MISSOULA -- The Montana Lady Griz are 0-6 against the Eastern Washington Eagles over the past four seasons. While the Eagles have current bragging rights, the games have been close. Five of the past six contests have been decided by six points or less. Coming into this matchup the Lady Griz currently have the upper edge in the conference sitting at 3-1 compared to Eastern's 1-2 record.
One season after being one win away from an NCAA tournament birth, Eastern is in a rebuilding year. The Eagles entered the season losing four seniors, including leading scorer Violet Kapri-Morrow (18 ppg), and junior Uriah Howard who averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in her career at EWU.
The Eagles also come into the conference match only winning two games all season long, including non-conference play. However, they've played top-tier talent in the NCAA, like No. 3 Stanford, No. 23 Gonzaga and even took Boise down to the wire in a 63-61 loss.
"Just knowing that every Big Sky team always has a chance. Our conference has always been like that, anyone can win in it," said Montana guard Gabi Harrington. "Even Eastern last year, they played great in the tournament when they got to the championship game. I think just realizing that they have a lot of talent, too, and they have a lot of confidence. We need to be prepared and know that they can beat us at anytime, too."
The Lady Griz are coming off a loss themselves at home against Northern Colorado. While the Lady Griz are out to a 3-1 start, they struggled rebounding from losses last season. Seven of their nine conference losses last season were followed with another loss.
Coming into Thursday's game, Montana has a good opportunity to reverse that trend as Eastern enters with the lowest scoring offense in the conference (54.1 ppg). While their team has struggled early in the season, the Eagles are a team who always bring a physical nature to the game.
"One thing I always noticed whenever I play Eastern is that they are always super tough on the guards on the wing," said Harrington. "Even when you have the ball you need to be in triple threat, because they are willing to knock it out. Also rebounding-wise we need to block everybody out, because they are always crashing the boards."
Montana has been solid on the interior defense, as it lead the Big Sky in defensive rebounds with 34.3 per game. They also lead the conference in the assist/turnover ratio category with 15.8 assists per game compared to a conference-low 13.5 turnovers per game. While the inside defense has been stellar, the Lady Griz have allowed a conference-high 39.2 percent of 3-pointers to fall.
"You know, we've had some tough games with them the last couple of years, some close ones," said Montana head coach Shannon Schweyen. "So we've got to be ready to go and defend these guys. That's an area where we can do a better job - defensively."
Although Eastern has had trouble on offense this year, both teams match up well as they rely heavily on their post game. Eastern Washington has still taken over 300, 3-point field goal attempts, while Montana has taken the least in the conference (181). However, forward Emma Stockholm was the exception to those numbers last game when she shot 5 for 7 from beyond the arc and racked up 20 points in the first half.
"My teammates found me on every shot, so I was going to keep going and they kept falling, which is awesome," said Stockholm."I think (the game against Eastern) is very big, especially right now since we are on that hot streak. I feel like we need to keep winning in order for our confidence, obviously, to stay alive. It's going to be a big game for us on Thursday. It's going to be a challenge but I think we're all ready for it."
Montana (8-5, 3-1) and Eastern Washington (2-10, 1-2) will tip-off at 7:00 pm Thursday. Montana leads the overall match-up record 71-27, with Eastern only winning eight games here in Dahlberg Arena.