponents averaged more than a point per possession against the Lady Griz defense. That had only happened three times in Montana’s first 11 Big Sky games.

Montana lost a pair of games on the road last week, 89-73 at Weber State, 72-60 at Idaho State.

In their loss to the Wildcats, the Lady Griz had a three-point lead late in the third quarter and trailed just 61-59 entering the fourth, but Weber State opened the fourth quarter on a game-deciding 15-0 run.

In Friday’s 72-60 loss to the Bengals, the Lady Griz fell behind 12-2 early and never caught back up as Idaho State shot 52.1 percent to keep Montana at arm’s length.

In Montana’s first 27 games of the season, no team shot better than 50 percent against the Lady Griz. Last week both Weber State (.529) and Idaho State did.

“We’re coming off a tough road trip. We played well in those games for long stretches. Considering our situation, I thought we actually played well,” said Schweyen. “We competed at Weber and were in it for three quarters of the game. Same thing at Idaho State.

“The girls are feeling like regardless of what we have when we step on the court in Reno, we feel like we have enough to get it done.”

Trending (Sacramento State): Even. The Hornets are 4-4 in their last eight games, their best stretch of the season, and picked up their first true road win of the season on Wednesday, 72-66 at North Dakota.

Sacramento State gave up 90 points in its final pre-tournament game, a 90-68 loss at Northern Colorado on Friday night as the Bears hit 15 3-pointers and had five players in double figures.

Trending up as the tournament nears: Northern Colorado, winner of 10 straight and with Savannah Scott back in the lineup. … Eastern Washington, on a four-game winning streak and with Delaney Hodgins coming off 37- and 46-point scoring games at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. … Weber State, a 16-point winner at home last week against both Montana and Montana State, with 12 turnovers combined in the two games.

Trending down as the tournament nears: The Montana schools, on a combined 3-12 streak. … North Dakota, 2-8 in its last 10. … Southern Utah, on a 13-game losing streak.

Montana-Sacramento State historical notes:

* Montana leads the all-time series 37-7 but that record was mostly front-loaded, as the Lady Griz won the teams’ first 27 meetings.

* Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Hornets are 5-4 against the Lady Griz, with four of the wins by 10 points or more.

* Monday will be the first time the teams have played at a neutral site.

* The teams have met in the Big Sky tournament just one time prior to this season. Montana won 74-53 in a semifinal game in Missoula in 2013 on its way to the NCAA Tournament.

Montana Big Sky tournament notes:

* Montana has now played in all 30 Big Sky Conference tournaments, the only league team that can make that claim, from the early days of the conference, when the tournament was limited to four teams, to the current 12-team field.

* The Lady Griz have a 29-year tournament record of 45-12, with 17 championships won.

* Montana is 14-11 in tournament games away from home, going 12-8 in neutral-site games, 2-3 in true road games.

* The Lady Griz are just 1-2 in tournament games since the host site moved to Reno. No. 5 Montana defeated No. 12 Northern Arizona 78-63 in 2016 before falling to No. 4 North Dakota 65-62 in the quarterfinals. Last March No. 11 Montana lost in a first-round game to No. 6 Idaho State, 63-53.

Montana notes:

* Montana’s bench outscored both Weber State’s and Idaho State’s last week. That made it 23 times in 29 regular-season games that the Lady Griz reserves outscored the opponent’s.

* Montana went 0-5 in November, 11-4 in December and January and is now 2-7 in February/March.

* Montana’s leading scorer reached 20 points just three times in 29 regular-season games. Sophia Stiles had 26 at Southern Utah, McKenzie Johnston had 24 against Long Beach State, and Madi Schoening had 20 at home against Sacramento State.

* Sierra Anderson went 3 for 4 from the arc on last week’s road trip.

* Taylor Goligoski was held scoreless in Montana’s loss at Idaho State, the first time that’s happened this season and just the second time in Goligoski’s career.

* Montana gave up just offensive rebounds to Idaho State on Friday night, a season best.

* Montana’s point guard, McKenzie Johnston ended the regular season ranked in the top 20 in the Big Sky in both scoring (11.6/g) and rebounding (5.5/g). She finished one behind Montana State’s Hannah Caudill for the league lead in assists, the Bobcat finishing with 146 to Johnston’s 145.

* Madi Schoening is 16 for her last 17 at the line to up her season free throw percentage to .853, the sixth-best mark in the league. That would rank as one of the top 10 single-season performances in program history.