Sacramento State raced out to a 13-point first-quarter advantage and never gave up the lead, winning 73-60 on Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena, its first victory in 22 games against Montana in Missoula.
It was the 10th straight loss for the Lady Griz (3-16, 0-8 BSC) and third win in four games for the Hornets (7-11, 3-4 BSC).
Montana, which entered the game shooting 32.7 percent, shot 42.6, its second-best shooting game of the season, but it wasn’t enough against a team allowing an NCAA-worst 51.0 percent.
“I never thought I’d be thinking 42 percent wasn’t good enough, but it wasn’t good enough against this team. People are typically shooting 55 percent against them,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.
Facing the Big Sky Conference’s most unique team — the Hornets press throughout and never pass up a chance to shoot a 3-pointer, even if it’s one touch into the possession — Montana turned the ball over 17 times, six fewer than Sacramento State typically forces.
But while most teams make the Hornets pay for their high-risk approach to defending, usually in transition, which is whey Sac State is allowing more than 90 points per game, the Lady Griz rarely were able to, settling instead to run half-court offense once they crossed the center line.
Sacramento State’s 73 points were two off their season low, but it was more than enough to keep Montana at arm’s length throughout the second half.
“Most of our girls have never played Sac before. The first time you experience it, it’s mind-blowing,” said Schweyen. “You talk about it in practice, you show it on video, but you really can’t believe it until you get out there.”
Montana trailed 25-14 after the first quarter and finally got the season-high crowd of 2,966 into the game in the second, twice cutting Sacramento State’s lead to four.
McKenzie Johnston‘s steal and behind-the-back feed to Taylor Goligoski for a layup midway through the period made it 30-26, but Gretchen Harrigan, who would lead both teams with 20 points, answered at the other end.
The Hornets had an answer every time they needed one and took a 41-35 lead into halftime.
Goligoski opened the second-half scoring to bring Montana within four, 41-37, and Johnston hit a 3-pointer minutes later to make it 50-44, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Brianna Burgos and Ashlyn Crenshaw upped the lead to 12, and the Hornets led by 10 or more the rest of the game.
Crenshaw hit five triples for the game and was one of six Hornets to connect from the arc. Sacramento State hit 11 for the game, right at its NCAA-leading average.
“They just have so many kids who will do it. That’s the hard thing,” said Schweyen. “On most scouting reports you pick out the two or three shooters. For them, you pick out the ones who aren’t shooters. They live and die on them.”
With a 15-point lead, 63-48, going into the fourth quarter, Sac State opted to use most of the shot clock on each of its possessions in the final period. That forced Montana, which was already fatigued, to defend a dribble-weave deep into the shot clock.
The Hornets, who were content to go one-on-one when the clock was winding down, took just 11 shots in the fourth quarter, most likely a season low for a team averaging more than 83 shots per game. Offensive rebounds made it even worse.
“We’d play good defense for 30 seconds, then they’d get a rebound and we had to go another 30 seconds of defense. It was exhausting,” said Schweyen.
“They were being extremely patient. They normally come down and fire, but they were using clock and getting it down to five or six seconds, then making a play.”
That cut down on Montana’s possessions and kept the Lady Griz from getting anything going that might resemble a rally. The fourth-quarter lead was never closer than the final 13 points.
It was the second time in three games Montana reached 60 points and just the third time this season three players scored in double figures.
Goligoski had 17 points, her highest output in more than a month, Johnston finished with 11 points, a season-high seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 37 hard-earned minutes of work, and Sierra Anderson chipped in 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and four assists, which matched a season high.
“Hailey played some great position defense,” said Schweyen. “We’re still trying to get her more aggressive offensively, but I thought she played really hard. I was pleased with that.”
Montana will be on the road next week to face Eastern Washington on Thursday, Idaho on Saturday.