Game Recap

Second straight Lady Griz comeback falls short at UNC

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Friday’s winning comeback from a 19-point deficit stretched the imagination of what was possible. Two days later it was 24. And that turned out to be one point too much.

Trailing 35-11 late in the second quarter, Montana rallied back to force overtime at Northern Colorado on Sunday afternoon, but the Bears and Alisha Davis had the answers this time around, winning 77-76.

Despite holding the lead for fewer than five of 85 minutes on the road trip to Greeley, the Lady Griz (3-3, 1-1 BSC) came away with a split and nearly a sweep.

“We played from behind in this gym way too much these two games. Every inexperienced team will always stress consistency. We just have to be more consistent from the start,” said coach Mike Petrino.

“But I love coaching and getting to work with this group. They are resilient and don’t back away from a challenge. I’m really proud of the fight they showed in some tough situations this weekend. We showed great spirit, great competitiveness.”

They needed to after the Bears (2-7, 1-3 BSC) got after Montana early and often, hitting three first-quarter 3-pointers and racing out to a 17-4 lead after 10 minutes.

“Another slow start on offense really put us in a bad position,” said Petrino, whose team missed 10 of its first 12 shots.

So did the absence of junior Abby Anderson, who was injured in Friday’s 60-56 win and wasn’t cleared to go on Sunday.

That would play a big part not so much in Montana’s slow start but in keeping Northern Colorado off the offensive boards.

The Bears grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and turned them into 21 second-chance points. In what would be a one-point margin at the end, that was a killer.

It was a scene that felt like it was on a replay loop: Defend well for 20-plus seconds, force a contested shot, give up the offensive rebound and either a putback or a trip to the line.

The Bears made 34 visits to the free throw line, making 24.

“Offensive rebounds were big. We defended them well and got it under 10 seconds, then we gave up the offensive rebound,” said Petrino. “We gave up way too many.”

Seven of those offensive rebounds landed in the hands of Davis, the preseason All-Big Sky forward who would finish with 21 points, 14 rebounds, six blocks and two steals.

Without Anderson to check her, Davis looked like the player she can be, unlike Friday, when she was relatively contained, scoring 10 points, none in the second half.

“You’re missing an experienced player who is a leading scorer and rebounder and defensive presence on your team, and you’re going against a preseason all-league player. We had to adjust to it,” said Petrino.

Northern Colorado’s early lead reached 25-6, then 30-8, then 35-11 late in the second quarter on a Davis and-one.

On Friday night, Montana trailed by 19 late in the third quarter, then used a period-closing 8-0 run to provide the spark that fired up a historic rally.

The end of the second quarter on Sunday provided the same type of fuel that would finally get the Lady Griz going.

Freshmen Willa Albrecht and Bria Dixson hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and Carmen Gfeller and Albrecht both hit a pair of free throws to make it 36-21 at the half.

After the break, the Lady Griz just kept on coming.

It was Sophia Stiles, then Hannah Thurmon, then Madi Schoening, then Carmen Gfeller, then Kylie Frohlich, who made her first career start in place of Anderson. It was a team effort.

Just four minutes into the second half, the deficit had been cut to five, 40-35. It was your usual 24-5 Lady Griz run when the game demanded they do something about their lot.

“We became more aggressive on offense and started to play like who we are. But we’ve got to be consistent with our production so we don’t play from behind the whole time,” said Petrino.

Davis would score 10 of her points in the third quarter and was a big reason Northern Colorado never allowed Montana to take a lead despite putting up 24 points in the period on scoring by six players.

The lead was seven, 52-45, entering the fourth. The Bears had every answer they needed in the final period of regulation, but they left the door open just a crack when they missed a late free throw.

Following a timeout, Montana got the ball to Thurmon, who created just enough space for herself on the left wing to hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.

Thurmon would finish with a team-high 15 points. Stiles added 14, Gfeller 13, Dixson 12 off the bench on 4-of-5 shooting from the arc. Jordyn Schweyen added seven on 3-of-3 shooting.

Because a 24-point deficit in regulation wasn’t challenge enough, Montana fell behind by six in the opening minute of overtime when the Bears hit back-to-back 3-pointers. And that would be too much.

The Lady Griz would have the ball in a one-possession game just once after UNC’s early threes. Trailing 73-70 with 20 seconds left, Montana turned the ball over before it could get off a shot.

Northern Colorado was 4 for 4 from the line in the final seconds, and the Bears needed each of them with Dixson hitting a pair of threes that could do no more than bring the final deficit to a single point.

In the end it was too much of a hole, too many offensive rebounds, too much Davis. Montana dropped its first Big Sky game of the season despite holding the Bears to 33.3 percent shooting on their home floor.

“I’m proud of them. I loved the grit,” said Petrino. “We got some experience in some new scenarios today, and we’ll learn from that and grow and keep getting better.”

Montana will host Whitworth on Saturday night before returning to the road to face Northern Arizona on Jan. 14 and 16 in Flagstaff.

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