(Story by Griz Communications)
MISSOULA – Montana’s and Idaho State’s coaching staffs will both be able to look back on opportunities missed after the Lady Griz and Bengals played a game that went down to the wire on Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena.
But Montana’s will have one less thing to fret about after the Lady Griz pulled out a 60-59 victory, giving them back-to-back wins as they move forward on a three-game homestand.
Montana won despite a two-point second quarter, a 1-for-12 effort from 3-point range and 11 missed free throws.
Idaho State lost despite holding an opponent to 34.5 percent shooting on its home floor and having its best free throw shooter at the line with 5.2 seconds left in a two-point game.
But Saylair Grandon, an 80-percent shooter, hit only one of two, which set up Emma Stockholm to make both of hers with 4.5 seconds left, giving Montana a 60-57 lead.
Then, the final missed opportunity. Without a timeout to advance the ball into the frontcourt, the Bengals inbounded the ball to Madison Hinrichs, who took it the length of the floor and laid it in at the horn, when it was a 3-pointer that was needed to tie the game.
And with that, Montana (12-11, 7-7 BSC) remains within half a game of fifth place in the Big Sky Conference standings, while Idaho State (16-8, 11-4 BSC) misses a chance to take over the top spot in the league standings, after Idaho lost on Saturday at Northern Colorado.
Tied 24-24 at the half, Montana scored the opening nine points of the third quarter to build a lead it would never give up, though Idaho State three times made it a one-point game in the final minute.
“It was just a battle down the stretch to try to maintain it,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “I’m proud of the girls for doing the little things at the end.
“Those were huge free throws by Emma to ice that thing for us. It’s a big difference if she misses those.”
It was a game when Montana looked unstoppable, hitting nine of its first 12 shots, then totally stoppable.
The Lady Griz, who led 22-10 after the first quarter, missed their final three shots of the opening period, then went 1 for 17 in the second quarter, which gave the Bengals time to work their way back into it.
Idaho State wasn’t lights-out in the second quarter, shooting just 5 for 14, but the Bengals didn’t have to be, not with Montana limited to a single made field goal, Carmen Gfeller’s jumper at the 2:49 mark, the team’s first made basket in nearly nine minutes.
“It’s frustrating. You’d think when you get off to a good start, you might be rolling a little bit. We had two threes rattle in and go out and a couple of other good shots around the basket that didn’t quite go,” said Schweyen.
“Credit to them for making a run after we got off to such a good start.”
No one in the building knew quite what to expect out of Montana in the third quarter. Would it be the Lady Griz of the opening eight minutes, when everything was working, or the team that closed the half going 1 for 20?
It was the former. Montana made its first four shots of the second half to build a cushion and used a late 3-pointer by Gabi Harrington to take a 46-36 lead into the fourth.
Then it almost turned into a repeat of the second quarter. The Bengals would hit nine of their 13 shots in the final period to keep the pressure on the Lady Griz, who would go 3 for 15 with four missed free throw.
“They are hard to guard. They run a lot of good actions and have multiple scorers, so it’s not like you can just key on one kid,” said Schweyen.
“It’s a physical battle when you play these guys. They are big and strong. That’s a talented team to keep in the 50s.”
But just barely. After McKenzie Johnston, who had her first double-double of the season, with 12 points and 11 rebounds, connected on a jumper with 2:57 to go, the lead was 57-49. Montana would not make another basket.
Hinrichs scored twice in the paint to make it 57-53, and Grandon drained a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left that pulled the Bengals within one.
After Montana made one of two free throws with 10 seconds left, Grandon drove hard to the basket and drew a whistle. With a chance to tie it, she missed the first, made the second.
Lost amidst the game’s action was that Idaho State used its final timeout with 2:48 left.
It was a good move in that it led to seven straight points for ISU. But it left the Bengals without one to use in the final seconds, when they could have regrouped and advanced the ball after Stockholm hit her free throws.
It led to Hinrichs making a mad rush to the basket. She scored, but all it did was cut into Idaho State’s final deficit when they had an opportunity to at least take a shot to tie it.
“They couldn’t advance the ball, and that can be the difference,” said Schweyen. “It’s certainly nice to have them at the end, but there are times during the game you want to have your team over there and get them going.”
Montana didn’t shoot it well on Saturday, just like the Lady Griz didn’t when they lost 50-34 at Pocatello last month. But on this day they only had 10 turnovers, fewer than half as many as the 21 they had at Reed Gym.
That and 11 offensive rebounds allowed Montana to win for the first time this season when shooting under 40 percent.
“We turned it over a ton in that game trying to force the ball inside to Jace (Henderson),” said Schweyen. “We tried to get the ball turned more today.
“And you always love getting those O-boards, because it gives you a second chance. I was proud of the way we rebounded with them. It was a great collective effort.”
With Henderson limited to three shots, Gabi Harrington came through with 18 points. Stockholm finished with 12, as did Johnston, with Sammy Fatkin adding eight.
Montana’s starters all played at least 33 minutes and accounted for all but two of the team’s points.
Grandon led Idaho State with 19 points. Grace Kenyon added an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Montana now enters the final push of the regular season. The Lady Griz won’t play again until hosting Montana State next Saturday, but that will commence a stretch of six games in 15 days, followed by a trip to Boise for the Big Sky tournament.