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Montana women host Lady Griz Classic this weekend

The Montana women’s basketball team will host the 38th Lady Griz Classic presented by Holiday Inn Downtown this weekend at Dahlberg Arena, with a pair of games on Saturday and two more on Sunday.

Joining Montana in this year’s field will be Northern Illinois, Nevada and UC Davis. Nevada (WBI) and UC Davis (WNIT) both made national tournaments last season.

UC Davis and Nevada will play at noon on Saturday, with Montana and Northern Illinois to follow, at approximately 2:15 p.m.

Northern Illinois will play at noon on Sunday in what will be either the consolation or championship game, depending on the Huskies’ result against the Lady Griz on Saturday.

Regardless of what happens on Saturday, Montana will play the second game on Sunday, with tipoff again at approximately 2:15 p.m. against either Nevada or UC Davis.

Coverage: All four games of the Lady Griz Classic will have video streaming through WatchBigSky.com and will be available on Pluto TV, channel 237. The games will be carried locally on KGVO 1290 AM/98.3 FM on Saturday, KMPT 930 AM/99.7 FM on Sunday, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action.

Quick hitters (Lady Griz Classic):

* This is the 38th edition of the Lady Griz Classic. The tournament has taken place every year since 1980-81, with the exception of 2009-10.

* Montana is 70-4 at its home tournament. Washington won the first tournament, in 1980-81. Drake won it the next year, Arkansas in 1998-99, Utah State in 2016-17.

* Montana went 2-0 at last year’s Classic but no team trophy was awarded. Oral Roberts also went 2-0 in a bracket that had predetermined opponents to keep conference foes Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton from potentially playing each other.

Quick hitters (Montana):

* The Lady Griz are 1-2 and still seeking their first victory over a Division I opponent.

* Montana has losses to Gonzaga and South Dakota, teams ranked third and sixth in this week’s collegeinsider.com mid-major poll.

* The Lady Griz have losses by 24 points (Gonzaga) and 23 points (South Dakota) and a 45-point victory over Providence (MT). Average halftime margin through three games: 23.3 points.

* Montana has had a different leading scorer in each of its first three games: McKenzie Johnston (17 at Gonzaga), Carmen Gfeller (15 against Providence) and Jace Henderson (10 against South Dakota).

* Montana is facing Northern Illinois for the first time and has never played UC Davis. The Lady Griz are 15-1 against Nevada, going 9-1 against the Wolf Pack when they were in the Big Sky Conference from 1987-88 to 1991-92.

Montana and Nevada have played twice in the Lady Griz Classic. Montana won 62-41 on the opening day of the tournament in 1995-96 and 59-51 in the championship game in 2008-09.

* In two games against Division I opponents this season, Montana has averaged 0.66 points per possession on 34.0 percent shooting while averaging 20.5 turnovers.

* Montana went 6 for 11 from the 3-point line against Providence. The Lady Griz went 5 for 30 from the arc against Gonzaga and South Dakota.

* Freshmen Katie Mayhue and Jordyn Schweyen made their collegiate debuts at Gonzaga. Carmen Gfeller did the same last week against Providence. Kylie Frohlich is expected to make her own debut this weekend.

* After starting all 61 of Montana’s games the last two seasons and getting the start in this year’s opener at Gonzaga, junior Madi Schoening has missed the last two games.

* With Ciara Duffy going off for 26 points in South Dakota’s 64-41 win at Dahlberg Arena on Saturday, Montana has allowed a player to score 26 or more in three of its last seven games dating back to last season.

Sacramento State’s Maranne Johnson put up 30 on Montana, as did Larryn Brooks of Weber State in the final two weeks of the season last winter.

* Montana had a six-point second quarter against Gonzaga and scored just seven in the first quarter against South Dakota on Saturday, eight in the second quarter to fall behind 36-15 at the half.

* Montana’s three starting guards against the Coyotes (Johnston, Mayhue, Goligoski) shot 6 for 26.

* The Lady Griz are averaging just six offensive rebounds per game. They had five against Providence, four against South Dakota and have just 18 second-chance points this season.

* Junior McKenzie Johnston’s two points on Saturday was her lowest output since scoring two in a home loss to Portland State in her redshirt freshman season of 2016-17.

* Montana forced just six South Dakota turnovers on Saturday night.

* Montana hadn’t scored fewer than the 41 points it registered on Saturday since opening the 2010-11 season with a 52-34 road loss at UC Riverside. It was the fewest points scored in a home game since losing 57-35 to Washington State in 1978-79, Robin Selvig’s first year as coach.

* Montana has blocked five or more shots in each of its first three games. The Lady Griz lead the Big Sky and rank 15th nationally at 5.7 rejections per game.

Northern Illinois at a glance:

* The Huskies went 15-15 a year ago and finished fifth out of six teams in the Mid-American Conference West division with a 7-11 league mark. Four starters returned in 2018-19.

* Northern Illinois was picked for a fourth-place finish in the West this season.

* The Huskies are 3-2 after Wednesday night’s 81-63 home win over North Dakota State. NIU also has wins over Northern Iowa and Yale, and lost by just 10 on the road in front of more than 9,000 fans at Iowa State. The team’s other loss was at Indiana.

