(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
GREELEY, Colo. -- Montana used a 17-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters to gain some early separation and held that lead all the way to its third straight win, a bye next week in Boise and a 70-55 victory at Northern Colorado on Wednesday night.
The Lady Griz (17-11, 12-7 BSC) will be the No. 4 seed next week when the Big Sky Conference tournament opens in Boise and play a quarterfinal game against No. 5 Northern Arizona on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.
McKenzie Johnston, a senior on a mission, scored eight of her team’s first 10 points to set the tone and finished with a game-high 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists.
“What a game by her. Holy smokes,” said Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen. “Talk about a senior putting everybody on her back and going to town out there tonight.
“Kenzie just had a little bit of everything going, from post-ups to dribble jumpers to perimeter shots. It was one of her most complete games I’ve seen in four years.
Johnston had a hand in Montana’s first 12 points, either scoring them or assisting on her teammate’s made baskets. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bears.
“We’ve had some slow starts, so it was important for us to set the tempo early. Once we did, we didn’t let up at all,” Johnston said. “I’m excited for this long road trip. I wanted to kick if off the right way.”
After Northern Colorado (12-16, 8-11 BSC) took a 14-12 lead late in the first quarter, Jamie Pickens sparked what would be 17 straight points for Montana with a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Montana led 17-14 after the first quarter and hit six straight shots early in the second to build a lead it would never give up. The lead was 35-25 at the half.
The Lady Griz would shoot 51.7 percent in the first half, 46.4 percent for the game and have just eight turnovers, their third time in the last five games with fewer than 10 giveaways.
“We really read when we had something good and made the most of it. When we didn’t, we backed it out. We were very intelligent with the ball tonight,” said Schweyen.
But it wasn’t simply of matter of outscoring the Bears. Montana held Alexis Chapman to nine points on 3-of-15 shooting and Northern Colorado to 30.2 percent shooting.
The Lady Griz have held their opponents on their three-game winning streak to 28.3 percent shooting, and that’s something that can carry a team deep into March.
“We were really dialed in on who we could be helping off of,” said Schweyen. “We did an excellent job.
“And Sophie (Stiles), hats off to her. What she does on the defensive end, you can’t measure it. She was in their grill the whole game. That’s a big part of guarding these guys. You can’t let them get loose.”
Northern Colorado would cut its deficit to less than 10 a number of times in the third quarter, but never closer than seven.
Stiles and Pickens were both perfect from the line late in the third quarter, then Gabi Harrington hit a 3-pointer with the clock running out that put Montana up 61-47 entering the fourth.
She would score her only other basket to open the scoring in the fourth as Montana went up 16.
“That three was big. She came in fresh off the bench and nailed that shot at the end of the quarter,” said Schweyen. “It was a huge lift for us. It’s always nice to get a little scoring punch off the bench.”
Montana only scored two other baskets in the fourth quarter. But the Lady Griz would go 11 for 11 from the line in the second half, a perfect 15 for 15 for the game.
“Those helped us ice that thing,” said Schweyen. “If we don’t step to the line and make those, it turns into a whole different ball game.”
Alisha Davis, a freshman and the latest Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, had 20 points and 16 rebounds for the Bears.
Emma Stockholm had 15 points, Abby Anderson six points, eight rebounds and three blocks for Montana.
With its bye and postseason opponent already locked in, Montana will wrap up the regular season on Friday night at Southern Utah, which lost 81-65 to Montana State on Wednesday.
“Momentum is a huge thing going into the tournament,” said Johnston. “We’re looking to go into Boise with a lot of confidence.”