Lady Griz

Lady Griz fall at Utah State in opener


The Montana women’s basketball team dropped its season opener on Wednesday afternoon, falling 81-74 to Utah State at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum in Logan.

The Lady Griz built a 13-point lead in the second quarter, but the Aggies scored the final 11 points of the first half to trail 39-37 at the break, then hit their first seven shots of the second half.

The run, which spanned just over five minutes of the second and third quarters, was 20-2 and changed the tone of the game in a nearly empty facility.

“You go from having a double-digit lead to two points at the half, then to come out and let them score seven possessions in a row, we just have to be better defensively,” said first-year coach Mike Petrino.

“I go back to those first seven possessions of the second half. Dribble jumper, dribble jumper, get in the paint. We have to be better containing the ball in front.”

The 81 points allowed spoiled a solid start to the season on the offensive end.

Carmen Gfeller scored a career-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and Willa Albrecht came off the bench to add 14 in her collegiate debut, hitting four 3-pointers in five attempts.

Of the 12 players who saw the court, 10 of them scored as Montana opened the season with 42.2 percent shooting.

“The positives were there. It was a spirited effort. We had great energy,” said Petrino.

Montana led by two after the first quarter, 19-17, then used the 3-point shot to up its lead to double digits.

Albrecht hit both of her 3-point attempts in the second quarter, and Hannah Thurmon and Bria Dixson both connected as well.

Montana went 4 for 8 from the arc in the second quarter, 8 for 21 for the game, a total reached just four times last season against Division I opponents.

Albrecht’s triple with 3:50 to go before half made it 39-26. Montana would miss its final seven shots of the first half while Utah State was making its last four, two of which were 3-pointers.

The Aggies stayed hot coming out of the locker room, hitting their first seven shots of the second half. They went nearly 10 minutes between missed shots while hitting 11 in a row.

“Even though we hit more threes than they did, which is a positive, they made more plays than we did,” said Petrino.

“We put ourselves in position to win but didn’t get it done. We didn’t defend like I think we should.”

Even with so much going against it, Montana hung around and held leads in the second half.

Trailing 53-48, the Lady Griz tied it in nine seconds, when Gfeller scored inside, then Sophia Stiles turned a back-court steal into an and-one three-point play.

Albrecht gave Montana a 56-55 lead late in the third quarter with a 3-pointer, and Abby Anderson put the Lady Griz up 60-58 early in the fourth.

Utah State responded with an 8-0 run to go up 66-60, and the Aggies led by four or more the rest of the game.

“We said going into it we were going to learn a lot about ourselves,” said Petrino. “Everybody who came in did a positive thing. The kids who came off the bench did a wonderful job.

“Our 3-point shooting was positive. Thirty-one points from our starting posts was great. But fatigue set in at times. We didn’t get back in transition, and they got some baskets we’d like to have back.”

Dixson hit her second 3-pointer of the game with 90 seconds left to make it 76-72 and Montana got a stop on the other end, but the Lady Griz missed out on a chance to make it a one-possession game.

“We didn’t get key stops at certain times, but there were some great learning situations at the end,” said Petrino.

“It was a pretty nice start for some of our freshmen. Willa played well. Really well. And Bria did some nice things. We have a lot to work on, but there was growth, no question.”

Anderson finished with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting while playing limited minutes. She picked up two fouls in the first half, then left the game in the second half with an injury.

Stiles matched her career high with eight assists and added four steals, which also matched a career high.

For as well as some of Montana’s freshmen debuted, Utah State has a great one as well in Meagan Mendazona.

She finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four blocks and four steals as first-year Utah State coach Kayla Ard won her debut.

“They had a freshman step up big. She killed us,” said Petrino.

Montana will get an early start on its Big Sky Conference schedule next week when the Lady Griz host Southern Utah on Thursday and Saturday.

Press release written by Joel Carlson, Montana Sports Information.

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