When Montana traveled to Arizona last week to start its Big Sky Conference schedule, Abby Anderson packed with her a career high of 11 points and three double-digit scoring games in her time as a Lady Griz.
She was probably seventh on the list of players Northern Arizona and Sacramento State thought they would have to worry about, behind four other starters and Taylor Goligoski and Jamie Pickens off the bench.
And why not? The sophomore went into Saturday’s game in Flagstaff averaging 5.6 points and 3.0 rebounds through the season’s first nine games. She was barely taking five shots per outing.
There was little to suggest what was about to befall the Lumberjacks and Hornets. Then the games tipped off.
Anderson scored what would be a short-lived career high of 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting on Saturday as Montana led from start to finish in its 79-71 win at Northern Arizona. And then there were the career-high nine rebounds.
Two days later, Anderson hit her first seven shots and finished with 20 points as Montana won 64-60 at Sacramento State. And don’t forget about the eight rebounds, part of the Lady Griz’ 51-33 dominance on the boards.
For the road trip, Anderson averaged a team-best 17.5 points on 65.0 percent shooting and 8.5 rebounds. On Tuesday she was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week, the first for a Lady Griz this season.
“We’ve seen it in her, in glimpses here and there. It’s been one of those things where you wait for them to finally emerge and get some confidence,” Montana head coach Shannon Schweyen said in a press release.
“It’s amazing what that can do for somebody. She has just thrived now that she has earned the opportunity to be out there playing. She is making the most of it.”
Anderson scored just 52 points last season as a redshirt freshman despite playing in 29 of 30 games.
When she stepped onto the court for her limited minutes, her role was to block shots — her 28 led the team — and distribute the ball out of the post, you know, to the team’s scorers.
She finished the season with 16 made field goals. She made 13 in two games on the road on Saturday and Monday.
“She’s always been a great defender, so it’s been exciting to watch her offensive skills and her confidence come along,” said Schweyen, who spent Tuesday morning pulling up clips of Anderson’s handiwork — and handi-footwork? — against the Hornets.
She was even more impressed than she had been as it was taking place in real time on Monday night. Anderson sealing and asking for the ball. Anderson finishing through contact. Anderson not having the shot she wanted but working her way into position to find it.
“She’s very athletic. She can jump and she’s getting better at scoring with contact,” said Schweyen, who raised some eyebrows when she started the 6-foot-2 forward for the team’s first exhibition game in October. Anderson’s been starting ever since.
“She’s starting to learn how to go after it. If she doesn’t have an easy shot, she’s going to go create something.”
Montana now has seven players averaging at least 7.7 points per game and has seven rotation players who have a career high of at least 20 points.
Anderson is now a part of both groups.
“Having one more weapon in there makes us really tough to defend, because now you have one more player who can step up and pick up some slack,” Schweyen said. “It’s always nice to have multiple weapons.”
Montana (7-4, 2-0 BSC) is one of three Big Sky teams, along with Idaho and Montana State, to open league 2-0.
Two teams are 1-0. Both will be in Missoula this week, with the Lady Griz hosting Southern Utah (7-3, 1-0 BSC) on Thursday at 7 p.m., Northern Colorado (5-5, 1-0 BSC) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
There is free general admission to Thursday’s game for the first 500 fans.