Game Preview

Lady Griz to host Pirates on Saturday night



The Montana women’s basketball team will fill its scheduled off week from Big Sky Conference games by hosting Whitworth on Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena.

The Lady Griz (3-3) and Pirates (0-0) will tip off at 7 p.m. in the first regular-season meeting between the two teams since February 1976.

Whitworth, a Division III program in Spokane, will be making its season debut on Saturday.

At a glance (Montana): The Lady Griz ended a 16-day break from competition when they played their first Big Sky games of the season last weekend at Northern Colorado.

Montana rallied from 19 down late in the third quarter to defeat the Bears on Friday, 60-56. It was the largest deficit overcome in a road win since at least 1998-99.

The Lady Griz came back from 24 down late in the first half on Sunday to force overtime on a late 3-pointer by Hannah Thurmon, but Northern Colorado opened the extra session with back-to-back triples and held on for a 77-76 win.

Montana is 3-3 through six games, with its three losses coming by seven, seven and one point.

At a glance (Whitworth): The Pirates are coming off a 14-11 season in which they tied for fourth in the Northwest Conference with a 7-9 league record.

Whitworth returns just one player, sophomore guard Quincy McDeid, who started at least half the team’s games last season.

McDeid, who had a season high of 26 as a freshman, tied for the team lead in scoring last season at 14.4 points per game on her way to honorable-mention All-Northwest Conference honors.

The Pirates host Lewis-Clark State on Tuesday, then open their 12-game Northwest Conference schedule on Friday, Jan. 22, with a doubleheader at Puget Sound.

Joial Griffith is in her third season as head coach after replacing Helen Higgs, who won 361 games in 24 years at Whitworth. Griffith enters the season with a record of 27-23.

Series history: Montana and Whitworth have met just once before during the regular season, an 85-45 victory for the Lady Griz in a game played in Kalispell on Feb. 4, 1976.

Summary: After having three games prior to Christmas canceled, Montana was able to add Whitworth to its January schedule on a weekend that the Lady Griz were going to have off from Big Sky Conference games.

It’s a fitting matchup for the times. While not quite last minute, Montana scheduled a regular-season game in January against a team that has yet to play a game this season.

“In a year of strange events, it’s par for the course to be playing someone in January who is playing their first game,” said first-year coach Mike Petrino.

“Really, this week is more about us. We didn’t have any exhibition games or a full nonconference slate, so it’s about us and learning more about each other. We need more experience, more time playing together. Any chance you can do that, it’s great.”

The Lady Griz will face a new-look Whitworth team, one that closed last season winning four of six. One of those losses came by three points in overtime at Whitman, which would go on to advance to the Sweet 16 of the Division III national tournament.

“I’m impressed looking at what they’ve done the last couple of years under a new coach,” said Petrino. “She is doing a good job. It’s a well-coached team that plays a fast style and shoots a lot of threes.”

Montana enters the week after going 1-1 at Northern Colorado. The Lady Griz led for less than five of the two-game series’ 85 minutes but still had a chance for a sweep.

Or they just as easily could have been swept, falling behind by 19 points on Friday, 24 on Sunday.

“We just need more experience to see the results,” said Petrino. “It’s one thing to talk about (consistency). It’s another to execute.

“This group has been actively engaged in practice and in film sessions, so I believe we can improve those areas. It’s just habits.”

After starting the same five players through the first five games, Montana had to go without Abby Anderson on Sunday. She was injured in Friday’s game and not cleared to play on Sunday.

She is averaging 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds this season while playing nearly 26 minutes. Her 11 blocks lead the team.

Without her in the starting lineup or available on Sunday, Montana trailed 35-11 late in the second quarter. It wasn’t all about her absence, but it didn’t help.

“There was some adjustment playing without Abby,” said Petrino. “That’s not an excuse but there was an adjustment we had to make.”

Anderson will be back in the lineup on Saturday night.

