(University of Montana Media Release)
FULLERTON, Calif. -- Sophia Stiles has a new name for Taylor Goligoski, after her teammate hit a 3-pointer with just over a minute remaining to help Montana pull out a 71-69 road win over Cal State Fullerton on Saturday evening at the home team’s Titan Classic.
“I’m pretty sure her middle name is Game Winner,” said Stiles, who could use a moniker herself after playing her best game in a long, long time. It’s not that she’s had bad games, just a lack of them after sitting out last season.
She hit a confident 3-pointer before the game was a minute old, she connected on her fourth triple of the game with 2:36 to go, after the Titans had rallied back from a 17-point deficit to take a three-point lead, and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
“Sophie had a heck of a game. Offensively, defensively, she was just out there raising havoc,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.
The game came just a day after a 68-58 loss to Santa Clara, a game Montana trailed 23-7 after the first quarter and never led.
“Everyone was pretty upset. We felt like that was a beatable team,” said Stiles. “We had a longer film (session) than we normally do and stuck to the game plan really well. We just came out ready to go.”
Did they ever. The Lady Griz that everyone thought they could be this season? It was on full display the game’s opening 30 minutes.
Everyone was scoring, everyone was distributing, everyone was rebounding, everyone was defending. Spirits were soaring.
Montana scored the game’s opening five points, led 21-10 after the first quarter and built its advantage to 17 points, 33-16, midway through the second quarter.
“So many people came in and did some great things. We got a little bit from everybody. It was just a fantastic game,” said Schweyen. “We told them (earlier Saturday), We believe in the shots you’re taking. Just bury them.”
By halftime all nine active players had scored. For the game the Lady Griz would have 20 assists on their 23 made field goals.
It was that kind of game. Until all of a sudden it wasn’t.
Montana led 39-28 at the half and kept scoring coming out of the locker room. It’s just that Cal State Fullerton scored it even better.
The Titans went 5 for 8 from the arc in the third quarter and put up a 25-point period, cutting Montana’s lead to 60-53 entering the fourth.
If Montana wanted to give away the game, the Lady Griz scripted it perfectly. Over the first six and a half minutes of the final period, Montana went 0 for 6 and compounded that by going 1 for 6 from the line.
Cal State Fullerton gladly accepted the gift and opened the fourth quarter on a 10-1 run to go up 64-61 with 3:44 to go.
“It would have been a tough one to lose,” said Schweyen. Added Stiles: “In my years prior to this, it would have been tough for us to come back after they pulled ahead.”
Maybe the best thing to come out of the trip to Southern California is that the win didn’t come easily, that Montana had to prove it’s no longer the team that had just six road wins the previous three seasons.
If so, someone had to step up.
Stiles had made just one 3-pointer this season before Saturday’s game, but she was 3 for 5 from the arc against the Titans when she got the ball at the top of the key, her team down three, the game clock ticking under 2:40, the shot clock in single digits.
“Just confidence,” said Stiles, when asked about her mindset on the shot that tied the game and gave Montana new life. “That’s what I’ve been struggling with, offensively especially. (Assistant coach Jordan Sullivan) said today, ‘You’ve got to be more confident. You’ve got to be a scoring threat.’
“I shot it with confidence and really felt like it was going to go in. I was not about to go home with a second loss.”
Fullerton went back up two, 69-67, with 1:31 to go, which set up Ms. Game Winner. With 1:09 to go, Goligoski let it fly from the right wing. The swish made her 3 for 5 from the arc on the day and gave her team the lead for good.
“I love the fact she wants to take those. All three of hers came at big, big times when we were struggling a little bit,” said Schweyen. “She banged some big threes and played with confidence.”
In a game with a lengthy list of notables, Emma Stockholm’s play on the ensuing defensive stand was as big as any. When the Titans tried to enter the ball to the post, Stockholm deftly tapped the ball away and chased it down in the corner.
Montana had the lead and the ball, with the clock under a minute.
Stiles hit one of two free throws with 14 seconds left to make it 71-69, and Montana withstood a jumper near the free throw line by Raina Perez, who would score a game-high 17 points, at the buzzer.
“That just made it better,” said Stiles. “The fact we were calm and poised enough to get the lead back and win at the end on the road, it shows how far we’ve come.”
Four players would finish in double figures, with McKenzie Johnston leading the way with 15 points. Stiles added 13, Goligoski and Jamie Pickens both scored 11 off the bench.
Nine of Pickens’ points came in the first half, when Fullerton had no answer for the freshman.
“She had a really good one and was really scoring in the post,” said Schweyen. “She was sealing aggressively and getting to the foul line.
“That was an area we felt we would have an edge was in the paint, so it was good to see our bigs do some good things.”
Yes, Montana gave up 41 second-half points to give away all of a 17-point lead. Yes, the Lady Griz missed 10 second-half free throws. Yes, they went 3 for 11 in the fourth quarter of a tight game.
But there was Stiles, coming through to give her team a chance. And there was Game Winner, making good on her name, at a time when one shot was going to decide it.
“The poise these ladies showed down the stretch is impressive to me,” said Schweyen. “I loved the way they competed. They wanted this win, and they went out and got it.”
Montana (3-3) will play at Utah Valley (1-5) next Saturday at 2 p.m.