The Montana women’s basketball team celebrated Senior Day with a 90-45 victory over shorthanded Sacramento State on Saturday at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
The Lady Griz (16-11, 11-7 BSC), who moved into sole possession of fifth place in the Big Sky Conference standings with the win, limited the Hornets (8-20, 6-13 BSC) to 17.3 percent shooting.
Sacramento State was without Kennedy Nicholas, its leading scorer and rebounder, and another player averaging more than 10 points per game.
Camariah King, the team’s second-leading scorer, was lost for the game in the first half with an injury.
“Obviously they are having a tough time right now. We’ve been in those shoes when you have injury after injury,” said Montana coach Shannon Schweyen. “It’s never fun to go through that.”
Even so, Montana played a complete game, keeping its focus defensively while five players were scoring in double figures and the Lady Griz were shooting 47.8 percent.
The result allowed Schweyen to distribute her team’s on-court minutes evenly among her nine active players, a rare perk in a Big Sky game in late February.
With the Lady Griz hitting the road for Northern Colorado and Southern Utah next week, then continuing on to Boise for the Big Sky tournament, Saturday’s game came at just the right time.
“You always want to be able to rest your players knowing you have a big game coming up. Next week is going to be huge for us,” said Schweyen, whose team will get a tournament bye with a top-five finish.
“They were able to take a deep breath and have some fun out there. In this league, there are not many games when you get a lead like that anymore.”
Emma Stockholm, one of three seniors honored before the game, scored 17 points and added a career-high 14 rebounds.
McKenzie Johnston totaled 14 points, six assists and five rebounds, and Taylor Goligoski hit a pair of first-half 3-pointers as Montana raced out to a 38-21 halftime lead.
“Obviously you want your seniors to play well in their final home game. It doesn’t always happen like that, so it was great to see those guys have some good moments,” said Schweyen.
“It’s a special group that has been through a lot. You find out a lot about people when you go through tough times, and those ladies have been through some tough times. They’ve been an inspiration to me.”
Sacramento State went 1 for 13 in the first quarter, and it never got much better from there. The Hornets made just nine shots in 40 minutes and finished 0 for 17 from the 3-point line.
They entered the game averaging more than 71 points per game.
“I thought our ladies did a nice job knowing where their shooters were and helping when they were guarding non-shooters,” Schweyen said.
“That can really make the zone effective, knowing when you can cheat and when you can’t. We made it awfully difficult for them to get anything easy.”
Montana’s four reserves scored 46 points off the bench, with Madi Schoening scoring a season-high 17 points, Gabi Harrington 13 and Kylie Frohlich a career-high 10.
Frohlich matched her career high with seven rebounds.
“She pursues the ball so well. She is quick to the ball and quick to rebound it,” said Schweyen. “She’s relentless. Most good rebounders have that quality. She had a nice ball game.”
Montana was particularly good in the second half, when the Lady Griz fully gained separation from the Hornets. They outscored Sacramento State 52-24 in the second half while shooting 55.3 percent.
Montana finished with 19 assists on 32 made baskets, and everyone scored in the game except Sophia Stiles.
“We had some beautiful passing sequences today. You love those games when everyone scores, except for Sophie, but she plays so much great defense she doesn’t need to score,” said Schweyen.
Montana now turns its focus to March.
With one week of regular-season games remaining, the Lady Griz could be as high as the No. 3 seed come Boise or fall out of the top five and have to play a first-round game.
“We’ve just got to control what we can, but I like the direction we’re going,” said Schweyen.
Montana will play at Northern Colorado (12-15, 8-10 BSC) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Bears won 67-58 in Missoula in the teams’ first matchup.
Northern Colorado snapped a three-game losing streak with a 67-61 victory at Eastern Washington on Saturday.
In other Big Sky games on Saturday, Montana State rallied from down 14 at the half to beat Northern Arizona 73-71 and Idaho and Portland State picked up home wins over Southern Utah and Weber State, respectively.