Montana notes:

* The Lady Griz went 18 for 18 from the line on Friday, setting a new program record for number of makes in a game without a miss. The previous best was going 15 for 15, the season before at Northern Colorado.

* Montana followed that up by going 18 for 22 (.818) on Sunday to up its season percentage to .787, which ranks first in the Big Sky and 16th in the nation.

* In its last three games at Bank of Colorado Arena, Montana has gone 51 of 55 (.927) from the line.

* Trailing by 19 points late in the third quarter, Friday’s game was the largest comeback win on the road since at least 1998-99. The top comebacks over the last two-plus decades:

19: at Northern Colorado (1.1.21) — Trailed 52-33, won 60-56

18: at Montana State (1.29.11) — Trailed 27-9, won 56-55

18: at Portland (1.2.06) — Trailed 38-20, won 68-65 (ot)

* Montana closed Friday’s game on a 27-4 run, from late in the third quarter through the end of the fourth. The Lady Griz outscored the Bears 53-29 on Sunday over the final 21-plus minutes of regulation to force overtime.

* Montana scored 46 first-half points in two games at Northern Colorado, 91 in the second half and one five-minute overtime.

* Montana won on Friday despite shooting 29.2 percent. The last time the Lady Griz shot below 30 percent and won: a 70-64 overtime win at Seattle in December 2014.

* Montana shot just 33.1 percent in its two games at Northern Colorado. But the Lady Griz also limited the Bears to 30.5 percent shooting on their home floor.

* Bria Dixson went 4 for 5 from the arc in Sunday’s game. She is the third freshman this season to come off the bench and go 4 for 5 from the 3-point line. Willa Albrecht did it at Utah State, Kyndall Keller did it at Seattle.

* Montana had four players in double figures in both games at Northern Colorado. The previous high this season had been three.

* Abby Anderson recorded her first career double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds in Friday’s win before missing Sunday’s game.

* Hannah Thurmon scored a season-high 15 points on Sunday. All 15 of her points came in the second half and overtime on 5-of-8 shooting.

* Thurmon has had three games with three 3-pointers and is 10 of 24 (.417) from the arc on the season.

* Kylie Frohlich made her first career start on Sunday.

* Montana’s two leading scorers, Carmen Gfeller (16-19) and Sophia Stiles (25-28), have gone 41 for 47 (.872) from the line this season. Stiles went 14 for 14 at Northern Colorado and has made her last 18 dating back to the second half of the North Dakota game.

* Kyndall Keller scored what would be the game-winning basket, a floater from five feet, with 36 seconds left on Friday to put Montana up 58-56.

* Montana held Northern Colorado to 13-of-57 shooting (.228) in the second half in two games last weekend in Greeley.

* Northern Colorado sophomore Alisha Davis had back-to-back double-doubles –10 points, 12 rebounds and 21 points, 14 rebounds — to earn Big Sky Player of the Week honors on Monday.

* Montana went to Greeley with the Big Sky’s top shooting percentage. The Lady Griz now rank fifth at 39.6 percent.

* Montana moved up to second in the league, behind Idaho State (.344), in field goal percentage defense (.358).

* Anderson had played in Montana’s previous 59 games before sitting out on Sunday. Her only other missed game in her career came against UC Davis as a redshirt freshman.

* Carmen Gfeller quietly averaged 12.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals against Northern Colorado while going 3 for 4 from the arc and 6 of 7 from the free throw line. Her four steals on Friday were a career high.

* Jordyn Schweyen went 5 for 8 at Northern Colorado, 2 of 3 from the arc. She missed Montana’s game at Utah State and went 0 for 5 at Gonzaga. In the team’s other four games, she has gone 8 for 13.

* Montana’s 10 3-pointers made on Sunday were a season high and the most for the Lady Griz since going 12 for 22 in a home win over Eastern Washington last season.

* It was the most 3-pointers made on the road since hitting 10 in a loss at Cal State Fullerton in November 2016.

Talking points:

* It didn’t lead to a win, but Hannah Thurmon’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime on Sunday was still pretty great.

