Sophia Stiles in Cheney

Montana guard Sophia Stiles drives past Eastern Washington's Aaliyah Alexander during Saturday's game in Cheney, Washington. Stiles scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds in a 65-62 win over the Eagles.

Sophia Stiles took matters into her own hands when it mattered most Saturday.

The result was Montana's fifth Big Sky Conference win in a row.

With the score tied and just under nine minutes left, Stiles scored six points in a row, converting a 3-point play and a long 3-point field goal. That gave the Lady Griz basketball team a six-point lead on host Eastern Washington, and they held on for a 65-62 victory.

"At the beginning of the fourth quarter, I remember sitting on the bench and we were down two and I was like, 'This is not about to happen,'" Stiles told the Missoulian and 406mtsports. "I didn't want to let another one slip away. On that (3-point play) they just miscommunicated and I got an easy layup.

"It's the perfect time for us to start putting the pieces together. I really feel like, especially these last two games, we're starting to play some of our best basketball."

Stiles finished with 13 points, 11 coming in the second half. Abby Anderson led the Lady Griz with 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Carmen Gfeller added 14 points and eight rebounds before fouling out late.

"We didn't have our best shooting night, but just really proud of the kids, a great team win," UM coach Mike Petrino told KMPT radio after his team went 21 for 65 from the floor. "... Sophie Stiles had a stretch there where she just took over with baskets and help getting key stops." 

Montana improved to 9-5 in league play and 12-7 overall. The last time the team won five league games in a row, Robin Selvig was the coach in 2015-16.

Eastern Washington fell to 5-11, 6-15. The Eagles have lost six games in a row and nine of their last 10.

The outcome was in question until the final buzzer, and senior Madi Schoening had some heroics in the final minute. Her layup stretched Montana's lead to 63-57 with 40 ticks left, then after a 3-ball by Eastern's Jenna Dick with 16 seconds left, Schoening made it a two-possession game, 64-60, on a free throw with nine ticks remaining.

Maisie Burnham made a layup with seven seconds left to shave Eastern Washington's deficit to 64-62. But the Eagles failed to foul until the final second. Schoening hit another free throw to bring the score to 65-62, and the hosts failed to get off a decent shot at the buzzer.

"There was a key stretch in the fourth quarter where we got stops and scores, stops and scores," Petrino said. "With the exception of guarding the three, we did a good job. We just left kids alone and they got hot. They played with a lot of emotion in their last home game.

"But really proud of our kids hanging in there. It might be our lowest shooting percentage (32) in a win. As much as we struggled on offense, I was proud of the way we kept battling on the road."  

The first half was a struggle for Montana offensively, yet the team still managed to take a 30-27 lead into the break. The Lady Griz shot 26% as a team (8 for 31) but benefited from Gfeller's strong performance as she scored 12 points on 4-for-8 shooting. The Lady Griz boasted a 10-4 edge in points from the foul line.

"We had some good shots inside. I thought we were aggressive the first half and got to the foul line a bunch. We just didn't get them," Petrino said. "... It would have been hard to lose today because we had such a good defensive effort, except for guarding the three. But we got the stops when we needed them." 

Eastern Washington struggled with its shooting overall (21 for 58) but did connect for 12 triples. Kennedy Dickie made five of those and finished with a game-high 19 points.

Montana dominated the boards, 48-31, and enjoyed a 17-8 edge in points from the foul line.

"Montana is a physical team, and I think that the players that needed to play well, played well," Eastern veteran coach Wendy Schuller said of her team. "I'm proud of our kids for being resilient and continuing to battle throughout the course of the game and finding a way to put ourselves in a position to win. We just have to get over that hump."

Montana will put its five-game win streak on the line against Big Sky-leading Idaho State at 7 p.m. Thursday in Missoula. The Bengals lost at Montana State Saturday, 88-80, in overtime.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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