Lady Griz cats sophia stiles

Montana State's Darian White (2) tries to weave between Montana defenders Sophia Stiles (left) and Nyah Morris-Nelson (right) during Thursday's game in Bozeman. The Bobcats won, 70-46. 

There's something about Worthington Arena that seems to bring out the worst in the Montana women's basketball team.

For the seventh year in a row, Montana State used its homecourt advantage to stymie the Lady Griz, emerging with a 70-46 victory Thursday night. Montana turned the ball over 22 times against the Bobcats' quick, aggressive defense.

"My raw emotion is it's not really a rivalry right now," said Montana coach Mike Petrino, whose team has lost to the Cats five times in a row and eight times in their last nine meetings. "My raw emotion is they've got all the control in this so-called rivalry, and if we want to make it a rivalry, we need to compete and finish."

Petrino's team will get a chance at revenge Saturday, but first they'll review some painful film from Thursday.

Montana State (5-2 Big Sky Conference, 8-5 overall) owned a surprising 36-18 edge in points in the paint and a 42-39 edge in rebounds. Montana (4-3, 7-5) hit just 31 percent of its attempts from the floor (15 for 49) and was held to a season-low point total.

"Montana State, as I've told many people, they have a very good defense," Petrino said. "I thought they were the tougher team.

"I felt going into this game it wasn't so much about Xs and Os as it was finishing plays and they finished more plays than we did. And perimeter-wise we did not handle their pressure." 

The Bobcats used 7-for-14 shooting and three game-defining triples by Tori Martell in the third quarter to pull to a 49-28 lead. From there it was a matter of holding off the Lady Griz, who depend heavily on point production in the paint and didn't get enough to put a scare into the defending Big Sky Conference champions.

Martell led all scorers with 18 points. Abby Anderson just missed a double-double for the Lady Griz with 10 points and nine rebounds.

"I took a few shots at halftime and I was feeling pretty good," Martell said. "That first shot right out of the half went in and the basket did feel a little bit bigger, so I kept shooting when I was open."

Martell put into perspective what it meant to beat the Lady Griz, who for many years owned the rivalry under legendary coach Robin Selvig.

"After the game I was like, I've never lost to them on my home court. That's such a special thing to do," she said. "Obviously this rivalry is very intense and I think the underclassmen could feel that tonight, even without many fans."  

Montana struggled with Montana State's feisty defense in the first half, turning the ball over 14 times in spotting the hosts a 30-20 lead. Point guard Sophia Stiles had four turnovers in her head-to-head battle with the Bobcats' lightning-quick sophomore guard, Darian White.

The Lady also struggled to make shots before halftime, hitting just 7 of 25. Montana State was not much better at 10 for 35, but the Cats owned a 16-8 edge in points in the paint thanks in part to forward Gabbi Mocchi's 10 points.

"Really thankful we got to play the game today," MSU coach Tricia Binford said. "We wanted to play for our guys (team) as well. They didn't have the opportunity (because of a positive COVID-19 test for Montana).

"Just really proud of how the team executed the game plan on the defensive end today. We knew we had our hands full and I felt we got the stops we needed."

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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