On a night of upsets, comebacks, overtimes and general upheaval across most of the Big Sky Conference, a sense of normalcy returned to Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on Thursday.
After falling behind early, Montana rolled past Eastern Washington, winning 92-54 to snap the Eagles’ six-game winning streak over the Lady Griz, who picked up their 72nd all-time victory over EWU.
More important than that, Montana brushed aside the memories of Saturday’s 67-58 home loss to Northern Colorado, the first for the Lady Griz (9-5, 4-1 BSC) in league.
As a bonus, Montana moved into a tie for first place in the Big Sky standings thanks to Idaho’s 69-68 double-overtime victory at Montana State on Thursday night.
“You don’t want to sit around too long after you’ve lost a tough one like we did on Saturday,” UM head coach Shannon Schweyen said. “You hope you redeem yourself and come back and show some grit and get a win.
“The ladies wanted this one bad, because we’ve had some tough games with these guys in the past. They were fired up and ready.”
They were fired up but maybe not quite ready to defend the 3-point line, which has been a big weapon for the Eagles (2-11, 1-3 BSC) this season.
Eastern Washington hit 5-of-6 3-pointers in the first quarter and would build an early 21-12 lead. But that was the lone highlight for the Eagles.
Montana scored the final 11 points of the opening period, on 3-pointers by Taylor Goligoski, Madi Schoening and a half-court buzzer-beater by McKenzie Johnston, and never looked back.
Eastern Washington scored 21 points through the game’s opening eight minutes. The Eagles would score just 33 more on 28.6 percent shooting over the final 32.
“They got off to a good start, hitting all sorts of 3-pointers. We weren’t getting up like we were supposed to on those,” said Schweyen.
“The strength of their team is 3-point shooting, that’s what they were looking for. We adjusted to it, but they still got way too many.”
The 3-point shot isn’t necessarily a strength for Montana, but it was on Thursday night.
Eastern Washington would go 6 for 7 from the arc in the first half, but it wasn’t enough to match Montana’s firepower. The Lady Griz went 8 for 12, with five shooters connecting.
“The nice thing about our three shooting tonight is that it was multiple people,” said Schweyen, whose team would finish 12 for 22 (.545) from the arc and 22 for 25 (.880) from the line.
“It’s always nice to be at home and feel like you’re a shooter and get hot a little bit, and we had multiple people doing that. It took us a little bit to get going, then once we did, it was nice. It was a lot of fun.”
It was the type of game, with shorthanded Eastern Washington playing zone, tailor-made for Taylor Goligoski.
Goligoski would score 16 points in the second half as Montana pulled away, a season-high 21 for the game on 4-of-9 3-point shooting, 8 of 14 overall.
“Taylor is always capable of having big nights,” Schweyen said. “It’s a matter of certain matchups. We saw that zone, and she goes in there and bangs some threes for us.”
The team’s primary distributor on Montana’s 49.2 percent shooting, up from 30.5 on Saturday, was Johnston, who had 10 assists, one off her career high, and no turnovers.
It was part of a beautiful number line for Montana: 23 assists on 29 made baskets with just seven turnovers.
“It was just a great team effort,” said Schweyen. “I love the stat of 23 assists on 29 buckets.”
Still, it was a five-point game, 39-34, with three minutes left in the second quarter. That’s when Montana closed the half on a 12-2 run, the final basket coming in the final second on a Johnston end-to-end drive to the hoop.
The Lady Griz led 51-36 at the break, with the excitable Gabi Harrington bouncing back from a scoreless Saturday to put up 14 points with just one missed shot through the first 20 minutes.
Montana outscored Eastern Washington 25-12 in the third quarter, which allowed Goligoski, Jamie Pickens, Kylie Frohlich and Schoening to play big minutes off the bench.
More than half of Montana’s points — 47 of 92 — came from its reserves, with Pickens, who got 20 minutes of action, scoring 14, Schoening 10.
“It was nice to see Jamie get in there and have a good one,” said Schweyen. “She’s been limited with minutes due to the fact that Abby (Anderson) and Emma (Stockholm) have been playing so well.
“It was great for all those ladies to have some good minutes.”
Montana now turns its attention to Portland State, with the Lady Griz and Vikings (8-6, 2-2 BSC) set to play Monday at 8 p.m. (MT), after PSU hosts Montana State on Saturday afternoon.
Montana has dropped its last three games on Portland State’s home floor by an average of nearly 20 points per loss.
Press release courtesy of Joel Carlson – Griz Communication.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.