Lady Griz V Eastern Washington

Madi Schoening and the Montana women's basketball team will try to climb back into a tie for first place in the Big Sky Conference standings when they play at Portland State Monday night.

MISSOULA — Humbling losses have a way of sticking with tough competitors much longer than impressive wins.

Sports is just funny that way. Probably because disappointment brings with it introspection.

The Montana women's basketball team turned in arguably its best performance of the season Thursday, demolishing Eastern Washington at Dahlberg Arena. But minutes after it was over, senior point guard McKenzie Johnston was already looking to Monday night and a return to Portland State's Viking Pavilion, where her team suffered a blowout loss last January.

"We had a really bad game, so we need to focus," said Johnston, whose team sits in second place in the Big Sky Conference standings at 4-1. "They're all zone, so at least we know what to prepare for."

While Montana (9-5 overall) will have last year's road loss to the Vikings in the back of its mind, Portland State (2-3, 8-7) will have Saturday's home loss to Montana State (5-1, 9-6) on its mind.

The Vikings shot just 32.8 percent in dropping a 73-62 decision to the first-place Bobcats. Consequently, Portland State has extra motivation to bounce back with a much-needed home win over the Lady Griz.

One advantage for Montana is the four-day break it has had in between games. It's a new scheduling wrinkle this season, with some league contests being played on Mondays instead of Saturdays.

"It's really hard when you have these one-day-in-between situations and you're trying to prepare and you don't want to look past your opponent," said Montana coach Shannon Schweyen, referring to the typical Thursday-Saturday scheduling her team will face the rest of the season. "Just having a couple extra days for some rest and to prepare a little more is really nice."

Key to Montana's success Monday will be perimeter shooting. Portland State loves to play zone defense and the defending Big Sky tourney champions have an imposing center in 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Stotler.

The Lady Griz had a season-high 12 triples in their win over Eastern Washington. If that trend continues, they should be smiling as they exit the Viking Pavilion Monday.

"That always helps when people are trying to zone you," Schweyen said of her team's perimeter shooting. "We got good looks in zone against Eastern, a lot of wide-open threes."

Another key to success for Montana will be ball distribution. The Lady Griz were highly effective finding the open shooter against Eastern's zone. They piled up 23 assists on 29 baskets.

"We still have a long way to go, but (Thursday) was one of our better games," said Johnston, who collected 10 assists in the win over Eastern. "I think it was the most complete 40 minutes our whole team has played. So it's good to see that right now."

Just as promising right now is the overall health of the Lady Griz. Madi Schoening played with a broken finger against Eastern but still managed to score 10 points. Abby Anderson continued to be effective in the post despite wrapping on her ankle and hamstring and guard Sophia Stiles was effective, especially on the defensive end, despite wearing a brace on her injured right shoulder.

"She's always going to give you amazing minutes on D and she gets after people," Schweyen said of Stiles. "She causes a lot of havoc. Plus she's a great passer. A very unselfish player."

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Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 13 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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