* Senior guard Courtney Woods leads Northern Illinois in both scoring (19.0/g) and rebounding (7.6/g). She scored 34 in her team’s season-opening win over Yale, knocking down six 3-pointers and going 14 for 14 from the free throw line.

* The Huskies are coached by Lisa Carlsen, who is 50-48 in her fourth season.

UC Davis at a glance:

* The Aggies won the Big West Conference regular-season title the last two seasons but lost in their conference tournament both years and had to settle for WNIT appearances. They advanced to the WNIT quarterfinals last season where they fell to Indiana.

* UC Davis was picked second in the Big West preseason poll, coming in behind Cal State Northridge, the team that defeated the Aggies in last year’s conference tournament championship game.

* UC Davis is 2-4 through six games, with a 75-62 road win at Washington State and 68-45 home win over Southern Utah. The Aggies lost 71-43 at Stanford and 65-50 at Portland State, which sits atop the Big Sky with a 4-0 record.

* The Aggies returned just two starters but one is 6-foot-4 senior forward Morgan Bertsch, who averaged 20.1 points on 56.0 percent shooting last season. She is averaging 23.7 points through six games this season.

* UC Davis is coached by Jennifer Gross, who is 133-95 in her eighth season.

Nevada at a glance:

* The Wolf Pack is coming off a 19-win season and a trip to the WBI semifinals. Nevada played in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game in March and held an eight-point fourth-quarter lead over top-seeded Boise State but lost 62-60 on a last-second basket.

* Nevada returned two starters from that team and was picked seventh out of 11 teams in the Mountain West preseason poll.

* The Wolf Pack is 1-4 through five games, its lone victory a 76-67 road win at Long Beach State. Nevada has three losses to teams from the Pac-12 (Utah, Colorado and USC). Those three teams are currently 12-0.

* Leading the way for the Wolf Pack is senior guard Jade Redmon, who is averaging 13.2 points. The Spokane native played two seasons for Wendy Schuller at Eastern Washington before transferring. She was voted honorable mention All-Big Sky as a sophomore.

* Nevada is coached by Amanda Levens, who is 20-21 in her second season.

Montana insider:

Gonzaga, at 7-1, is rolling, its only loss to No. 1 Notre Dame. South Dakota knocked off No. 23 Iowa State on Wednesday. The Coyotes’ lone loss came on the road by 12 at Drake, a team that defeated No. 13 South Carolina recently and tops all the mid-major polls.

“We knew they were good basketball teams, and their results show they can compete nationally and are up there with the best teams in the country,” said third-year Montana coach Shannon Schweyen.

“Anybody who knows basketball and watched the South Dakota game knows that is a really good team. It’s always fun as your season progresses to see what these other teams do. It’s been fun to watch (Gonzaga and South Dakota) step up and get some big wins.”

South Dakota didn’t look much different than Montana did prior to the game. Both teams shared lineups of similar size and athleticism. Then the game tipped off. At halftime it was 36-15.

“When we watch video, we always try to find things that other teams do well and say, That could be us. You don’t have to be 6-foot-3 and grabbing the rim to be able to do the things South Dakota did,” said Schweyen. “We need to execute better, clean up our things and be more disciplined.”

With the arrival of the Lady Griz Classic, another player is coming off redshirt. Freshman Kylie Frohlich is expected to play on Saturday, with the ongoing can-she-or-can’t-she questions surrounding Madi Schoening on a daily basis.

“Kylie is competitive. She has a great motor, she runs the floor hard and plays hard,” said Schweyen. “With Madi and the unknown, we need some more depth in the post, and Kylie is ready.

“She’s excited. She wanted to play this year. I’ve known her since she was a little girl and know how she competes. She brings a competitive nature to our practices. Now that she knows she is going to be in the mix, it makes a person step up a little bit more.”

Going into the season, Schweyen was expecting to redshirt up to two of her four true freshmen. But after a recent visit with former coach Robin Selvig, Schweyen decided to take an all-hands-on-deck approach.

“He reminded me that you never want to redshirt yourself out of some wins,” said Schweyen. “She’ll give us one more player in there for depth, and we need it.”

Up first for Montana at the Lady Griz Classic is Northern Illinois, a team that has more wins than any other in the field and has a big-time scorer in Courtney Woods, a six-foot Australian who was first-team All-MAC last year.

She led the league in scoring at 22.1 points per game and entered her senior season with 1,520 career points. She had six 30-point scoring games last season, twice scoring 39.

She leads a team that was within eight in the fourth quarter at Iowa State earlier this month.

“That game caught a lot of people’s eyes, because that’s a good basketball environment and a good team,” said Schweyen.

“They’ve got a big scorer in Woods, a quick point guard and a bunch of kids who can step up and shoot it. They’ve got a pretty balanced team. They do a lot of dribble-drive action, and they like to get out and go and put up some points.”

Upcoming: Montana will head south next week and play at Arizona (5-1) on Wednesday, at Grand Canyon (2-3) on Friday. The Lady Griz will close the non-conference with a pair of games at the Husky Classic in Seattle on Dec. 15-16, then host Montana Tech in an exhibition game on Dec. 20.

Big Sky Conference play opens at home, against Northern Arizona and Southern Utah on Dec. 29 and 31.