Sophia Stiles got the ball at the top of the key with 13 seconds left, Montana trailing by three. She passed it off to Carmen Gfeller, who got it to Thurmon deep on the left wing.

Immediately Alexis Chapman was up on Thurmon, taking away the three, encouraging a drive. But a little too tightly it would turn out.

Thurmon was able to create a bit of space with a strong right-handed dribble, then got the look she wanted with a quick step-back that had Chapman on her heels.

When the ball splashed through the net with 5.7 seconds left, Chapman knew she’s been worked over. Her hands immediately went to her head in exasperation and frustration.

“The ball got in Hannah’s hands and she created a shot. We work on skill development, and she did what was comfortable for her. That’s why we recruited her, to be a 3-point threat,” said Petrino. “It was players making plays.”

That the shot went through with 5.7 seconds left, enough for Northern Colorado to get a solid look from just inside the half-court line, was just fine with Petrino.

He had a number of things in mind when he talked to his team in the timeout prior to the shot.

Don’t worry about the clock. Take the first good shot we see. He knew Northern Colorado could opt to foul when up three late in the game. He also wanted to give his team time to track down a rebound and possibly get a second shot if it could or needed to.

“Get the first shot you can. Wait too long and they’re probably going to foul you,” he says he told his team. “Get the first shot you can get, then you have a chance to rebound.”

It was a big game for Thurmon and came after going scoreless in 12 minutes of court time on Friday. On Sunday she grabbed a season-high five rebounds and got to the line for the first time this season while playing 34 minutes.

“We challenged her to be a more active rebounder,” said Petrino. “She has good length. To her credit, she’s worked on becoming an active rebounder. She had a good weekend.”

* The 3-point shot is becoming a weapon for Montana. The team has had good 3-point shooters before. Now it has a number of them.

Thurmon leads the team, but the previously mentioned three freshmen all have hit four in a game. Carmen Gfeller is 4 for 9 on the season, Jordyn Schweyen 4 for 11.

“The 3-point threat is real in our game today and it’s something we’ve been missing,” said Petrino. “It’s been an emphasis since last spring, to improve an area that needed desperate attention.

“It’s a focused intent by us as a whole and by individual kids. Every kid has increased their shooting in practice since we started shooting this fall. It’s carrying over to the games.”

Around the Big Sky Conference:

* Idaho State moved to the top of the league standings at 4-0 (6-1 overall, with its lone loss at Nebraska) last week with a home-and-home sweep of Weber State.

* In last week’s marquee matchup of 2-0 teams, Idaho traveled to Northern Arizona and came away with a split.

The Lumberjacks, who shot 52.3 percent, raced out to a 33-12 lead after one and cruised to a win in the opener, 84-62, behind 23 points from Regan Schenck.

The Vandals landed the counterpunch in the second game, holding NAU to 34.9 percent shooting and winning 66-59 behind Natalie Klinker’s 14 points and 15 rebounds.

* Northern Arizona and Idaho are now 3-1, one game behind the Bengals.

* Next up in the standings is Eastern Washington at 2-2, which had a surprising road sweep of Portland State, winning 73-71 and 73-67.

* Montana is also .500 at 1-1.

* Southern Utah and Montana State have yet to play their first league games. The Thunderbirds are scheduled to play at Idaho this week, the Bobcats are scheduled to host Northern Colorado.

* Portland State, Sacramento State and Weber State, a combined 1-13, are all 0-2 in Big Sky games.

* In this week’s featured matchup, Northern Arizona travels to Pocatello to take on Big Sky-leading Idaho State.

Thursday’s games: UNC at MSU, NAU at ISU, WSU at EWU, SAC at PSU

Friday’s game: SUU at UI

Saturday’s games: WU at UM, UNC at MSU, NAU at ISU, WSU at EWU, SUU at UI, PSU at SAC

Upcoming: Montana will travel to Northern Arizona next week before returning home to play five of its next six at Dahlberg Arena.

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