STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
MISSOULA – With finals behind them and a short Christmas break ahead, the Lady Griz looked anything but present on Wednesday night as their game against shorthanded Rocky Mountain tipped off at Dahlberg Arena.
But after playing to a sluggish 25-25 first-half tie, Montana finally came to life in the third quarter and went on to a 54-38 victory over the Bears in its final nonconference game before league opens next week.
Montana (4-7) got 10 points from both McKenzie Johnston and Madi Schoening, and nine points and four steals from Sophia Stiles off the bench while outscoring Rocky Mountain 29-13 in the second half.
“That wasn’t quite the game we wanted to end the nonconference and head into league with,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “We weren’t ready to go. We didn’t have any enthusiasm or fire to us.
“I was proud of the way the girls responded in the second half. We were much more ready to go.”
That Rocky Mountain played Montana tough wasn’t a surprise. The Bears, who counted the game as an exhibition, are 9-1 this season and pushed the Lady Griz to the wire last December at Dahlberg Arena.
But Rocky was without two starters on Wednesday, including Mikayla Jones, the team’s second-leading scorer.
Montana led 4-0 after the first minute, courtesy of a pair of free throws by Jace Henderson and a basket by Mekayla Isaak, but the rest of the first half would be a grind.
The Lady Griz only turned the ball over three times in the first half but missed 19 shots and only hit one of their five 3-point attempts.
A 12-2 run by the Bears over a six-minute stretch of the second quarter put them up 25-20. A basket by Stiles and a 3-pointer by Schoening allowed Montana to catch up by the break.
“Credit to them. We wanted to set the tone immediately about who we are, and we didn’t do that. We didn’t execute,” said Schweyen.
“I don’t know what it was, maybe a little fog from finals, but we weren’t looking very sharp.”
Hailee Farstveet put the Bears up 28-25 with a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the second half, but that would be the final lead of the game for Rocky Mountain.
Jace Henderson scored inside, Schoening splashed a 3-pointer and Johnston scored twice at the rim to make it 34-28.
As Montana extended its defense up the court, Rocky Mountain got rattled, just long enough for eight turnovers for the period, with four steals for the Lady Griz and some easy transition baskets.
Montana made six straight shots during one stretch and was 8 for 13 (.615) for the quarter, outscoring Rocky Mountain 19-5.
“The one positive tonight was we came out the second half ready to roll,” said Schweyen. “I thought there was a different look in their eyes the second half. We got some easy ones the third quarter.”
Montana cooled off in the fourth quarter, but Rocky Mountain didn’t have enough firepower to close the gap to closer than 10, which it did twice in the final period.
The Bears went just 5 for 26 (.192) in the second half, with only one 3-pointer made on nine attempts.
Montana most notably held Brooke Jones, Rocky’s leading scorer at 14.3, in check. She didn’t score in 32 minutes but did grab 12 rebounds and dish out four of her team’s seven assists.
“We did a good job keeping track of her,” said Schweyen.
Farstveet led both teams with 12 points but also had seven of the Bears’ 18 turnovers. Markaele Francis, of Great Falls, had 11 points and six rebounds.
Montana, which has one of the country’s lowest shooting percentages from 3-point range, added to that on Wednesday, going 2 for 11 despite getting plenty of good looks.
Schoening went 2 for 3 from the arc. Everyone else: 0 for 8.
“They doubled us in the post, and I thought we handled that well. We just didn’t hit the inside-out shots,” said Schweyen.
“We’ve got to find other ways to overcome that when that happens, whether that’s getting some offensive-rebound putbacks or creating some turnovers that lead to transition baskets.”
Montana used its strong third-quarter shooting to finish at 41.1 percent for the game. The team’s starters shot 47.2 percent.
Montana opens Big Sky play at home against Northern Arizona (3-8) on Thursday, Dec. 28. The Lady Griz host Southern Utah (1-10) on Saturday, Dec. 30.