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Tough competition has made for a rough Thanksgiving week for the Montana women's basketball team.

Five days after a blowout home loss to 24th-ranked Arizona, the Montana women's basketball team found itself fighting from behind the whole way Friday against Santa Clara. The Lady Griz cut their deficit to five points late in the third quarter but the Broncos stemmed the surge and emerged with a 68-58 win at the Titan Classic in Fullterton, California.

"We struggled scoring tonight, that was the thing," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen told KMPT radio after her team hit just 3 of 12 shots in the first quarter in spotting Santa Clara a 23-7 lead. "We've got to score better than that, shoot better than that.

"... It was comical the first half — good shot after good shot and nothing going in. We couldn't get a break."

To their credit, the Lady Griz (2-3) never became discouraged after a cold start to the second stanza left them with a 25-7 deficit. Slowly they chipped away, using three straight buckets by Emma Stockholm to trim Santa Clara's lead to 40-35 with 2 minutes left in the third frame.

From there the teams headed to the bench for a media timeout. When they came back out on the floor, Montana's momentum was gone.

Emily Wolph hit a critical triple in the corner, then Ashlyn Herlihy added a couple buckets in the paint. The Broncos closed out the third quarter with an 8-0 run and Montana was unable to mount another serious threat.

"I'm proud of the way the ladies kept fighting and got it close down the stretch," said Schweyen, whose team showed improvement after switching from zone to man defense early in the second quarter. "But we have these stretches where we go forever without scoring and we have these little 1-footers.

"...They're really balanced and they're a good basketball team. We've got to find some ways when we have those big droughts to get a put-back or something."

Montana shot 37.7 percent for the game (23 for 61). It was an improvement over Sunday when the Lady Griz shot 24.5 percent (13 for 53), but it wasn't enough against a Santa Clara team that hit almost 41 percent of its attempts (20 for 49).

Two areas where the Lady Griz need to improve are 3-point shooting and 3-point defense. In their three losses, Montana allowed 10 triples to Fresno State, seven to Arizona and nine to Santa Clara. In those same three games, Montana hit just 6 of 37 shots from behind the arc.

Guard Tia Hay hurt the Lady Griz with 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting Friday. She was 3 for 3 from the 3-point line and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line. The Broncos shot more than twice as many free throws as the Lady Griz, with the winning team hitting 19 of 26 and the losing team 9 of 12. 

Stockholm and Gabi Harrington shared team-high scoring honors for Montana with 12 points apiece. Abby Anderson added a career-high 11 points while point guard McKenzie Johnston paced Montana with nine rebounds and seven assists before fouling out.

"Abby did a nice job looking to score the ball and she always does a nice job passing and defending," Schweyen said.

The Lady Griz will try to bounce back Saturday when they play the host team of the Titan Classic, Cal State Fullerton, at 6 p.m. Mountain time. Fullerton (4-3) will be looking to bounce back after a Friday night loss to Delaware (1-4).

"They've got some guards that are pretty crafty and play pretty loose," Schweyen said. "(Guard Raina) Perez is leading the nation in field goals made. We need to be ready to go."

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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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