BOISE — By the time the Montana Lady Griz decided to be the aggressors, it was too little too late.
Montana, the No. 7 seed, dug an early hole against No. 10-seed Southern Utah and was never able to complete its comeback in a 64-56, season-ending loss in the first round of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament at Century Link Arena Monday. Southern Utah (8-22) will play second-seeded Northern Colorado (20-9) in the quarterfinal round at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
“They’re a very athletic team, and we just needed to get a body on somebody, make it so it was a physical battle. I think they were the aggressor that way,” said Lady Griz senior Jace Henderson. “It showed in the second half, we came back and we tried to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Sometimes it’s a little too late for those things.”
Southern Utah built a 20-11 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks in large part to its work on the glass. The Thunderbirds dominated the Lady Griz, recording 24 offensive rebounds in the game. SUU set that tone early and carried it through the majority of the game.
The Lady Griz were down 10 at halftime and trailed by as many as 12 points multiple times, but they found a spark in the second half. They got within five points but could never quite get over the hump and amp up the pressure on SUU.
“We got some turnovers and converted on some shots and kept making a run, cutting it to a two-possession game several times,” said UM head coach Shannon Schweyen. “It was all the second-chance rebounds and things like that, we just couldn’t quite close it out.”
Every time UM threatened, SUU seemed to have an answer. It usually came from Rebecca Cardenas or a put-back off an offensive rebound. Cardenas finished with a game-high 18 points, and the Thunderbirds scored 16 second-chance points.
The Lady Griz (14-16) found something in the second half, though, with Kylie Frohlich, who saw an increase in minutes after Emma Stockholm left with an injury in the first half. Frohlich, a freshman from Missoula Sentinel High School, corralled five offensive rebounds as UM tried to mount its comeback.
With Stockholm’s injury and Gabi Harrington fighting the flu, according to Schweyen, — not to mention season-ending injuries to Sophia Stiles, Taylor Goligoski and Madi Schoening — Frohlich and fellow freshman Jordyn Schweyen were forced into more action. Frohlich played 25 minutes on Monday and Schweyen 35.
Sammy Fatkin paced UM with 13 points, and McKenzie Johnston added 12 and nine assists. Henderson had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds in her final collegiate game.
“This was supposed to be a season, we were hoping, when we were experienced and had some depth, and unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way again for us,” said Shannon Schweyen. “We ended up kind of being young again in a lot of ways: one senior and then playing a lot of young kids, but I still felt like those kids did a lot of wonderful things. They’re hungry to get back here next season.”
Since taking over the program from legendary coach Robin Selvig in 2016, Shannon Schweyen has seen her teams face plenty of adversity in the way of injuries. Henderson, the lone senior on this year’s team, knows the future is bright in Missoula, though.
“This conference is too tough to just have good players. You have to have so much more to get a win, and those big wins we had (during the regular season) were — I mean, regardless of who scored the most points, it was every single person bought in, locked in to the game plan. It was great scouting from our coaches. It was a program effort,” said Henderson. “I’ll tell you what, the Lady Griz, when they get that figured out, and I think they’re going to next year, they’re going to be scary.”