(Editor's note: University of Montana Press Release)
MISSOULA -- Montana had a great start, Southern Utah had a great finish and by the difference of a late Rebecca Cardenas jumper, the Thunderbirds pulled out an 84-81 overtime victory over the Lady Griz on Friday night in Cedar City.
It was the regular-season finale for both teams, who will now make their way to Boise for next week’s Big Sky Conference tournament.
Southern Utah will play Weber State in a first-round game on Monday night. No. 4 Montana will face No. 5 Northern Arizona at 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday in a quarterfinal game.
The Thunderbirds won despite never holding a lead in regulation.
Montana led 27-16 after the first quarter, 40-34 at the half and 72-70 late in regulation when Cardenas got the ball on the left wing. Her pull-up jumper in the closing seconds sent the game to overtime.
Southern Utah grabbed the first lead of the extra session and never gave it back.
Montana missed a contested 3-point shot with the clock winding down to have its three-game winning streak come to an end.
“Those are tough when you lead almost the whole game and it doesn’t come out your way,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.
“This is a game we wanted to sneak out of here with a win and head into the tournament. We’ve still got great things ahead of us.”
Montana couldn’t have scripted the game’s start any better, at least offensively. The Lady Griz hit nine of their first 10 shots and finished 12 of 14 for the first quarter to go up 11 at the first break.
But Montana could never quite shake Southern Utah, despite going up 13 in the third quarter and taking a 59-51 lead into the fourth.
The Thunderbirds hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and grabbed four offensive rebounds, a handful of the 17 they would have for the game which led to 15 second-chance points.
“That was the key to the game, the O boards,” said Schweyen. “Those second chances just killed us. Had we rebounded one or two of them, that probably could have been the game.”
Montana still led by eight, 63-55, when Southern Utah’s comeback started with a 3-pointer by Harley Hansen.
A triple from Madelyn Eaton tied it at 65-65, Shalyn Fano hit a three to pull the Thunderbirds within one, 71-70, with 2:29 to go.
Abby Anderson hit one of two free throws with 17 seconds left to put the Lady Griz up 72-70. That set up Cardenas for the dramatics.
“They knocked down some big threes,” said Schweyen. “Going overtime isn’t necessarily what the doctored ordered (going into the tournament), but I loved the way we competed.”
Southern Utah took its first lead of the game 30 seconds into overtime and would never give it up.
Even after the Thunderbirds went up five, McKenzie Johnston scored on three straight trips down the court to keep Montana within a possession.
Gabi Harrington hit a baseline jumper with 21 seconds to go to make it 84-81, then forced a turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass to give the Lady Griz life, but their final shot came up empty.
“Being in an environment like this, on senior night, when our backs were against the wall, we had some great answers,” said Schweyen. “We played hard.
“We’ll get rested up and get ready to go, but it will be nice to have a few days off for sure.”
Johnston finished with 14 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, Anderson had 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting, with seven rebounds and seven blocks, which matched her career high.
Emma Stockholm scored a team-high 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Jamie Pickens scored 13 points, all in the first half.
Cardenas had 24 points, seven assists and five steals for Southern Utah, which went 4 for 6 in overtime to pull out the victory.