Lady Griz Seeking Bye as End of Regular Season Approaches

The Montana women’s basketball team will play a single game this week, facing Montana State on Saturday in Bozeman.

The Lady Griz (14-10, 9-6 BSC) and Bobcats (17-6, 13-1 BSC) will tip off at 2 p.m. inside MSU’s Worthington Arena.

Montana State will take a nine-game winning streak into its game on Thursday night, when its hosts a faltering Portland State team that has lost five in a row and six of its last seven.

Montana State won the teams’ first meeting, on Feb. 1 in Missoula, rallying back from a 14-point deficit late in the third quarter to win 66-61 in overtime.

With just three weeks of regular-season games remaining, Montana is tied for fourth in the Big Sky Conference standings with Idaho State.

The top five teams in the final regular-season standings receive a first-round bye at the Big Sky tournament in Boise, which opens on Monday, March 9.

Montana hosts Northern Arizona and Sacramento State next week, then closes on the road at Northern Colorado and Southern Utah.

Coverage: Saturday’s game will air on SWX, with Chris Byers, Krista Redpath and Aunica Koch. There will be local radio coverage in Missoula on KMPT 930 AM/99.7 FM.

What’s at stake (Montana): The Lady Griz are in a solid if not yet safe position to earn a bye past the first round in Boise in three weeks. Montana plays three of its last five games on the road, and one of its two home games comes against Northern Arizona, which has won 10 of its last 13 games.

What’s at stake (Montana State): The Bobcats are one win away from clinching a bye and are in the driver’s seat to win the regular-season title and take the No. 1 seed to Boise. MSU has lost just once since Christmas, a 69-68 double-overtime setback at home to Idaho.

Photo Courtesy of Grizzly Sports Information.

Most recently (Montana): The Lady Griz won their third straight game and for the fifth time in six games when they demolished Weber State in Ogden on Thursday, 78-46. Montana led by just seven, 35-28, at the half, then outscored the Wildcats 43-18 in the second half.

Montana shot 49.2 percent and got 17 points from Taylor Goligoski off the bench.

Trying to split its season series with Idaho State on Saturday in Pocatello, Montana fell to the Bengals 72-59 behind its own 32.3 percent shooting and 36 points from ISU’s Dora Goles, the most points scored by a Big Sky player this season.

Montana went 7 for 34 (.206) in the first half to fall behind 27-20 at the half. The Lady Griz, behind Emma Stockholm’s 15 points in the period, shot 9 for 13 in the third quarter and three times took the lead, but ISU scored the opening six points of the fourth quarter and never looked back.

Goles scored 15 of her points in the fourth quarter. Her 36 points tied for the sixth-highest total ever put up against Montana, four off the record of 40 set by Northern Colorado’s Savannah Smith last season and Wake Forest’s Dearica Hamby in 2014-15.

Stockholm and Abby Anderson, who give Idaho State matchup fits, scored 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting. The rest of the team went 8 for 42 (.190) as Montana finished with a season-low six assists.
Most recently (Montana State): On the same road trip, the Bobcats trailed for just 15 seconds in sweeping Idaho State and Weber State to improve to 8-0 in Big Sky road games this season.

MSU jumped out to a 10-2 lead at Idaho State on its way to a 74-55 victory on Thursday and led 11-1 at Weber State on Saturday, not allowing the Wildcats a made field goal until the 4:25 mark of the first quarter in a 102-67 win.

The balanced Bobcats had six double-figure scorers on Thursday, remarkable for 74 points scored. In Saturday’s win, MSU’s five starters combined for 80 points on 29-of-45 (.644) shooting.

The first meeting: Montana did almost everything right, particularly defensively, when the Lady Griz hosted Montana State earlier this month in Missoula.

Montana held Montana State to 27.1 percent shooting and 51 points through regulation and built a 46-32 lead when McKenzie Johnston hit a pair of free throws with 3:22 to go in the third quarter.

That the game would go to overtime, especially tied at 51-51 after regulation, would have been hard to imagine, but that’s what happened.

The Lady Griz missed their final two shots of the third quarter, then went 0 for 15 in the fourth, when at least statistically just one made basket would have made all the difference.

“After re-watching the game again, that was a game we should have won. It’s not very often you’re going to go 0 for 15 in the fourth quarter,” said Montana coach Shannon Schweyen.

“And I like the shots we got. We had multiple right-hand layups that we missed. We know that if all we do is make one of those the game doesn’t go to overtime, so that part of it is encouraging.”

Fallyn Freije hit the game-tying shot with 13 second left in regulation, then scored 10 of her game-high 27 points in the overtime, including the go-ahead jumper with 32 seconds remaining.

Montana State won despite shooting 31.7 percent for the game, going 2 for 21 from the 3-point line and trailing for nearly 35 minutes. McKenzie Johnston led Montana with 20 points.

Series history: Montana leads the all-time series 79-30 but Montana State has now won eight of the teams’ last 10 matchups, including the last three.

A win on Saturday would give Montana State a season sweep of the series for the second consecutive season and for the third time in the last four years.

The Lady Griz are 28-18 against the Bobcats in Bozeman but have lost five straight times at Worthington Arena. Montana’s last win on MSU’s home floor was a 72-65 victory in 2013-14.

Montana State coach Tricia Binford is 13-19 against Montana, 6-8 against the Lady Griz in Bozeman. … Montana coach Shannon Schweyen is 1-6 against Montana State, 0-3 in Bozeman.

Game notes:

* Montana State starts four seniors (Freije, Kuderer, Smith, Squires) and a strong candidate for Big Sky Freshman of the Year in point guard Darian White.

* All five starters have led Montana State in scoring during league at least once, as has junior guard Tori Martell off the bench.

