The Montana women’s basketball team, with just a single game this week, will play Montana State on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Bozeman at MSU’s Worthington Arena.
The Bobcats won the teams’ first meeting, 75-69 in overtime in Missoula on Feb. 4, rallying back from a nine-point deficit in the final 2:26 of regulation.
Opening tips: Montana (5-21, 2-13 BSC) is in 11th place in the Big Sky Conference standings and will take a two-game losing streak into Saturday’s game. The Lady Griz lost at Sacramento State, 99-69, and Portland State, 68-45, last week to snap a season-best two-game winning streak.
Montana State (19-6, 12-3 BSC) is tied for second in the Big Sky standings with Northern Colorado. Both teams are one game behind league leader North Dakota. The Bobcats are trying to win their second consecutive regular-season title.
Coverage: Saturday’s game will air locally on KGVO 98.3 FM/1290 AM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater. The game will be televised on cable channel SWX Montana, with Melinda Lee and Shaun Rainey. Kyle Sherman will cover sideline reporting. Online video and audio options are available at gogriz.com.
Rivalry week storylines
* One game, different perspectives: Montana State is pretty much a lock to be a top-four seed at the Big Sky tournament in two weeks at Reno and earn a bye to Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The Bobcats are also playing the last two weeks of the regular season for their second consecutive championship.
Montana State and Northern Colorado, which plays a huge game at North Dakota on Saturday, are both 12-3 in league. They trail the Fighting Hawks, who are 13-2, by a game.
Montana is going to be either the No. 10 or 11 seed at the tournament in Reno. First-round matchups could start to clear up by the end of this week.
* With a win on Saturday, Montana State would complete its first regular-season sweep of Montana since the 1998-99 season and only its second since 1976-77.
The Lady Griz have lost on their last two trips to Bozeman, 65-57 in 2014-15 and 61-52 last year when Montana failed to make a basket in the fourth quarter to squander a nine-point second-half lead.
* Montana State is a perfect 10-0 at home this season. Montana is winless in 13 games away from Missoula, going 0-11 in road games, 0-2 in neutral-site games.
A number of the Bobcats’ home wins in league have been hard-earned. There was an overtime win over Eastern Washington, a four-point victory over Sacramento State, a seven-point win over Portland State and a three-point escape of Southern Utah two weeks ago.
In Montana’s 13 games away from home this season, the Lady Griz have shot 33.1 percent and been outscored ay 17.7 points per game. In 11 true road games, only twice — against Stephen F. Austin and Eastern Washington — has the game been decided by fewer than 10 points.
* Remember how Montana went 13 for 24 from the free throw line in the first matchup, with eight critical misses in the second half and overtime that helped contribute to the loss? Instead of leading to improvements, the Lady Griz have struggled even more since then.
They went 6 for 13 (.462) in a 60-59 nail-biting win over Northern Arizona, 12 for 24 (.500) at Sacramento State and a season-worst 4 for 11 (.364) on Saturday at Portland State.
That has Montana at an unacceptable 61.0 percent for the season. Only 12 of the 345 teams that play Division I basketball have a lower percentage.
* Hailey Nicholson, who has been one of Montana’s most improved players from November to February, missed the game on Saturday at Portland State after suffering a concussion on Thursday against Sacramento State. She is questionable for Saturday.
* Montana out-boarded the Big Sky’s second-best rebounding team in the first meeting 44-43 and gave up just a dozen second-chance points.
If there is to be a repeat of that performance, the Lady Griz will need to recommit. They were outworked by 14 rebounds at Sacramento State and 13 at Portland State.
* It’s been an impressive body of work put together this year by Montana State. Of the Bobcats’ six losses, none has been by more than 10 points. All have been on the road: at Utah, Utah State, UC Davis, Idaho State, Northern Colorado and Portland State.
MSU has won eight of its last nine going in Saturday’s game against Montana.
The first meeting: Montana played well but was unable to snap a 12-game losing streak, with Montana State rallying for an overtime victory.
Lessons learned from round one:
* Peyton Ferris is the best player on either team. She finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks, three assists and two steals in the first game. She also competes harder than any other player on the floor, with her sweat equity ranking off the charts.
* Montana State’s experience won out. Montana got on a roll in the fourth quarter, with McKenzie Johnston and Taylor Goligoski leading the offensive charge. Johnston’s jumper in the paint with 2:34 left in regulation made it 60-51.
But back-to-back 3-pointers by Hannah Caudill and Ferris in a span of 33 seconds pulled the Bobcats within three, and Delany Junkermier’s three-point play with just under a minute left tied it.
After going up nine, Montana closed regulation going missed shot, turnover, turnover, turnover.
Montana State scored nine of the first 10 points of overtime to win going away.
* Even though Ferris had a double-double, even though Riley Nordgaard had one as well with 12 points and 10 rebounds and even though Caudill finished with 10 points, Montana coach Shannon Schweyen was happy with the way her team defended MSU’s big three.
Nordgaard shot 5 for 15, Caudill 2 for 10. And a team that averages more than 73 points per game was in the low 50s before its last-game surge forced overtime, when the Bobcats scored 15 more points in five minutes.
“I think we did a good job defensively on them, until the last couple of minutes, when they went on a run and scored a bunch of points,” said Schweyen.
