(University of Montana Media Release)
MISSOULA -- There was Sammy Fatkin on Tuesday, nearly two hours before game time, the only player on the court, getting in some extra pregame shooting with Lady Griz assistant coach Mike Petrino.
And there was Sammy Fatkin a few hours later, stepping into a 3-pointer with the third quarter coming to an end and Montana on the ropes, sent there by a Grand Canyon flurry of deep balls.
What had been a 15-point lead a few minutes earlier had been cut to four and the Lopes were feeling it.
Fatkin’s shot, pure as can be from the top of the key, wasn’t the play of the game -- there would be plenty of those in the final minutes -- but it sent Montana into the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead.
The Lady Griz would keep their advantage the entire fourth quarter and hold on for a 72-67 victory at Dahlberg Arena that helped erase some of the memories of Friday’s disappointing loss to Fresno State.
“Kudos to the girls for keeping their cool down the stretch,” said coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team led 42-31 at the half. “(Grand Canyon) made a big run. It would have been tough to give that up.
“We fought hard and dug deep and made some great stops late. We made so many plays that were big down the stretch.”
Montana faced a dilemma well before Tuesday’s game tipped off: how to defend a Grand Canyon team that’s been built to produce offensively no matter how its opponent opts to try to slow it down.
The Lady Griz went zone in an attempt to neutralize the Lopes’ 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-2 starters. And it worked. Those two players combined for just six points, nearly 14 below their average.
But it also exposed Montana to the 3-point shot, the one Fresno State hit 10 times in Friday’s win while Montana was going 0 for 12 from the arc.
The Lopes would go 8 for 12 from 3-point range in the second half, 12 for 20 for the game, using it as their primary weapon to stay within an uncomfortable 10 points the final 12 minutes of the game.
“They do so much on-ball stuff and things off the dribble that we felt zone was the way to go,” said Schweyen.
“The zone was clicking for a long time, then they got comfortable. They had a couple girls get hot on us and make it interesting. They didn’t have to shoot that well. Everybody seems to shoot threes well against us.”
The game-changing difference between Friday’s loss and Tuesday’s win was Montana’s work on the boards out of the zone. Grand Canyon had just three offensive rebounds, a mere two second-chance points.
Fresno State grabbed 15 offensive rebounds four nights earlier.
Montana finished +10 on the glass, with Emma Stockholm grabbing nine rebounds, Abby Anderson seven.
“The zone really neutralized their two big girls, but it’s always scary when you have a 6-4 girl who is going to be on every miss. I was worried about the O boards but they only had three tonight.”
Montana extended its lead to 10 on a baseline jumper by Stockholm three minutes into the fourth quarter, but three threes in less than four minutes had Grand Canyon trailing just 65-62 with 2:09 to go.
Stockholm’s offensive rebound of a McKenzie Johnston miss with 1:36 to play won’t be under consideration for a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight, but it was another gem on the list of plays of the game.
If Grand Canyon gets the rebound, who knows what happens? Instead, the senior hit two free throws and the Lopes followed with turnovers on their next two possessions, the second coming via a Sophia Stiles steal.
Stiles would hit four free throws in the final 20 seconds, and Montana would have win No. 2 on the season, its first of the year against a Division I opponent.
“In games like this, the little things matter,” said Schweyen. “Sophie’s steal was huge to ice it, and we made some big free throws down the stretch. Sophie hit some big ones to put it away.
“Emma had a couple huge offensive rebounds late in the game, had a couple of steals and just did a lot of nice things. She played like a senior out there.”
Montana put up 42 first-half points thanks to some hot shooting through the first 20 minutes. The Lady Griz went 16 for 25 (.640) in the first half, but Grand Canyon shot better than 50 percent as well.
Those hot hands cooled way, way off in the second half. The Lady Griz went just 7 for 30 (.233) in the second half, which opened the door for Grand Canyon to possibly sneak out with a victory.
It’s why Fatkin’s triple with the clock ticking down in the third quarter was so huge. When Montana needed someone, anyone, to provide a lifeline, there was Fatkin.
“We talked about playing with confidence and shooting with confidence, so I loved that she took that one with confidence and buried it,” said Schweyen.
“It’s what great players do, and Sammy is a great player. I’m happy for her because that was a big, big shot.”
It was an all-hands-on-deck effort in the final quarter as Montana needed to overcome 2-for-14 shooting, while Grand Canyon was going 6 for 12, 4 of 7 from the arc.
It wasn’t pretty but it was just effective enough: one turnover the final 10 minutes, no offensive rebounds allowed, 10 of 12 free throws made. On this night, the Lady Griz found a way.
“I thought it was a great team effort. Everybody came in and did something positive and good in the game,” said Schweyen.
McKenzie Johnston, who never left the floor, finished with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Stockholm had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Stiles, with 14 points, hinted at what’s to come as she gets more and more comfortable being back on the floor after sitting out last season.
“This is what the preseason is all about, finding lineups that we can play in different spots,” said Schweyen, whose team had 19 assists on 23 made field goals.
The challenge will be large on Sunday when Arizona comes to town for a 2 p.m. game. The Wildcats are now ranked No. 24 in the nation at 4-0 and coming off a 25-point road win over a ranked Texas team.