A second-quarter run gave the Montana Lady Griz a double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish Saturday in a 78-62 win over Northern Arizona to open conference play.
After a wide-open, defense-optional first quarter that ended with Montana up 20-19, the Lady Griz held NAU to just eight points in the second quarter and took a 38-27 lead into halftime.
They held that comfortable lead for most of the second half. A late 3 from the Lumberjacks narrowed the margin to eight, but a clutch corner 3 from Taylor Goligoski with 2:17 left stretched it back to double digits and kicked off a game-ending 9-1 run for the Lady Griz.
“To get that lead, and maintain it and hold it, against a good team…I think that shows, finally, some experience and maturity with this team,” head coach Shannon Schweyen said. “I’m proud of the way that they competed.”
Montana guard McKenzie Johnston had 10 points in the third quarter alone and finished with a team-high 18. Lady Griz post Jace Henderson picked up a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Goligoski had 11 points in just 20 minutes for Montana.
Kaleigh Paplow had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead NAU.
The other big news for Montana was the season debut of Arizona transfer guard Sammy Fatkin, who was ruled eligible by the NCAA barely 10 days ago.
The 5-foot-11 sophomore turned heads in the Maroon-Silver scrimmage with her playmaking and defensive skills. The Snohomish, Washington product was as advertised Saturday, with seven points and four assists in just 18 minutes.
She also had three steals and several deflections at the top of Montana’s zone defense, and was a team-high plus-19.
“It felt good,” Fatkin said. “I missed it a lot, and it felt good to get out there with my teammates. It was just fun. … They’ve all been easy to play with. We share the ball well, and so it’s been an easy adjustment.”
The game Saturday was a matchup of two quite different defenses, with Northern Arizona pressing for nearly the whole game and Montana sitting back in a 2-3 zone.
With Johnston and Fatkin splitting the ball handling, the Lady Griz didn’t have too much trouble beating the press, with their 14 turnovers balanced by several open layups.
“It was good once we started beating it and getting wide-open layups,” Johnston said. “It’s a good feeling when they drop out of the press.”
On the other end, the Lady Griz zone kept NAU out of the middle on drives, but at the cost of open 3s and offensive rebounds.
Luckily, the Lumberjacks couldn’t take advantage, shooting just 9-of-24 from beyond the arc and recording just 10 second-chance points despite 18 offensive rebounds.
“That’s one of the things we talked about, because one of the things when you play a zone, you’re suspect to offensive rebounds,” Schweyen said. “We talked about our guards trying to get a piece of them when they were running in there, and we had kids not getting back to their areas in the zone, and I thought we did a better job of that second half.”
The Lady Griz will resume conference play on Monday, hosting Southern Utah at 2 p.m.