In a game that nearly mirrored their matchup last month in Missoula, Portland State put the defensive clamps on Montana and came away with a 68-45 victory over the Lady Griz on Saturday afternoon at the Stott Center in Portland.
Montana (5-21, 2-13 BSC) shot 27.4 percent in its first meeting against the Vikings, a 64-44 loss. On Saturday, the Lady Griz shot 28.6 percent, trailed 33-13 at the half and got outrebounded 47-34 against a taller, more athletic team.
The only hope now is that Montana can avoid a first-round matchup against Portland State (12-14, 6-8 BSC) at Reno in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament 16 days from now.
“We tried to go small to generate some offense with some shooters, but then they post you up, so we had a hard time defending them. That’s the price you pay. Eventually height is going to win out.”
Six-foot guard Sidney Rielly had 17 points, 6-foot-2 guard Ashley Bolston finished with 14, and 6-foot-4 forward Courtney West, who was unstoppable in the teams’ first matchup in Missoula, added 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.
“Those three in particular are very talented and have a lot of skill,” said Schweyen.
All nine players who were available and saw the court scored for Montana, but nobody finished with more than eight points.
The team’s forwards especially struggled. Mekayla Isaak (1 for 6), Rachel Staudacher (2 for 5), Jace Henderson (1 for 7) and Emma Stockholm (1 for 9) combined for a dozen points on 18.5 percent shooting.
“Our posts had a really rough ballgame,” said Schweyen. “I felt like we were executing and getting good looks in the post. You’ve got to knock those down and make them pay. I felt like if we could have had a few more of those go down early, we’re a little more into it.
“We didn’t have enough inside scoring or inside threats, so we needed to knock down some threes to beat them, and we didn’t do that either.”
Montana was within three, 11-8, midway through the first quarter, but it was all Portland State after that. The Vikings scored nine straight points to take control and held the Lady Griz to 5-of-28 shooting (.179) for the first half to build a 20-point lead at the break.
Montana showed some signs of life in the second half, twice pulling within 14 points in the third quarter and closing the gap to 49-38 in the fourth on a 3-pointer by Gabi Harrington, but back-to-back baskets by Portland State, part of a 12-2 run, ended that threat.
“It’s rough when you shoot 17 percent in the first half,” said Schweyen. “We came out in the second half and got it going a little bit. We finally looked like a basketball team. Unfortunately we dug ourselves such a big hole.”
Harrington came off the bench to score eight points in 12 minutes, with a pair of 3-pointers. McKenzie Johnston, who played all 40 minutes, finished with seven points. Taylor Goligoski, Madi Schoening and Sierra Anderson each added six.
“Gabi had a great showing. It was nice to see,” said Schweyen. “She gets in there and knocks down some shots and gets her hands on some loose balls.”
While Nicholson’s absence probably didn’t affect the outcome, she is the type of player Montana could have used to negate some of Portland State’s advantages.
She had eight points on 3-of-5 shooting off the bench in the teams’ first matchup, with four rebounds. And she’s only been playing better since then.
“We certainly missed her out there tonight,” said Schweyen. “She’s very active and has been playing well as of late. She’s one of those kids who can score inside and come out of a crowd with a rebound.”
Montana will have just a single game next week, a rematch against Montana State (19-6, 12-3 BSC) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Bozeman. The Bobcats won the first meeting, 75-69 in overtime in Missoula on Feb. 4.
Montana State won 104-82 at Sacramento State on Saturday to remain within a game of Big Sky leader North Dakota, which won 83-67 at home over Weber State.
The Fighting Hawks are alone in first place for the first time this season, thanks to Idaho State’s 68-58 win at Northern Colorado on Saturday.
Idaho won at home over Eastern Washington, 78-51, outscoring the Eagles 43-24 in the second half. And Northern Arizona rallied for a 77-65 home win over Southern Utah. The Lumberjacks outscored the Thunderbirds 51-31 in the second half to move a game ahead of Montana in the win column.