MISSOULA -- The Montana Lady Griz defeated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 81-74 on Thursday night in Dahlberg Arena to move to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference women's basketball play.
After a dominant start from Montana, the Thunderbirds settled in and made it a game until the end.
Montana started the game with ferocious defense and a strong inside game that led to an early 9-0 lead. After the first quarter, the Montana defense held Southern Utah to just five points. However, in the second quarter, Southern Utah came alive and outscored Montana 28-20 to pull within six points, 39-33, at halftime.
To start the second half, the Thunderbirds once again won the quarter, outscoring Montana 25-23 to bring the Lady Griz lead down to just four as UM took the 62-58 lead into the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, Montana senior Emma Stockholm made some key plays to lead her team to its third conference win. With six minutes to play, Southern Utah took the lead, 65-64. Stockholm responded with a layup and a foul to take back the two-point lead. Then, with just less than two minutes to play, Southern Utah began creeping back and trailed by one, but Stockholm came up big on the defensive end, grabbing a steal followed by a 3-pointer of her own to give Montana the 77-74 lead. From there, the Lady Griz got another big steal from Sophia Stiles, who followed with two free throws to ice the game.
"I just love the way that they are finding ways to win. Emma had a great stretch in there and Abby (Anderson) had some big blocks down the stretch. Of course, Sophia's steal was just the icing on the cake," said Montana head coach Shannon Schweyen. "Those are the little things that win you games. I mean, players step up and make plays. They are the ones that do it. You just hope that they have that tenacity and they have a will to not want to lose here, and there's a lot to be said for those seniors that know this is their last go-around in the Big Sky."
McKenzie Johnston and Stockholm both finished with 17 points. Fresh off being named the Big Sky Conference player of the week, Anderson picked up right where she left off, scoring 17 as well. Anderson also finished with a game-high five assists.
"(Schweyen and Anderson) talked about that (conference player of the week). ... I said, 'Hey, no pressure on you just because you've got this, but you do need to know that was no fluke. You are capable of doing that if you go out and focus and have that kind of mindset,'" said Schweyen. "Consistency out of her is one thing we are hoping for this year, and so far she is doing a nice job with that."
As a team, the Lady Griz shot an even 50 percent (30 for 60) from the field and were 2 for 10 from beyond the arc, with Harrington and Taylor Goligoski making one each. In an area where Montana struggled last year, the team went 19 for 24 from the line (79.2 percent). The Lady Griz dominated the Thunderbirds in the paint, finishing with 52 points down low compared to Southern Utah's 26. Southern Utah also turned the ball over 19 times compared to Montana's 11.
"We have a versatile team and it's a good thing when other people are contributing. When our posts are kicking butt in there and then they kick it out, and if the 3-pointers are going down and all of that, then it makes it tougher for them to defend us. So when we have different people contributing from all aspects of our team, it helps a lot," said Johnston.
Montana (8-4 overall, 3-0 Big Sky Conference) stays at home this week as they'll host Northern Colorado (5-6, 1-1) on Saturday for their fourth game in eight days. Montana has not beaten Northern Colorado since the 2015-16 season.