Lady Griz vs Lady Bobcats-7-tm.jpg (copy)

Emma Stockholm, left, and the Montana women's basketball team have a tough test at Northern Arizona on Monday night. The Lumberjacks knocked off visiting Montana State on Saturday.

MISSOULA — The 3-point shot has been a major pain in the neck for the Montana women's basketball team lately.

The Lady Griz have struggled to defend the 3-point line and to convert from behind the arc in losing three games in a row. They'll try to do something about it Monday when they play at Northern Arizona at 6:30 p.m.

"They're a team that's coming on," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said of the Lumberjacks, who upset Montana State on Saturday, 76-72. "Of course winning at Idaho State (on Feb. 7) got everybody's attention.

"They're certainly a team that is not to be taken lightly at all. (Kaleigh) Paplow and (Khiarica) Rasheed have been having some big games. They've been playing a little more zone lately, so I'm anticipating we could see more zone."

Montana (12-14 overall, 7-10 Big Sky Conference) is coming off a rare loss to league also-ran Southern Utah on Saturday. The Thunderbirds hit 10 triples to Montana's two.

Over their past three games, the Lady Griz have surrendered 29 treys and made 12. 

"The 3-point shooting for us has just been a big Achilles," Schweyen lamented. "It would be great for us to get a little confidence from the arc and knock down some outside shots ...

"That's been haunting us lately. Our shots from three, taking a few too many and not making enough while other teams are knocking down 10 and 8 and things like that."

One reason the perimeter shot has been a sore spot for Montana is its lack of depth at guard. Starters McKenzie Johnston, Gabi Harrington and Sammy Fatkin are all forced to play a lot of minutes — especially Johnston, who played all the way Saturday — and tired legs make it tougher to hit and defend behind the arc.

"We're trying to keep those kids fresh so we're not making tired mistakes," said Schweyen, who has only first-year players to use off the bench. "And if you have one (starter) that's just kind of not into it for the night, it just kind of limits what we can do.

"We've got to find a way to make that work. Whether or not we start looking at a couple different things with getting some other kids on the floor or something ..."

Northern Arizona (10-17, 6-12) is not known for its productivity from the 3-point line, but it converted nine triples in Saturday's win over the Bobcats. The Jacks also benefited from impressive balance, with all five starters scoring in double figures, led by sophomore swing player Jacey Bailey with 23 points.

One thing is for certain: Northern Arizona will be paying a lot of attention to Montana junior point guard McKenzie Johnston. She scored a team-high 18 points in leading the Lady Griz to a 78-62 home win over NAU on Dec. 29.

The Jacks struggled mightily out of the gate in Big Sky play. They lost seven of their first eight league games before finding some success under second-year coach Loree Payne. They've won their last two conference games at home and they've won four of seven dating back to early February.

Saturday marked their second win over a top-5 team in the Big Sky standings.  

"The team came ready to play," said Payne, a Havre product. "We had a couple of disappointing losses (two weekends ago), but I applaud their resiliency.

"They know if they play, we can beat a lot, if not any team in the Big Sky. I feel like things are coming together and we want to be playing our best basketball in March. I feel like we are at this point."

After Monday, Montana will have two regular-season games remaining. The Lady Griz return home for a Thursday game against Portland State and a Saturday test against Sacramento State.

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

Load comments