(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA — Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen loves that no deficit seems to be too large for her team to overcome. But she’s more than ready to start loving it for other reasons.
After spotting Idaho a 41-22 halftime lead and 21-point advantage early in the third quarter on Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena, Montana put together a spirited rally that cut its deficit to four midway through the fourth quarter.
But just as in Thursday’s loss to Eastern Washington, when the Lady Griz fell behind by 14 and cut it to one late, the hole was too deep, and the Vandals held on to win their ninth straight game, 67-56.
“This has to be one of the best comeback teams I’ve ever been around. We can be down 20-some and we still have a chance to win the game,” said Schweyen.
“We’ve just got to stop burying ourselves like this. It would be a lot easier for us and give us a better chance if we’d quit getting down so much.”
Idaho has been the Big Sky Conference’s hottest team for more than a month, and the Vandals played like it in the first half, scoring the game’s first 10 points and leading 20-5 after the first quarter.
Taylor Pierce scored 17 of her 19 points in the first half, and Idaho went 10 for 19 from the arc in the opening 20 minutes to lead by 19 at the break.
It didn’t help Montana’s cause that the Lady Griz shot just 27.3 percent in the first half or that it had to play the final 13 minutes without point guard McKenzie Johnston, who picked up two early fouls.
“We got a lot of good shots, they just didn’t go in,” said Schweyen. “We needed somebody to make a few shots to have it not be such a deficit.
“Our shots weren’t falling, but nobody was getting any rebound put-backs either. At some point, somebody has to go down there and get one we missed and give the team a lift.”
After falling behind 45-24 on a Geraldine McCorkell basket two minutes into the third quarter, Montana finally started heating up while Idaho finally started cooling off.
The Vandals made just three baskets over the next 12 minutes, and sparked by Johnston’s return, the Lady Griz slowly fought their way back into the game.
The lead was nine, 47-38, by the end of the third quarter and down to four, 52-48, when Caitlin Lonergan powered in a basket with 5:37 to go.
“We came out the second half and really competed,” said Schweyen. “They don’t ever quit, and you want that out of your kids. You want them believing it’s never over.
“One of these days we’re going to come back and end up winning it. I’m tired of getting close.”
On Thursday it was Delaney Hodgins who wasn’t going to let her team lose. On Saturday it was Mikayla Ferenz, who scored 15 of her game-high 24 points in the final period.
After Lonergan’s basket had the crowd of 3,353 believing it was really going to happen, Ferenz did what she does better than anybody else in the Big Sky. She went back-to-back from the arc to up the lead back to 10, 58-48.
Montana would get no closer than six after Ferenz’s daggers.
“They use their weapons well,” said Schweyen, whose team gave up 24 points to Ferenz, 20 to McCorkell and 19 to Pierce. “It’s an absolute workout when you’re guarding Ferenz and Pierce. Anybody who has that assignment of staying with them, it’s a job and a half.
“This team has been scoring it up in the 90s and 100s lately, and we have them in the 60s, so I’m proud of the defensive effort. It would have been nice to make a few shots.”
Johnston and Lonergan did what they could. Johnston, held scoreless in the first half in limited minutes, scored all 14 of her points in the second half on 7-of-10 shooting, mostly on sweet pull-up jumpers.
“Her big weapon is her dribble-jumper. It’s a beautiful thing. She can elevate over people, which makes her dangerous. She was going to do her best to get us back in that ball game,” said Schweyen.
Lonergan scored all 11 of her points in the second half, and Hailey Nicholson went 3 for 4 in the second half to score six of her eight points.
Taylor Goligoski and Madi Schoening combined for 14 points and never left the floor, playing all 40 minutes, much of it dogging Idaho’s perimeter players as best they could.
“I was extremely proud of Taylor. She played some of the best defense I’ve seen her play,” said Schweyen. “And Madi absolutely got ran all over the court and back. Madi brought it today in every aspect of her game.”
The outcome extended Montana’s losing streak to four, all coming since the loss of Sophia Stiles to a season-ending knee injury.
“I felt like today was a step forward in that aspect,” said Schweyen. “We got better today. We played a really talented team, and we did a good job on defense.
“We struggled a little bit on offense, but I thought we did some good things.”
With the loss, Montana drops into a two-way tie for seventh in the Big Sky with Montana State, both teams sitting at 8-7 in league after the Bobcats overcame 31 points from Hodgins to win 77-74 over Eastern Washington on Saturday in Bozeman.
The Lady Griz and Bobcats will play next Saturday at Dahlberg Arena at 2 p.m. in what will be Montana’s final home game of the season.