BOISE, Idaho — One last wave of bad luck sank the Montana women's basketball team Monday in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament.
With starters Gabi Harrington and Emma Stockholm suffering from the flu and Stockholm exiting with a head injury in the second quarter, the Lady Griz lost to Southern Utah at CenturyLink Arena, 64-56. Harrington and Stockholm were so dehydrated before the game they took fluids intravenously.
"They weren't quite themselves today and it did hurt our depth," said UM coach Shannon Schweyen, who lost four guards to injury earlier this season. "Emma has been playing great basketball for us, taking charges and doing some things on defense that some of our younger kids haven't quite gotten yet.
"Then Gabi was one of our leading scorers heading into tonight. It was a little rough not having any perimeter sub options."
Stockholm and Harrington were both in the starting lineup but they, along with the rest of the Lady Griz, looked sluggish early. Harrington ended up playing just 15 minutes and Stockholm 11 after falling hard on the floor with 3 minutes left in the first half.
To Southern Utah's credit, the team out-hustled the Lady Griz in the first half. The Thunderbirds (8-22) raced to a 33-23 halftime lead behind a 28-16 edge on the boards and 13 points by mighty mite guard Rebecca Cardenas.
"From the tip we were very focused and ready to play with great energy," SUU first-year coach Tracy Sanders said. "We had a great game plan coming in and they stuck to it and played their butts off.
"I thought it was one of our best games of the season coming off our last match-up with them (a win on March 2), so we did have some confidence coming in."
Southern Utah stretched its lead to 35-23 early in the third quarter, then Montana came roaring back. Billings product Jace Henderson hit a pair of buckets that sparked a 13-6 run and cut the Lady Griz deficit to 41-36 with 5:20 left in the quarter.
Montana stayed close the rest of the way but never managed to make it a one possession game. The Lady Griz missed several critical shots from close range and their 5-for-19 effort in the final 10 minutes wasn't good enough.
"I'm proud of the way we fought back in the second half and kept cutting it down and making a run," said Schweyen, whose team finished with a 14-16 mark. "It shows the kind of grit this team has had all season.
"These kids have had a lot of different things thrown at them and obviously it was tough for us today with a couple kids with the flu and things we battled all year."
The 5-foot-5 Cardenas finished with a game-high 18 points and 14 rebounds. Afterwards, she put the historic win in perspective.
"We just wanted it more and I think that's why we crashed (the boards) so hard," she said of her team's 51-37 edge in rebounds at the end. "It feels great. This is our first tournament win so this was huge for us. We really wanted it."
Sophomore Sammy Fatkin led the Lady Griz in scoring for the first time this season, tallying 13 points. Henderson had a double-double in her final college game (11 points, 10 rebounds) and Helena product McKenzie Johnston added 12 points.
In the first game Monday, Northern Arizona rallied for a 74-69 win over Sacramento State. It marked the fourth win in a row for the Lumberjacks, who knocked off league powerhouse Northern Colorado in their regular-season finale. Hannah Friend scored 19 points and Gabi Bade 15 to lead Northern Arizona.