Bobcats Knock Off Lady Griz 81-64

The Montana women’s basketball team finished the day where it started — tied atop the Big Sky Conference standings — but after getting outplayed by Montana State in Bozeman, it didn’t feel quite the same at sundown as it did at sunrise.

The Bobcats knocked down 11 3-pointers and hustled their way to 19 second-chance points on their way to an 81-64 victory over the Lady Griz at Worthington Arena, MSU’s fifth win in the series in the teams’ last six meetings.

Montana State (10-8, 4-3 BSC) built a 35-23 halftime lead and led by 10 or more the entire second half. It was the most points allowed by Montana (9-9, 5-2 BSC) since giving up 87 to then No. 20 Marquette in Cancun in late November.

“They are hard to guard, and this team has been tough at home,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen. “They had a great environment today, and they made the most of it.

“I wish we could have scored with them. It might have been a little more interesting down the stretch.”

Redshirt Junior, Jace Henderson. Photo Courtesy of GrizzlyAthletics.

The Bobcats rank in the top 10 nationally in 3-pointers made per game, and they used that to their advantage against a Lady Griz defense that didn’t have an answer for Montana State after a low-scoring first quarter that had the teams deadlocked at 14-14.

Montana State scored 21 in the second, 25 in the third and 21 in the fourth, combining the 3-point shot and the threat of the 3-point shot into some aggressive takes to the basket.

And when they did miss, the Bobcats grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. Of the game’s first 19 second-chance points, every single one of them went to Montana State, and that was the story, of one team largely out-battling the other.

“The tale of the game today was rebounding. To get 17 offensive boards and that many second shots certainly set the tone for the game. I felt like we got out-hustled,” said Schweyen. “They kicked our butts on the boards.

“There were a lot of long rebounds, and their guards were quick to go get them, and we just stood around. A lot of rebounding comes down to heart and who’s going to go out and run after it and come up with it. There are certainly some things we can learn from this one.”

It was a true either-or game for Montana State, which seemed to either score from the arc or at the basket. Indeed, in the final stats, the Bobcats scored 33 points on 3-point shots and 38 in the paint. The team’s other 10 points came at the line.

There needed to be no in-between. A mid-range game wasn’t necessary, not when options A and B produce 81 points.

“They shoot the three so well that you have to stay close to them. It’s kind of a fine line. Are you close enough to them to challenge their shot but still able to keep them in front of you?” said Schweyen.

“That’s the challenge of guarding them. They can shoot the three, and they put it down well. I thought they got to the hole a little too clean, and that was a big problem for us. We didn’t keep them in front of us well enough.”

The game started out the way Montana would have preferred. The Lady Griz got the ball inside to Jace Henderson early and often, and she scored Montana’s first six points.

But after playing to a tie through the first quarter, Montana made just three baskets in the second on 23.1 percent shooting, and that allowed Montana State to turn a 14-14 tie into a 12-point halftime advantage.

It was still a two-point game, 22-20, when Caitlin Lonergan scored inside midway through the period, but it was a 13-3 run by the Bobcats to close the half that put them in control.

“We had a stretch when we got down about eight and had a lot of good looks, but none of them went,” said Schweyen. “At a time like that, you hope you can stay in the game if you’re getting stops at the other end, but we weren’t getting stops.”

After giving up six points to Henderson, Montana’s second-leading scorer, in the game’s opening four minutes, Montana State shut her out the rest of the game, aided by the nine minutes she was limited to in the first half after picking up two fouls.

McKenzie Johnston finished with 13 points and seven assists, but no other starter scored more than six. The Bobcats had four starters in double figures, led by Delany Junkiermier’s 16.

“We couldn’t find a hot hand tonight. Typically we’ve been getting more out of our guards, but as far as making outside shots, it was hard to find anybody,” said Schweyen, whose team shot a decent percentage overall (.400) but only went 3 for 16 from three.

Montana twice cut its deficit to 10 in the opening two minutes of the second half, but a 7-0 run, with three baskets at the rim, put Montana State in control for good.

The lead would reach 21 on a Hannah Caudill triple midway through the third and twice hit 23 in the fourth.

“At some point you have to get stops at the other end, and we weren’t getting those,” said Schweyen, whose team gave up a season-high 46 second-half points. “They came out and took it to us.”

Lonergan, who transferred from Montana State after starting her collegiate career as a Bobcat volleyball player, scored seven points. And in her first Montana-Montana State game, freshman Sophia Stiles scored 11 points and led the Lady Griz with eight rebounds.

Beyond that, she was the player who most quickly got to her feet after Montana State had knocked Montana to the deck, ready to re-engage in the battle, no matter the time on the clock, no matter the score.

“I love the way that girl competes,” said Schweyen. “She competes every moment she’s on the floor. She’s one of those kids who gives you everything she has all the time.

“I thought she did really well tonight. That’s a pretty good first Cat-Griz for her.”

But she’s a freshman, and Montana State had Junkermier and Caudill, senior holdovers from Montana State’s Big Sky Conference championship teams the last two seasons.

Junkermier had 16 points and nine rebounds, Caudill 14 points and six assists and was the engine of a smooth-running offense. The Bobcats had 18 assists and just six turnovers while shooting better than 40 percent overall and from the arc.

“They have guards who have been a part of what they’ve done here. They’ve been in this situation before, and they played well, just as I’d expect them to,” said Schweyen.

Any separation Montana felt with the other Big Sky leaders was quickly done away with on Saturday, as the Lady Griz, Northern Colorado and Weber State all lost on the road. Combined with Eastern Washington’s win, four teams now sit atop the conference at 5-2, with four other teams one game back.

It’s why sunset felt a little less comfortable than did a sunrise that began a day filled with optimism. But that’s just life in the Big Sky.

“This league is tough, top to bottom,” said Schweyen. “There are a lot of good teams. It’s going to be interesting to see who comes out on top at the end.”

Montana will face Southern Utah (3-15, 2-5 BSC) and Northern Arizona (4-14, 1-6 BSC) on the road next week.