The Montana Lady Griz, with a first-year coach and more newcomers than returners, will be one of the first teams in the nation to play this season when college basketball returns on Nov. 25.
Montana will play at Utah State on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, with an early tip time of 1 p.m.
The Lady Griz, capped at five nonconference games after the Big Sky Conference expanded its schedule from 16 to 20 for each team, will play home games against North Dakota (Dec. 7) and Utah Valley (Dec. 21), and face Gonzaga (Dec. 13) and Seattle (Dec. 15) on the road.
“Scheduling is always challenging. Scheduling during COVID was challenging times 10,” first-year head coach Mike Petrino said.
Montana had a bulk of its nonconference schedule for this winter set last spring. Then the pandemic changed everything. Games were lost. Games were added. More games were lost. More games were added.
“The number of games that we had scheduled and had to change since last year is probably more games than we’ll play all year,” Petrino said.
“In the end we found games that are within driving distance, which is good, and we were able to get some home games. We got games against really good opponents. It will be a challenging schedule.”
Utah State went 8-23 a year ago and is under a first-year coach in Kayla Ard, most recently on the staff at Denver.
The game against the Aggies will give Montana an opportunity to take the court before opening its Big Sky schedule against Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds will travel to Missoula to face the Lady Griz on Dec. 3 and 5.
Montana will make it three games in five days when it hosts North Dakota on Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m.
The Fighting Hawks will play the upcoming season under interim coach Mallory Bernhard. She replaces two-time Big Sky Coach of the Year Travis Brewster, who is now an assistant coach at Idaho State. After opening last season 12-4, North Dakota lost 11 of its last 14 games to finish 15-15.
Montana will face Gonzaga and Seattle in the middle of the month as part of the same road trip, playing the Bulldogs in Spokane on Sunday, Dec. 13, the Redhawks on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Gonzaga went 28-3 last season, the 13th time in the last 14 years the Zags have won 24 or more games, a streak that started under coach Kelly Graves and has continued under Lisa Fortier, who is entering her seventh season. Seattle went 13-16 last year.
Montana will play its final game before the Christmas break when it hosts Utah Valley at 2 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 21. The Lady Griz defeated the Wolverines 63-52 last December in Orem.
Montana will return to Big Sky games when it plays at Northern Colorado on Jan. 1 and 3.
The Lady Griz return three starters from last year’s team that went 17-13 and tied for fourth in the Big Sky at 12-8 — senior Madi Schoening and juniors Abby Anderson and Sophia Stiles — but just one other player — junior Kylie Frohlich — who saw the court.
Montana’s season came to an end with a 68-65 loss to Northern Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament in Boise.
Sophomores Carmen Gfeller and Jordyn Schweyen both redshirted last winter, as did redshirt freshman Shelby Schweyen.
Montana brought in three transfers and five true freshmen.