The formula that’s been keeping the Montana women’s basketball team — slow start, poor shooting — from staying in games this season cost the Lady Griz again in their Big Sky Conference opener on Thursday night.
The Lady Griz fell behind by 15 points in the first half and shot 32 percent to fall 61-43 to Idaho State at Reed Gym in Pocatello.
In was just the ninth win for Idaho State (7-5, 1-0 BSC) in 79 matchups against Montana (3-9, 0-1 BSC) and the Bengals’ widest margin of victory.
A 3-pointer by Freya Newton less than three minutes into the game put the Bengals, who never trailed, up for good. They led 11-6 at the first break and 31-15 at halftime as the Lady Griz matched their season low for scoring in a half.
Montana was just 7 for 26 (.269) in the first half. Idaho State shot 52.6 percent and could have had a larger lead had the Bengals not had 15 first-half turnovers.
“I feel we could have been in the game a little bit better if some of our shots had gone down early. We have shots around the basket, and the girls are panicking,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen. “They just have to slow down, take their time and play with confidence.
“Everyone’s been working hard. They need to have some confidence when they step on the floor. I don’t care what age you are. Until we start making those types of shots, it’s going to be an uphill battle trying to compete.”
Montana had an offensive surge to start the third quarter. Four different players scored to get the ISU lead down to eight, 33-25, but the Lady Griz couldn’t slow down the Bengals consistently enough to cut deeper into the lead.
Idaho State went 7 for 14 from 3-point range in the second, third and fourth quarters, and shot 52.5 percent overall, just shy of the 53.1 percent South Dakota State shot against Montana in the second game of the season.
“They made some big threes on some plays when we didn’t quite come up with an offensive rebound,” said Schweyen. “They would come up with the loose ball, kick it out and turn it to the open person. It kills you when loose balls turn into buckets.
“Credit to them. They shot it well tonight. We talked about the importance of closing these guys out, and we didn’t do a very good job of it tonight. They beat us off the dribble, and it puts you in a predicament where you’re constantly having to help and recover.”
After seeing its lead trimmed to eight early in the third quarter, Idaho State steadily built it back up to 14 and led 42-28 going into the fourth.
The lead reached a game-high 23 points, 55-32, when Saylair Grandon, who led ISU with 15 points, hit a pair of free throw with 3:49 remaining.
Taylor Goligoski led Montana with 14 points as the Lady Griz failed to hit a 3-pointer and had a season-low two assists on their 16 baskets.
“Taylor had another solid performance,” said Schweyen. “The degree of difficulty of some of the shots she makes is big time. It’s getting harder and harder for her to get shots, because obviously she is the focus of people’s defense.
“We need to get more of a presence in the paint. People are playing behind us, and we’re not feeding the post well enough. We can’t be all perimeter.”
McKenzie Johnston got the start at the point and finished with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds, the fifth time in 12 games she has led the team in rebounding.
Her defining play: Goligoski missed a three in the first quarter, and Idaho State pulled down the rebound. Johnston snuck in, ripped the ball away and turned it into two points before the ISU rebounder knew what happened.
“Kenzie competed extremely hard tonight. I was really proud of her,” said Schweyen. “She had a hard time knocking down too many shots, but she did a lot of great things out there.
“She plays her butt off. She creates havoc by jumping into passing lanes and making things happen.”
Rachel Staudacher made her first career start, Jace Henderson added seven points off the bench, and Sierra Anderson led the team in broken noses with one. She matches Emma Stockholm for the team lead this season.
Montana will play at Weber State (6-6, 0-1 BSC) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Ogden. The Wildcats lost 83-68 at home on Thursday night to Montana State.
In other league games, North Dakota held off Portland State 65-61 in Grand Forks, and Northern Colorado rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit to win 95-88 over Sacramento State in Greeley.