(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MOSCOW, Idaho -- It was an evening of what-could-have-been’s for the Montana Lady Griz in Moscow on Friday night.
Facing a shorthanded Idaho team in its regular-season finale and up 45-41 at the half, Montana got outscored 51-27 over the final 20 minutes to fall 92-72 to Gabi Harrington and the Vandals.
Had Montana come through with a victory, it would have led to the No. 5 seed and an important bye next week at the Big Sky Conference tournament in Boise.
Instead the Lady Griz (12-10, 9-8 BSC) will take the No. 6 seed and a three-game losing streak into the postseason.
Montana will face No. 11 Sacramento State (2-21, 2-18 BSC) at 8 p.m. on Monday night in a first-round game. The winner will get No. 3 Montana State at 8 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Lady Griz were gifted an undermanned Vandal team on Friday night, a team that was coming off a nearly two-week break between games due to COVID issues within its program.
Missing on Friday, most notably, were Beyonce Bea and Gina Marxen, Idaho’s two players on the six-member preseason All-Big Sky team and two of the Vandals’ three leading scorers.
That left Harrington and seven of her teammates to get it done. And they did.
Trailing 48-44 early in the third quarter, Idaho went on a 17-0 run that gave the Vandals a lead they would never give back.
Idaho hit seven 3-pointers over the final 20 minutes and only turned the ball over four times. And eight offensive rebounds turned into 12 second-chance points.
“The second half they killed us in all three areas, as far as beating us in transition, beating us in the half court and beating us on the boards,” said Lady Griz coach Mike Petrino.
“It just got away from us. We got blown out in the second half.”
Harrington got Idaho off to a fast start, hitting three 3-pointers in the game’s first four minutes, but if any team was going to put up 92 on Friday, it looked for sure like it would be Montana.
The Lady Griz took a 45-38 lead in the final minute of the second quarter, and everything was clicking.
Montana shot 44.4 percent through the opening 20 minutes and went 6 for 16 from 3-point range, a total the Lady Griz have not exceeded for an entire game in nearly a month.
Sophia Stiles had 16 points, Madi Schoening 12 and Carmen Gfeller 10, and the pace seemed to favor the team with the deeper bench, which was Montana.
Stiles was 6 for 11 at the half, 2 of 3 from the arc, and controlling most aspects of the game, from end-line to end-line.
“I thought Sophie played a great game. She carried us offensively, especially the first half. She played a great first half,” said Petrino.
Schoening’s 12 at the break, on 3-of-5 shooting from the 3-point line, were already a season high. She would finish with 18, hitting a career-best five threes. It was her highest scoring output since her sophomore season.
“Madi had her best shooting night,” said Petrino.
After the teams traded 3-pointers to open the third quarter, Idaho went on its 17-0 run. Montana missed seven straight shots and had five turnovers while the Vandals got rolling.
“We just had too many droughts and couldn’t get stops,” said Petrino. “When we did play good half-court defense, we couldn’t turn it into a score. Or they got the offensive rebound.”
It’s a game, with Idaho playing without Bea, that Montana seemed destined to control through its advantage in the interior.
That didn’t turn out to be the case.
Idaho, partially because of transition baskets, outscored Montana in the paint and held Abby Anderson to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Carmen Gfeller had 14 on 7-of-10 shooting.
“Carmen was very efficient when we got the ball to her,” said Petrino. “We didn’t score inside like we should. We didn’t do a good job of getting the ball down inside and finishing those plays.”
Trailing 67-59 going into the fourth quarter, Montana would pull within three, 69-66, on a Gfeller basket in the paint with 7:46 to go.
But Paris Atchley and Janie King, who average less than 10 points between them, scored the game’s next 13 points over a three-minute stretch to help Idaho pull away.
Stiles would finish with 23 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal, Schoening with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the arc and Gfeller with 14 points, six boards and three blocks.
Now it’s on to the postseason, when one loss ends everything. Montana will face Sacramento State in 72 hours.
“You’ve got to move on. We can’t let this beat us the next game,” said Petrino. “We’ve got to take the positives from tonight, learn the lessons and carry it over.”