Montana rolls to victory on raucous School Day in Dahlberg Arena

Montana had six players in double figures and shot 51.5 percent to cruise to a 90-45 victory over Providence (MT) on Tuesday at Lady Griz School Day in Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.

Montana connected on 16 of its final 24 shots of the first half to build a 45-21 halftime advantage and extended its lead throughout the second half.

The Lady Griz did not stop until they had scored 90 points for the first time under third-year coach Shannon Schweyen.

It was an encouraging performance in the second game of the season, after scoring just 52 in a 24-point loss at Gonzaga to open the season nearly two weeks ago.

And just in time for a team that’s better than Gonzaga, at least according to the mid-major polls, to arrive in town. Montana hosts South Dakota on Saturday night.

“It was nice to see the ladies get back out on the court, because it felt like forever since we last played,” said Schweyen, whose team had 16 assists on its 20 made field goals in the first half.

“We shot the ball well and executed well, and we needed something like that under our belt heading into Saturday. That’s a really good team that will be rolling in here. We’ll have our hands full.”

With Madi Schoening sidelined for precautionary reasons, freshman Katie Mayhuestarted, and she delivered with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists, with time at the point when McKenzie Johnston sat.

But she didn’t make the biggest splash of the three true freshmen who played. That was Carmen Gfeller, who walked onto the court to start the second quarter, the moment it became official that she won’t be redshirting this season.

That’s a good thing. She looked college-ready from the first time she touched the ball. She finished with a game-high 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and had three steals on the defensive end.

She even managed to overshadow Jordyn Schweyen, who had her own solid game off the bench, connecting on both of her 3-point attempts and finishing with nine points.

Montana’s bench added 37 points after scoring just seven against the Bulldogs in the season opener.

“It’s always nice when you have that spark off the bench. It was nice to see Carmen and Jordyn come in and knock shots down,” said Schweyen.

“It’s always such a bonus when you go to your bench and get something from them. I thought our young kids played confidently when they got in there today. It was very promising.”

The game turned into a blowout, but it hardly felt like it was headed that way seven minutes in, not after Providence answered Montana’s 10-0 start with 10 straight points of its own to tie it at 10-10 and force an early Montana timeout.

But with Johnston, who had 13 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals, directing things, Montana closed the quarter on an 11-2 run, then went 11 for 18 in the second quarter to take control.

Gfeller scored six points in the quarter, going 3 for 4, including a pair of good-looking jumpers from straight on, 16 feet out.

“She’s been scoring it really well in practice lately and doing a lot of really good things,” said Schweyen. “She has a good inside game and a good outside game.

“It was great to see her get in there and knock down a couple and be a threat from the high post. It was very encouraging.”

The four available players off the bench all saw at least 18 minutes. Gabi Harrington went 6 for 10 to finish with 13 points. She also added six rebounds for the second straight game and picked off five steals.

Abby Anderson blocked four shots, and Gfeller and Schweyen combined to go 9 for 12 while scoring 24 points.

“We were able to get everybody a lot of minutes, and a lot of kids did some nice things,” said Schweyen. “We ran the floor a little bit, we took good care of the ball, we had some nice inside-out action, and we knocked down some threes. It was a very well-balanced attack.”

Emma Stockholm had 13 points and six rebounds, Taylor Goligoski matched those numbers, and Jace Henderson grabbed nine rebounds while also helping hold down Providence’s Parker Esary, who entered the game averaging 18.6 points on 66.7 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds.

Esary went 2 for 9 and had four turnovers.

“She was a big point of emphasis for us,” said Schweyen. “We tried to make her paint touches tough and not let her get low on us.”

It was Montana’s second annual School Day, and while the numbers were down a few hundred from the event’s debut last December, the 6,610 in attendance were no less electric.

“I just love that it gives kids an opportunity to come to the university and see an athletic event,” said Schweyen. “They have some role models out on the floor, people to look up to and aspire to.”

If those kids want to see the best team scheduled to play at Montana this season, they’d return on Saturday night.

South Dakota is 3-1, with a season-opening win at Creighton, two other wins over outmatched opponents by a combined 113 points and a 76-64 loss at Drake, which happens to be the nation’s top-ranked mid-major team.

South Dakota was ranked No. 4 at the time of that game.

“They are very talented, very experienced and very impressive,” said Schweyen. “I’m excited to have a good, quality team like that here. It’ll be fun.”

The Coyotes face Wichita State on Wednesday night in Sioux Falls, 60 miles north of USD’s campus in Vermillion.