(Editor’s note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
CEDAR CITY, Utah — Montana had the faster start but it was Southern Utah that controlled the game over the final three quarters as the Thunderbirds snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 71-56 victory over the Lady Griz at America First Event Center in Cedar City on Saturday afternoon.
Southern Utah (7-20, 4-14 BSC), in 10th place in the Big Sky Conference standings and without a win since January, hit 10 3-pointers and limited Montana (12-14, 7-10 BSC) to 33.8 percent shooting to defeat the Lady Griz for just the second time in the schools’ 19 meetings.
“It felt like we weren’t really focused today at all. That was disappointing,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “We certainly weren’t ourselves.
“Shooting 33 percent on the road makes it tough to win a lot of ball games. Throw in 15 turnovers and letting the other team make 10 threes, and it’s not a good recipe for a win.”
The Thunderbirds entered the game with just six wins on the season, but five of those came in Cedar City. They looked right at home on Saturday, closing the first quarter on a 10-0 run to build a lead they would never relinquish.
Southern Utah led 33-24 at the half, 49-41 after three quarters and never let Montana get closer than six in the second half.
“We can’t just stroll into places and think we’re going to get wins,” said Schweyen. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We have some kids who need to get dialed in to who they’re guarding and who the opponents are.
“We have to take accountability for that as coaches and as players. Until we do those simple things, we don’t have a chance of beating people.”
Montana got off to the kind of start it wanted, going up 12-5 seven minutes into the game, as Emma Stockholm and McKenzie Johnston both hit a pair of first-quarter baskets.
But a 3-pointer from Claudia Armato, another from Rebecca Cardenas and back-to-back baskets by Harley Hansen were part of a 10-0 surge to end the quarter as the Thunderbirds took a 15-12 lead into the first break.
“We talked about how we were going to be guarding things defensively, and we just had a couple of people not on the same page,” said Schweyen. “Unfortunately those turned into easy ones for them.”
Hurting Montana’s ability to keep pace with Southern Utah was the off game, offensively at least, by Jace Henderson, who entered the game leading the Big Sky in shooting percentage, just shy of 60 percent.
She was 0 for 7 in the first half and missed her first 10 shots, though she still managed to finish with a near double-double, with nine points and 11 rebounds.
“Obviously Jace got off to a tough start. Those are shots that usually go for her,” said Schweyen. “It was just one of those nights when things weren’t going to go down for her. That was hard for us to weather.”
Henderson made her first basket with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter, an and-one that brought Montana within six, 45-39.
She did it again on Montana’s opening possession of the fourth quarter, scoring inside off a feed from Abby Anderson to make it 49-43, but Cardenas, who didn’t play in the teams’ first matchup, a 79-57 Lady Griz victory in Missoula in late December, answered with a big three to push the lead back to nine.
Cardenas connected from the arc again at the 5:23 mark to make it 57-47, and Breanu Reid did the same thing just 24 seconds later, and that signaled the end of Montana’s hopes of a comeback.
“Our posts didn’t get up on the on-ball action high enough to contest some of those,” said Schweyen. “Those are things we need to do a better job of, of knowing who the personnel are and getting up and defending them.”
Cardenas would finish with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Southern Utah, which shot 41.9 percent and turned the ball over just 11 times, had four players score either 14 or 15 points.
“They were a different team this time around with Cardenas on the floor,” said Schweyen. “They’re a good basketball team with good players. Unfortunately they got it going with the three-ball against us.
“We go 2 for 13 from three. That’s the big difference in the game and kind of what’s been haunting us a little bit lately. We’re taking a few too many and not making enough while other people are knocking down 10.”
Johnston finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists while playing all 40 minutes for the seventh consecutive game. Stockholm had 10 points and 12 rebounds, her first double-double since early December.
Montana will play at Northern Arizona on Monday at 6:30 p.m. The Lumberjacks (10-17, 6-12 BSC) outscored Montana State by 10 in the second half on Saturday to defeat the Bobcats 76-72 in Flagstaff.