(Griz Communications Media Release)
MISSOULA -- The Montana women’s basketball team picked up an important home win on Thursday night, overcoming a sloppy start to defeat Northern Arizona 70-57 at Dahlberg Arena.
The win allowed the Lady Griz (15-11, 10-7 BSC), who snapped a two-game losing streak and completed a season sweep of the Lumberjacks (15-12, 12-6 BSC), to keep pace with the top half of the league.
Montana remains in a tie with Southern Utah, which won at Eastern Washington on Thursday, for fifth place in the Big Sky Conference standings with three regular-season games remaining.
It was Jamie Pickens who kept Montana within striking distance early on and Taylor Goligoski who gave the Lady Griz separation down the stretch on a night Montana was out of sorts from the opening tip.
The Lady Griz, who came in averaging just 12.5 turnovers, had 10 in the first quarter and just three made baskets through 10 minutes, with most of the giveaways all but gift-wrapped and handed to NAU.
“We’ve been a team that hasn’t turned it over a whole lot, and we absolutely gave them some gifts to make it tough on ourselves,” said coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team had 15 turnovers at the break.
“Fifteen turnovers in a half is unheard of for us. It was unbelievable.”
Montana was averaging more than a turnover per minute midway through the second quarter and trailing 20-9 when Pickens exerted herself.
After scoring four points in the first quarter, she sparked a second-quarter surge that had Montana outscoring Northern Arizona 18-8 over the final 5:14 of the first half while going 6 for 10 without a turnover.
“Jamie’s minutes were huge. She gave us a lift at a time when we were having a hard time scoring,” said Schweyen. “She had some really nice moments tonight.
“It was good to see us respond before the half ended and crawl back into it, then come out the second half and not even have one.”
Actually Montana didn’t have a single turnover over the game’s final 25:47 after giving the ball away 15 times in the first 14:13.
Still, the Lumberjacks led 28-27 at the half.
While Montana wasn’t turning it over in the second half, the Lady Griz were slow to get going, opening the second half 1 for 13.
From then on, everything clicked. Montana hit six of its final eight shots to close out the third quarter with a 46-42 lead, then went 8 for 15 in the fourth to pull away.
After McKenzie Johnston gave Montana its first lead of the game early in the third quarter, 29-28, Northern Arizona scored eight straight points and seemed to be taking control.
Then Pickens scored on back-to-back possessions while the Lumberjacks were turning it over four straight times.
The lead was two after NAU scored the opening points of the fourth quarter. That’s when Goligoski put her stamp on the game.
She hit a jumper and 3-pointer 30 seconds apart to make it 51-44, then another jumper-3-pointer combination two minutes later to put Montana up 58-49 and on its way.
She scored 10 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“We got a huge spark from Taylor,” said Schweyen. “Those threes were just daggers. We couldn’t get away from them and those threes finally gave us that gap to separate ourselves.
“She comes in with confidence and we’ve needed that from her. It’s been invaluable.”
If it was Montana’s offense that finally got clicking, it was the team’s defense, particularly on Big Sky Player of the Week Khiarica Rasheed, that kept Northern Arizona from pulling away early.
Rasheed entered the game averaging 16.7 points but she was held scoreless in the first half on three shots, with two early fouls limiting her to just eight minutes.
She would finish with 17 points but 11 of those came in the fourth quarter, when Montana was pulling away.
Nina Radford finished with 13 points, nobody else with more than eight for a team averaging more than 73 points per game and winner of 12 of 15 since Jan. 1. Make that 12 of 16.
“(Rasheed) is a really electric player. Her numbers lately have been unbelievable. She’s really been on a big roll lately, so she was a focus of our defense,” said Schweyen, whose team blocked a season-high 11 shots and limited NAU to 35.4 percent shooting.
Abby Anderson finished with a career-high seven blocks.
“Our defensive effort was good. This is a team that has been scoring it up. We did a nice job,” said Schweyen.
While the win was the most important thing to her, it was a milestone night for Johnston, who moved into the top 10 on Montana’s career scoring list and into the top five for assists.
She and Mandy Morales (2005-09) are the only two players in that select company.
She finished with a team-high 14 points on Thursday, a dozen of them coming in the second half. While Goligoski was hurting the Lumberjacks from the perimeter, Johnston made the mid-range her preferred spot of destruction.
“She hit some big dribble-jumpers in there for us in the second half,” said Schweyen. “They came at big moments. It’s always a good thing for us when she can get in the paint and freelance a little bit.”
Goligoski and Pickens both finished with 13 points, as did Madi Schoening, who added eight rebounds.
Anderson went just 1 for 8 but was a factor everywhere else, finishing with a team-high nine rebounds and the seven blocks. She went 6 for 6 from the line to finish with eight points.
Montana will host Sacramento State on Saturday at 2 p.m. on Senior Day for Goligoski, Johnston and Emma Stockholm. The Hornets lost 113-69 at Montana State on Thursday night.
In other Big Sky games, Idaho held off Northern Colorado in Moscow and Idaho State won at Portland State.
Montana State (16-1 BSC) leads the Big Sky, with Idaho (12-5), Idaho State (12-6), Northern Arizona (12-6), Montana (10-7) and Southern Utah (10-7) all battling for a first-round bye at next month’s Big Sky tournament in Boise.