STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
GRAND FORKS, ND – Montana’s depth overcame North Dakota’s star power on Thursday night and it resulted in a 54-43 victory over Lexi Klabo and the Fighting Hawks at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks.
The win not only kept Montana (7-7, 3-0 BSC) unbeaten through three Big Sky Conference games, it snapped the Lady Griz’ 20-game losing streak away from home that dated back to March 2016, a streak started by the Fighting Hawks in Reno.
The victory also ended North Dakota’s 11-game home winning streak.
“We came in hungry for this,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team played its final game in Grand Forks against North Dakota as a member of the Big Sky. The Fighting Hawks are off to the Summit League next season.
“We talked about walking out of here for the very last time with a W and our first road win, which was exciting. I couldn’t be more proud. It was a great contribution by everybody.”
Teams don’t often shoot 31 percent on the road, as Montana did, and win, but the Lady Griz pulled it off with a solid defensive effort and a dominating rebounding performance against a team that usually does that very thing to its opponent.
Montana finished with a 42-33 advantage on the boards, with 19 of those coming on the offensive end. Those extra touches only led to 10 second-chance points, but in a game that was within two possessions for most of the second half, it proved to be the difference.
McKenzie Johnston grabbed eight rebounds, Jace Henderson added seven, with five of those coming on the offensive end.
“Nineteen offensive rebounds is what gave us so many more chances,” said Schweyen, whose team used those extra touches to take 14 more shots than North Dakota, which helped offset Montana’s shooting woes.
“Jace was just a warhorse in there. She was relentless. They are a big, tall, strong team, and she’s coming out of crowds with the ball. She has a knack for it.”
Montana trailed 10-9 at the end of the first quarter after going just 4 for 16 through the opening 10 minutes.
The Lady Griz hit their first three shots of the second quarter — a 3-pointer by Emma Stockholm, a jumper by Hailey Nicholson, a 3-pointer by Sophia Stiles, all players who came off the bench — to take a lead they would never relinquish.
It also highlighted the balanced scoring that North Dakota (7-7, 0-3 BSC) couldn’t match, no matter how good Klabo was. She finished with 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting, but Montana had nine players in the scoring column.
“It was a total team effort,” said Schweyen. “Everybody contributed in little ways. It was a phenomenal team win.”
Klabo did what she could to keep her team in the game in the second half, but she was mostly matched by Montana sophomore Caitlin Lonergan, who was playing in just her second collegiate game.
Lonergan finished with a team-high 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting and six rebounds. She even came up with a pair of steals.
Eight of her points came in the second half, when Montana was holding on to a lead that hovered between four and six points for most of it.
“Caitlin was a huge factor in this game,” said Schweyen. “It’s all a new experience, so I wasn’t sure how she would do in her first road game.
“I was so impressed with how she came in here and the composure she showed for someone who literally was playing her second collegiate game.”
Montana led 40-34 after three quarters and was just 2 for 14 in the fourth, but North Dakota wasn’t much better, going 3 for 12.
With neither team stepping up to take hold of the game, it kept the final period low-scoring and tight.
Klabo cut the lead to two, 42-40, with back-to-back baskets early in the final period. Lonergan answered with four made free throws to extend the lead back to six, 46-40, and that set the stage for Madi Schoening, whose 3-pointer with 1:09 left made it 49-40 and put the game out of reach.
A 3-pointer by Melissa Dailey in the final minute was only North Dakota’s fourth basket of the second half not scored by Klabo.
Klabo’s teammates were just 7 for 30 in the game, and North Dakota went 2 for 20 from 3-point range.
“We knew we couldn’t stop her. We just wanted to do our best to try to contain her. She had a really big game, but I thought we did a really nice job on the rest of the team,” said Schweyen.
“We just battled so hard and plugged away. It was a great effort and great team win.”
Montana will face Northern Colorado in Greeley on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Bears, 11-3 overall, also improved to 3-0 in league on Thursday night with an 82-69 home win over Montana State behind Savannah Smith’s 32 points.