(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – On a night when very little went well or came easily for the Lady Griz, the final score provided the tell-all coda: Eastern Washington 68, Montana 62.
The Eagles (3-11, 2-3 BSC) led by seven less than three minutes into the game and went 10 for 20 from the 3-point line to hold the lead throughout at Dahlberg Arena on Thursday night.
It was Eastern Washington’s fifth consecutive win in the series and its third straight victory on the Lady Griz’ home court.
Montana (8-6, 3-2 BSC) trailed 36-30 at the half and by 10, 55-45, entering the fourth quarter. It was only then that the Lady Griz finally started matching the Eagles’ physicality.
But with everything suggesting a comeback was on the way, cold shooting never allowed it to happen. Montana went 4 for 18 in the fourth quarter and finished 1 for 14 from the arc for the game.
“It was an extremely physical game, and it took us a long time to adjust,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “We talked before the game that this is a team that likes to be physical, and we weren’t ready for it.”
The win was just the second Division I victory of the season for Eastern Washington, but the Eagles’ results since November have showed they were better than their record suggested.
A 12-point loss to now nationally ranked Gonzaga. A 12-point loss at 11-2 Boise State. And then Monday, when the Eagles took defending Big Sky Conference champion Northern Colorado to overtime.
It all indicated there was more there than the wins and losses were revealing. It came out on Thursday night.
“I didn’t want anybody looking at their record,” said Schweyen. “This is a team that played Gonzaga tough and Boise tough. And playing Northern Colorado to overtime should have opened some eyes.
“We needed to understand that these guys are really good.”
Eastern Washington set the tone — or the challenge — on its opening possession, when the Eagles isolated bruising guard Violet Kapri Morrow in the post, and she went through her defender to score.
After missing its opening shot, Montana turned the ball over its next two possessions, part of a nine-turnover first half.
Eastern Washington made four of its first five shots, mirroring what Portland State did on Saturday in rolling to a 20-point lead through just 10 minutes.
“We got off to a bad start, a little bit like Portland State,” said Schweyen. “We talked about their personnel and what they like to do, and we basically did the opposite. We weren’t focused or ready to go.
“We let them get off to a hot start, and they just rolled from there.”
The Eagles did, leading the game’s final 39:35, but it’s not like the Lady Griz didn’t have their chances. But the hole just feels deeper when a team shoots 36.4 percent.
“You’re not going to score easily on them, because they’re good on defense,” said Schweyen. “We buried ourselves and tried to get out of it as best we could in the end, but it’s tough.”
After back-to-back jumpers by freshman Katie Mayhue, who got the start in place of the injured Taylor Goligoski, pulled Montana within one, 39-38, early in the third quarter, Gabi Harrington had a shot that would have given the Lady Griz their first lead. It missed.
Morrow hit a pair of free throws, Andie Easley hit a 3-pointer to make it 44-38, and it wouldn’t be a one-possession game the rest of the night.
Montana made just two baskets the final seven minutes of the third quarter, and that allowed Eastern Washington to take a 10-point lead into the final frame.
The Eagles went 3 for 12 in the fourth quarter, which begged Montana to rally, but the big shot, the one that might get the restless crowd back into it, never came.
Eight of Montana’s 15 offensive rebounds came in the final quarter, but all those second chances were left hanging there, like put-back after put-back that had minds of their own. They would just not drop.
“We had a couple that rolled off the rim down the stretch, and those would have been big,” said Schweyen. “When you’re struggling with your shooting, those rebound put-backs are nice to come by, and we just didn’t get enough of those tonight.”
Montana cut the lead to five, 61-56, and had possession with two minutes left, but a miss was followed by the shot that ended it, an Eastern Washington 3-pointer that pushed the lead back to eight. Game over.
Harrington led both teams with 18 points, which matched her career high, but only the eight points she scored at the line came easily. All 15 of her shot attempts, of which she made five, seemed to come with contact from the defense.
Emma Stockholm scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, but she was limited to 18 minutes because of early foul trouble. She had three fouls at the half and picked up No. 4 barely two minutes into the third quarter.
Jace Henderson had 12 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds, part of Montana’s 41-33 advantage, but there wasn’t a lot of other scoring support, particularly from the bench, which only came through with one made field goal and five points.
Eastern Washington had four players in double figures. Three of them hit three 3-pointers.
And so Saturday’s matchup against Northern Colorado (9-4, 4-0 BSC) at 2 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena won’t be for first place, but it will still be a critical game for the Lady Griz, who have now lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
Idaho, coming off a big road win at Montana State on Thursday behind 16 made threes (yes, 16), comes to town next week, then five straight road games appear on the schedule as the season already turns to February.