(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
OGDEN, Utah — It takes a village these days to hang with Weber State, the Big Sky Conference’s biggest surprise this season and the league’s highest-scoring team.
Montana gave it its best shot on Wednesday night in Ogden, entering the fourth quarter within two, but in the end the truth came out: the Lady Griz are just short of able-bodied villagers.
Playing a Montana team that was missing another starter — senior Jace Henderson was injured at practice on Tuesday morning and missed Wednesday night’s game — the Wildcats scored the opening 15 points of the fourth quarter and pulled away for an 89-73 victory.
The loss makes it official: Montana, which ends its season with a game at Idaho State on Friday night, will be playing on Monday when the Big Sky tournament opens in Reno next week, with final seeding still up in the air.
Montana (13-15, 9-8 BSC) got 18 points and nine rebounds off the bench from Caitlin Lonergan, 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists from McKenzie Johnston and some nice contributions from other players pressed into duty, but Weber State (19-9, 11-6 BSC) was just too potent offensively.
Larryn Brooks scored 30 points, her fourth 30-point scoring game this season, and Jaiamoni Welch-Coleman and Briana Gray combined for 36 more on 14-of-19 shooting as the Wildcats shot 52.9 percent while turning the ball over a season-low five times.
“It’s just a real battle trying to contain them,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “We had a heck of a time trying to keep them in front of us in the zone, and then they’re knocking down threes like crazy.
“But I was proud of the way the girls competed. I thought they played really hard. We did a lot of good things. Seventy-three is a lot of points for us to put up. We just couldn’t find an answer to stop them tonight.”
Montana started out cold, missing 10 of its first 12 shots, but soon began matching fire with fire against one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams.
The Lady Griz went 4 for 5 from the arc in the opening period, finishing the quarter with seven assists on seven baskets, and led 21-19 at the first break.
Those 3-pointers came from four different players, including Sierra Anderson off the bench, a player who had made three triples in Montana’s previous 18 games. But when called upon, she was ready, going 2 for 2 from the arc for the game.
Emma Stockholm and Nora Klick also came off the bench to knock down 3-pointers on Wednesday.
“That’s what happens when you lose somebody. It’s a chance for somebody else to come in and show their stuff,” said Schweyen.
“Nora gave us a big lift, and Sierra played great. We got the ball turned to her, and she shot those things with confidence.”
Taylor Goligoski and Stockholm hit 3-pointers early in the second quarter, and a basket by Johnston put Montana up 10, 31-21, with six minutes left before half, but that would be as large as the lead would get.
Brooks and Welch-Coleman answered with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Brooks hit another to put Weber State ahead 37-36.
Despite shooting 7 for 12 from the 3-point line in the first half, turning it over just five times and finishing plus-six on the boards, Montana trailed at the break 42-39.
Weber State scored the first five points of the third quarter to build its lead to 47-39, but Montana would not go quietly.
Johnston scored six points in the quarter, with Lonergan and Klick both adding five.
A Klick triple put Montana up 55-52 with 2:59 left, and Lonergan scored on a put-back less than a minute later to keep the lead at three.
Lonergan matched her season high with nine rebounds and had another big performance on the road. She is averaging 12.9 points on 56.3 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds on other teams’ courts since becoming eligible in late December.
“Caitlin had a huge game. She’s such a big target in there, and she’s so strong. She can be in traffic and still finish,” said Schweyen. “I was pleased to see her have a big one. She’s figuring out what she can do.”
Montana was within two at the end of the third quarter, 61-59, but for the third consecutive road game, a big second-half run by the home team was too much for the Lady Griz to overcome.
Weber State scored the opening 15 points of the fourth quarter to go up 76-59 less than four minutes into the final period. On the other end it took Montana more than five minutes to score its first basket. By that time the game was over.
“It basically came down to, we didn’t shoot the ball all that well. We needed somebody to get a little more of a hot hand,” said Schweyen. “We needed someone to knock down some more perimeter shots to give us a chance to hang in there.”
Hailey Nicholson got her first start since Montana faced Kentucky in mid-November but was held scoreless, as was one of the team’s other starters, Mekayla Isaak.
Madi Schoening had 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but playing without Henderson, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, would take its toll in lost production.
“We certainly missed her out there tonight,” said Schweyen. “Not just her scoring and rebounding, but her presence overall. She just does so many great things for this team and is such an incredible competitor.
“But I was proud of the way a lot of the other girls responded. They played hard.”
But it was too much Wildcats and too much Brooks. She went 12 for 19, 6 of 10 from 3-point range, and threw in five rebounds and five assists.
“She’s the real deal,” said Schweyen of the fifth-year senior who spent two years at Indiana and two more at Texas Tech before finding her way to Weber State. “We tried to keep track of her as best we could. They ran some good things to get her some looks.”
The results of the Big Sky Conference on Wednesday night, including Montana State’s last-second 61-60 win at Idaho State, have Montana tied for seventh with the Bobcats, with one final league game for every team on Friday.
In other league games on Wednesday, Northern Colorado won at home over Portland State, 63-60, to clinch the outright regular-season title.
Sacramento State won 72-66 at North Dakota, Idaho won 93-83 at Northern Arizona, and Eastern Washington won 70-49 at Southern Utah.
Montana and Idaho State tip off at 7 p.m. on Friday night at ISU’s Reed Gym in Pocatello.