* In last year’s matchup in Bozeman, Montana led 20-11 late in the first quarter but got outscored 63-32 the rest of the way to fall 74-52 in what was MSU’s largest-ever margin of victory over the Lady Griz.

* Montana State has the Big Sky’s top RPI of 88. Idaho, at 118, is the only other Big Sky team in the top 160. Montana checks in this week at 173.

* Montana State’s losses this season: at South Dakota State and Minnesota, home to Gonzaga, in Puerto Rico against Wichita State and Texas A&M and in double overtime at home against Idaho. Gonzaga is currently ranked 13th, Texas A&M 17th.

* Two of Montana’s nonconference losses came against teams currently ranked. Arizona, at 21-4, is up to No. 11. South Dakota, at 24-2, is up to No. 15.

* The Lady Griz also have a loss to Fresno State, which is 22-4 and rolling through the Mountain West at 15-0 behind former Northern Colorado coach Jaime White.

* Montana State is 8-2 at home this season, with losses go Gonzaga and Idaho. In their home wins, the Bobcats have won by an average margin of 29.1 points. Only this month’s home win over Idaho State, which came by eight points, was by less than 12 points.

* When Montana had a four-game home stand in January and early February, Abby Anderson averaged 5.3 points on 6-of-28 (.214) shooting. In the team’s four games since, she is averaging 14.3 points on 57.1 percent shooting.

* In Montana’s victory at Weber State on Thursday, the Lady Griz limited the Wildcats to 0.62 points per possession, their best defensive performance of the season.

* Idaho State scored 1.02 points per possession on Saturday, just the third time in league a Montana opponent has scored better than one point per possession.

* Montana leads the Big Sky and ranks 18th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.25. The Lady Griz also rank 32nd nationally in free throw percentage at .753.

* Fourth-year Montana coach Shannon Schweyen needs one more win for the 50th of her career. She is currently 49-66.

* Montana is 7-3 this season when coming off a loss.

* Last week continued Montana’s trend: The Lady Griz are 13-2 this season when shooting 40 percent or better, 1-8 when shooting worse than 40 percent.

* On a related note: Montana State is holding its league opponents to 37.0 percent shooting and 60.6 points.

* In its nine Big Sky wins, Montana is shooting 46.9 percent. In their six league losses, the Lady Griz are shooting 30.9 percent.

* With its win at Weber State on Thursday, Montana improved to 6-4 in road games this season. That’s as many wins as the Lady Griz had on the road the last three years combined.

* Saturday will be the sixth of six consecutive day games for Montana, a stretch that started when the Lady Griz hosted Montana State on Feb. 1. Montana is 7-7 in day games this season, 7-3 at night.

* Montana improved to 11-0 when scoring 66 or more points this season on Thursday at Weber State.

* McKenzie Johnston, with 1,303 points, is 12th on the Montana career scoring list. She is 17 behind Sonya Rogers (2005-09), 24 behind Jeanne McNulty (1985-90) and cracking the top 10.

* Johnston, sixth on the career assists list, is eight behind Cheri Bratt (1980-84) and moving into the top five.

* Taylor Goligoski, with 116, is two from moving into the top 10 on the Montana list for career 3-pointers made.

* Emma Stockholm’s 12 rebounds at Weber State matched her career high.

* Montana’s 20 first-half points at Idaho State was the team’s fewest since scoring 18 against Arizona back in November.

* In two games against Idaho State this season, Montana averaged 56 points on 32.8 percent shooting. If the Big Sky tournament happened today, those two teams would meet in the 4-5 game in the quarterfinals.

Around the Big Sky Conference:

* Montana State sits atop the Big Sky standings at 13-1 and plays its next four games at home (PSU, UM, SAC, NAU) before closing at Southern Utah and Northern Colorado.

* Idaho (10-4 BSC) moved into second place in the Big Sky standings on Monday night with a home win over Portland State. The Vandals play four of their last six games on the road, starting Thursday night with an important matchup at Northern Arizona.

* Northern Arizona (10-5 BSC) is one game up on Montana and Idaho State. The Lumberjacks host Idaho on Thursday and still have to make the Montana-Montana State road trip.

* Idaho State has perhaps the most favorable closing schedule, getting Weber State and Eastern Washington at home among its final five games, with road games at up-and-down Northern Colorado and Portland State.

* Southern Utah and Northern Colorado are both 7-7 in league, with the teams playing in Cedar City on Thursday, where the Thunderbirds opened some eyes with an 82-64 home win over Northern Arizona on Saturday. If SUU can win that one, it will likely move to 9-7 when it hosts Weber State on Saturday.

* Portland State and Sacramento State are both 6-9. The Vikings, who don’t resemble the team they were in January, have lost five straight. The Hornets have quietly won five of nine, including a surprising 71-62 win at Southern Utah last week without Kennedy Nicholas.

* Thursday’s schedule: PSU at MSU, WSU at ISU, UNC at SUU, UI at NAU, EWU at SAC

* Game to monitor: Idaho at Northern Arizona — The Lumberjacks won the teams’ first meeting in Moscow 71-70 on Lauren Orndoff’s 3-pointer with 7.4 seconds remaining. The winner will be in sole possession of second place.

* Saturday’s schedule: UM at MSU, ISU at UNC, WSU at SUU, EWU at NAU, UI at SAC

* Game to monitor: Idaho State at Northern Colorado — The Bengals dominated the teams’ first matchup in Pocatello 59-39, with the Bears shooting 28.3 percent. UNC has a better record in road games (7-6) this season than home games (4-6).

Upcoming: Montana will host Northern Arizona next Thursday in a big matchup of teams currently in the top five, then celebrate Senior Day on Saturday against Sacramento State.