MISSOULA — Picture a grade-school playground with 2,600-plus kids hooping and hollering like it's recess.
That and an Eastern Washington team starving for a victory await the Montana Lady Griz in a rare matinee basketball game Thursday at Reese Court in Cheney, Washington. The Eagles will be trying to snap a nine-game skid as part of their Kids Day festivities.
"Obviously it's a little different playing at 11 a.m. their time, but it should be a fun atmosphere," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. "I always think our ladies play well when there's more people in the crowd anyhow."
Montana finished the first half of its Big Sky Conference schedule with a heartbreaking home overtime loss to Montana State. The team still has plenty to feel good about, tied for fourth in the league standings with a record of 6-5 (11-9 overall).
"We told them in practice we're two baskets away from beating the top two teams," Schweyen said of the first-place Bobcats and second-place Idaho. "We've beaten Northern Arizona, who's sitting in third, at Northern Arizona.
"We're essentially right there and easily could be in the top two for records. That gives the ladies confidence knowing we're one of the teams that has been right there at Idaho and NAU."
The Lady Griz need to guard against being overconfident heading into Thursday's game. Last month they buried Eastern Washington in Missoula, 92-54, behind 21 points by Taylor Goligoski and 14 apiece by Gabi Harrington and Jamie Pickens.
Schweyen pointed out that the Eagles (1-9, 2-17) were missing three starters for that game and they've stood toe-to-toe with some tough teams since then.
"They just played Northern Arizona to a very close game that went down to the wire Monday," Schweyen said. "Jenna Dick has been lighting it up for them. She had eight threes against Sac State (last Saturday). They've been shooting a lot more threes and playing more zone. They've certainly played people tough."
The Lady Griz have tried to learn from last Saturday's loss, which saw the team squander a 14-point lead in the second half. Schweyen says her team has had some good practices this week and is ready to get back on the court.
"We literally missed point-blank bunnies in that fourth quarter against Bozeman, multiple right-hand layups," she noted, alluding to an 0-for-15 shooting effort in the final 10 minutes of regulation. "I think we missed a total of 11 layups.
"Just unbelievable we couldn't get some of those to go down late in the game. Had we made those layups, it's a whole different thing."
If Montana can get past Eastern Washington, it sets up an intriguing battle with Idaho (8-2, 13-6) on Saturday. The Vandals are hosting Montana State (9-1, 13-6) Thursday in a clash of the top two teams in the league.