(Editor's note: University of Montana athletics release)
MISSOULA -- No. 24 Arizona used its quickness, size and depth to shoot 51.7 percent and improve to 6-0 on the season with a 77-42 victory over Montana on Sunday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
The Wildcats raced out to a 14-0 lead through the opening five minutes, which left the shorthanded Lady Griz playing catchup the rest of the game. Playing without Jamie Pickens and Madi Schoening, Montana was down to eight available players, which could have set the stage for a blowout. As odd as it sounds given the score, the game never felt like it reached that point.
Montana (2-2) turned the ball over only 14 times and allowed nine offensive rebounds, which led to just 10 second-chance points for the Wildcats. Offensively, the Lady Griz had plenty of good looks, just not the finish. They would shoot just 24.5 percent.
“I think we could count on one hand the number of bad shots we took. We just didn’t have anybody step up and knock those down today,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.
“We were getting good shots, so it felt like there was a chance to get on a bit of a roll if somebody would get hot, but I don’t know if we scored on back-to-back possessions all game.”
Last Sunday, Arizona junior point guard Aari McDonald, just 5-foot-6 but strong and quick, scored 44 points in the Wildcats’ 25-point road win at then-No. 22 Texas. She scored 10 points in the game’s opening six minutes on Sunday, eight at the basket, to set the early tone. She would finish with a game-high 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting, with seven rebounds.
Three other players scored in double figures, as well, for Arizona.
“She’s the real deal, just a really nice player,” said Schweyen. “I thought we actually did a pretty nice job holding her to 19 as crazy as that sounds.
“They just had too many other kids step up and do some positive things.”
It was 16-3 when the vibe of the game changed. Montana stood its defensive ground and held Arizona to just one made field goal over the next nearly four minutes. But at a stretch in the game when the Lady Griz could have fought their way back into it, McKenzie Johnston, a 59-percent shooter entering the game, missed on two good looks, Gabi Harrington misfired on a three and Sammy Fatkin missed a runner in the lane.
An Arizona 3-pointer just before quarter’s end made it 23-6 at the first break. The opportunity, no matter how brief, had been there, even to just stay in touch.
“When you’re playing a ranked opponent, you’ve got to hope somebody gets a little bit hot,” said Schweyen, whose team shot 2 for 11 in the opening quarter, while Arizona was going 9 for 15.
“We kept searching for that. We just couldn’t get into a groove where we were coming down feeling like we were settled in a little bit. It was hard to get any sort of flow going.”
Montana forced six of Arizona’s 13 turnovers for the game in the second quarter and limited the Wildcats to one offensive rebound. Against most teams that would have been enough to start to cut into the lead. Not against a ranked opponent that held the Lady Griz to 4-of-16 shooting in the second period.
It was 38-18 at the half.
“I thought we had some good stretches once they got off to that start. We settled in a little bit and had some really good stops,” said Schweyen.
Montana would actually take more shots in the paint, 17 compared to 13, than Arizona in the first half. This being down Pickens. Considering the Wildcats pounded the ball into post early and often to start the second half, it was obviously a point of emphasis in the visitor's locker room.
Arizona would put up 20 points in the third quarter, half coming in the paint, nine others on 3-pointers, the kind of inside-out attack that makes top-25 teams so deadly.
“They can score in such a hurry. They got going downhill on us a couple times in the paint. You give these guys any sort of gap and they are getting through it and to the hole,” said Schweyen.
“I was proud of how hard we played being shorthanded. It would have been a great opportunity for Jamie to get in there and play against these guys.”
Without Pickens, Montana’s post players were down to Emma Stockholm, who was held scoreless on four shots but grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, Abby Anderson and Kylie Frohlich, also scoreless.
“Their posts are so big and strong,” said Schweyen. “It was tough for us to get buckets down there. We were lucky nobody got in severe foul trouble to the point it messed with our lineup too much.”
Johnston, Harrington and Taylor Goligoski all scored 10 points to lead Montana. Abby Anderson had eight. On an afternoon without many offensive highlights, it was Anderson’s block of Cate Reese, she of the Pac-12 All-Freshman team last season, a stuff so severe it ended with the 6-foot-2 Reese on the floor, that electrified the crowd.
Anderson went 3 for 6 and was so efficient and confident in her footwork that she didn’t get blocked once, the only person on the team that left the floor being able to say that.
“We talked at halftime about needing to get something out of our post players. We needed to be posting tougher and looking to score,” said Schweyen.
“It was nice to see Abby responded and did some good things the second half. We’ve got to get her thinking that way more often, because we need more scoring out of her.”
Arizona led 58-27 after three quarters, then outscored Montana 19-15 in the final period for the game’s final margin. It was just the 18th time Montana has faced a ranked opponent at Dahlberg Arena. The Lady Griz dropped to 7-11 in those games.
“They were fired up about getting a ranked opponent in our arena,” said Schweyen. “You always want that challenge, so it was a good experience for us, even though it didn’t end up the way we wanted.”
Montana will play its first road games of the season next week at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Classic. The Lady Griz will face Santa Clara (3-2), a team that played Arizona to a 65-52 decision on the Wildcats’ home floor earlier this month, at 4:30 p.m. (MT) on Friday.
Montana will play the host Titans (4-2) on Saturday at 6 p.m. (MT).