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Montana Lady Griz overwhelm Idaho to win first Big Sky Conference tournament game since 2018

Big Sky Conference women's basketball
Posted at 6:21 PM, Mar 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-12 10:40:13-04

BOISE, Idaho — Montana finally broke through in Boise.

The Lady Griz used a balanced and efficient scoring effort en route to a 73-61 win over Idaho on Monday in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference women’s basketball tournament — Montana’s first win in the tourney since it moved to Boise in 2019.

“We’ve lost obviously for two years since I’ve been here, but there’s a little history before that, too,” said Montana third-year coach Brian Holsinger. “I just think any time you do something that hasn’t been done in a long time, it feels good, right?”

Montana, which hadn’t won a tournament game since 2018, got off to a quick start Monday, with Gina Marxen scoring the team’s first five points before Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw and Carmen Gfeller combined for a 6-0 run to give the Lady Griz an 11-5 lead midway through the first quarter. They would lead the rest of the way.

“Our pace was good throughout the game in transition but also in the halfcourt,” Marxen said. “It’s always hard for a defense when you have so many weapons out on the floor. Even when we sub, having that depth is really difficult to defend.”

After trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, Idaho got back within 29-26 with four minutes left before halftime on a bucket by Kennedy Johnson, who finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds.

But Marxen rattled off seven consecutive points to send the Lady Griz into the break with a 36-26 advantage. Marxen scored Montana’s first two points of the third quarter, too, as the Lady Griz really opened it up in the frame.

They went on a 12-0 burst as part of an overall 19-2 run during the third, making 9 of 11 field goals in the period. Mack Konig scored six points and Gfeller and MJ Bruno each added five in the quarter.

“They’re just so complete. They’ve got everything,” said Idaho coach Carrie Eighmey. “They’ve got a really good post player in Gfeller, then they’ve got shooters all around. They put four shooters on the floor with her, and she shoots it well.

“Ball screens are extremely difficult with them. We probably gave them six or seven different coverages today, because if you switch, you’re going to get mismatched on Gfeller in the paint. If you try to get through it, you’re going to be at a disadvantage and they’re either going to get downhill and score it at the rim or get open 3s.

“They just have so many weapons, and they’re great passers. They have great length. Like I said, they’re by far the most talented team in the league.”

Montana had five players score double-digit points: Espenmiller-McGraw with 15, Marxen with 14, Konig with 13, Gfeller with 11 and Bruno with 10.

Macey Huard added eight points. Dani Bartsch had only two points but blocked six shots and grabbed 14 rebounds.

Up next for Montana is a semifinal game for the first time since 2014 when it went on to win the conference championship. The third-seeded Lady Griz will play No. 2 seed Northern Arizona at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’ll be a track meet,” Holsinger said. “We both like to go fast, so who can stop the other from getting easy baskets in transition, who can rebound it well (will win). It’ll be a fun matchup because we both like to score.”