“We made it tough for their studs to get going in the early part of the game. That was our focus, to be very aware of those three kids.”
* Montana also had one of its best offensive games of the season, shooting 52.0 percent in the second half to finish at 41.9 percent for the game, solid work for a team shooting 34.7 percent for the season.
Goligoski, Johnston and Madi Schoening combined for 47 points on 54.3 percent shooting.
“We were successful on offense. We scored off a variety of things and shot the ball fairly well,” said Schweyen. “I thought our kids played with a lot of enthusiasm. They were pumped up and ready to go.”
History: Montana leads the all-time series 77-25. Montana State has won the last two meetings in Bozeman, but the Lady Griz are still 28-14 against the Bobcats on their home floor.
First-year Montana head coach Shannon Schweyen is 0-1 against Montana State. Twelfth-year MSU coach Tricia Binford is 8-18 against Montana, 3-8 in games played in Bozeman.
Last week: Riding high after its first two-game winning streak of the season — with home victories over Southern Utah and Northern Arizona — Montana did not extend its momentum last week, falling by 30 at Sacramento State and 23 at Portland State.
Against the Hornets, Montana fell behind 52-39 at the half and trailed by as many as 29 in the third quarter. The Lady Griz pulled within 15, 79-64, midway through the fourth, but Sac State outscored Montana 20-5 the rest of the way.
It was Montana’s fourth straight loss at The Nest and the most points allowed to any opponent since giving up 100 to the Hornets in a 100-83 loss in 2009-10. It also gave Sac State its first-ever season sweep of the Lady Griz.
Two days later, Montana, which was playing without Hailey Nicholson, shot 28.6 percent against Portland State in a 68-45 loss. It nearly mirrored the teams’ first meeting in Missoula, when PSU held the Lady Griz to 27.4 percent shooting in a 64-44 victory.
Montana’s starters combined for just 26 points against the Vikings. Gabi Harrington scored a team-high eight points off the bench, her second-best scoring outing since Thanksgiving.
“Every game is a different matchup for us. There are definitely some teams out there that we don’t match up well with,” said Schweyen. “Those teams are two of them.
“We want to be feeling like we’re making strides, whether we are winning games or not, and I didn’t feel like we did that last week. I was disappointed that we didn’t play particularly well.”
Montana three-dot notes: Three of Montana’s nonconference opponents have reached 20 wins, South Dakota State (20-7), Stephen F. Austin (20-5) and Colorado State (20-6). … McKenzie Johnston has led Montana from the point guard position in rebounding nine times this season, three more than any other player. … Johnston’s 11 assists at Sacramento State were a season high for a Montana player and led to a season-high 19 assists for the team. … Rachel Staudacher averaged 6.5 points on 50 percent shooting and 5.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game last week. … Jace Hendersongrabbed a career-high nine rebounds against Portland State. … Montana got outscored by 33 points in the first half in two road games last week. … The Lady Griz’ 13 first-half points at Portland State were a season low for a half this season. The team’s five second-quarter points in that game matched a season low. … Since going to the locker room with a 36-25 lead over Northern Arizona, Montana has been outscored the last five halves by 63 points. … Montana held the lead for just 49 seconds in last week’s two road games.
Looking ahead: Montana will wrap up the regular season next week with home games against Weber State on Wednesday night and Idaho State on Friday night.
The team will travel to Reno on Saturday, March 4, and play a first-round game against an opponent to be determined on Monday, March 6.
“No matter who we get at the tournament, hopefully we’ll take what we’ve learned from the times we’ve played them and use that to be better,” said Schweyen.
Around the Big Sky Conference:
* Thanks to Idaho State’s surprising victory at Northern Colorado on Saturday, North Dakota leads the league at 13-2, with a big matchup in Grand Forks on Saturday against the 12-3 Bears. A win would give the Fighting Hawks a season sweep of UNC. A win for Northern Colorado, with a win for Montana State over Montana, could make it a three-way tie atop the standings going into the final week of games.
* Looking ahead, North Dakota and Northern Colorado close out the regular season next week with road games at Sacramento State and Portland State, while Montana State is at home.
* There is a three-way tie for fourth in the standings, with Idaho State, Eastern Washington and Idaho all at 9-5 and all wanting to finish in the top four. In a nice bit of scheduling fortune, the Eagles and Vandals are on the Idaho State-Weber State trip this week. So things might be clearer once Saturday concludes.
* Coach of the week: Seton Sobolewski, Idaho State. The Bengals are now without their top three players, two of whom have been out for the season. And yet there was ISU, outrebounding Northern Colorado by 20 and shooting 52.4 percent in Saturday’s 68-58 stunner at Greeley. That’s fine coaching.
Thursday’s games: UI at ISU, EWU at WSU, PSU at SUU, SAC at NAU
Game to monitor: Idaho at Idaho State. The Bengals won the first matchup on the road at Moscow, 67-60. A season sweep would be large in a tiebreaker scenario.
Saturday’s games: UNC at UND, UM at MSU, EWU at ISU, UI at WSU, SAC at SUU, PSU at NAU
Non-Montana game to monitor: Northern Colorado at North Dakota. First place is on the line, with a fan base that will appreciate it and turn out. The Fighting Hawks won ugly in the first round at Greeley, 58-51. Both teams shot less than 30 percent, and there were 111 rebounds.