STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
MISSOULA – Savannah Smith scored 18 of her 20 points in the second half and Northern Colorado shot 73.6 percent after the break to rally for a 64-58 victory over Montana on Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
The Bears (15-6, 7-3 BSC) trailed 27-23 at the half and took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter thanks to Smith and the Grizzlies’ inability to pull even despite being within six for the entirety of the final period.
“It’s disappointing we let that one slip away,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen. “We had lots of good looks tonight. Unfortunately nobody got hot down the stretch.”
The fourth quarter was frustrating, but it may have been the first half that cost Montana (11-10, 7-3 BSC) a shot at staying atop the Big Sky Conference.
Everything was in place for Montana, which got out to a pair of nine-point first-quarter leads, to build a comfortable advantage and put Northern Colorado in a bad spot.
The Savannahs — Smith and Scott, the Bears’ two leading scorers — had two points between them in the first half, with Smith spending a good portion of the second quarter on the bench with foul trouble.
But a scoring drought that stretched more than eight minutes, from late in the first quarter to deep into the second, kept Montana from gaining the separation it should have given the situation.
“It felt like we had a stretch when we didn’t score forever,” said Schweyen. “You can’t go long stretches like that without scoring and beat a team like that. You knew eventually they’d get something cooking, and we had to be matching that.”
All the little things in the first half went Northern Colorado’s way. The Bears scored in the closing seconds of both the first and second quarters, the Lady Griz struggled at the line, and Kirsten Kramer went from unnoticed to unsung hero in the span of three minutes.
The junior from San Antonio, Texas, hadn’t played a minute for the Bears this season, but she hit a pair of 3-pointers late in the second quarter that had Northern Colorado surprisingly within four at the break.
“She literally has not played at all this year. Those were big buckets for them, because they were struggling offensively,” said Schweyen. “Smith was out with foul trouble, so that was a big lift for them off their bench.
“You look at those things, and maybe you get away from them a little bit more. So it was disappointing we couldn’t get further away from them in that stretch.”
Smith scored 10 of her points in the third quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers late in the period that gave the Bears their first lead of the game since its early minutes.
Not even Sophia Stiles, who can stick to most ball-handlers like glue, could keep Smith, who has the full offensive arsenal, from step-backs to a wicked hesitation dribble, from getting herself open looks.
Getting them is one thing. Knocking them down is another, and Northern Colorado was on fire the final 20 minutes.
“She’s as good as there is at getting those threes at the top of the key,” said Schweyen. “We talked at the half that she was going to try to take over, so we needed to be alert for her. Unfortunately she got some good looks, and they went.”
Nobody else reached double-digit scoring for the Bears, which made Montana’s inability to bridge its deficit in the fourth quarter all that more frustrating.
The Lady Griz grabbed seven of their 19 offensive rebounds in the final period, which led to 19 shot attempts, 10 more than the Bears had. But while Montana was going 6 for 19, Northern Colorado closed the game going 7 for 9 the final 10 minutes.
“You’d think we’d get a little more out of those (offensive rebounds),” said Schweyen. “It just didn’t feel like they turned into much.”
Montana pulled within one, 53-52, on a Jace Henderson basket with 4:04 left and one again, 55-54, on a Hailey Nicholson jumper, but both times Northern Colorado answered at the other end.
With the game hanging in the balance, Montana missed its final seven shots, allowing Northern Colorado to sweep the season series for the first time since 2011-12.
Stiles led Montana with 16 points, going 5 for 8 from the field, including 2 for 3 from the arc, and a perfect 4 of 4 from the line before fouling out late after playing a season-high 36 minutes.
“She was a big factor at both ends,” said Schweyen. “She was giving us so much out there that she got tired, but it was hard to take her out.”
Madi Schoening added 12 points and 10 rebounds to record her first career double-double.
“Madi had a heck of a game. She always plays hard and with a ton of heart and does a little bit of everything. I’m pleased with the way she played,” said Schweyen.
The loss drops Montana into a four-way tie for second place in the Big Sky with Northern Colorado, Montana State and Idaho. The Bobcats won 72-56 at home on Thursday night over North Dakota, while Idaho held off Portland State in Moscow, 61-60.
In other league action, Eastern Washington won 83-76 at home over Sacramento State and Idaho State won 76-59 at home over Northern Arizona.
Weber State, now atop the Big Sky at 7-2 in league, won at home over Southern Utah 65-50 on Thursday afternoon.
Montana will host North Dakota (10-11, 3-7 BSC) on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Lady Griz won the first meeting between the two teams, 54-43 in Grand Forks.