South Dakota coach Dawn Plitzuweit yelled a simple command to her team throughout the first quarter on Saturday night at Dahlberg Arena in her team’s 64-41 victory over Montana: “Move the ball, attack the rim.”
Her Coyotes — balanced, skilled, tough, physical, deep, just about everything you’d want out of a basketball team — obeyed, and the Lady Griz, shorthanded even more than they’ve been, never had a chance.
South Dakota, one of the nation’s top mid-major programs, led 36-15 at the half and forced 20 Montana turnovers on its way to a 5-1 start to the season while dropping the Lady Griz to 1-2.
“They’re good at every spot. They spread you out, they have good movement without the ball, they find each other, and they take advantage of mismatches,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen. “They run a lot of good stuff that’s hard to guard.”
And that’s on the offensive end. It was on the defensive end where the Coyotes set the early tone, forcing Montana into eight turnovers in the first 10 minutes alone.
It was five-on-five, it just felt like the Coyotes were playing with extra defenders. Every time the Lady Griz pivoted away from pressure, there was another red uniform, just like they seemed to be in every passing lane and on the welcome receiving end of every crosscourt pass or soft entry to the post.
“Turnovers killed us,” said Schweyen. “Against a team like this, you have to hope you don’t give them extra possessions to get anything above and beyond what they’re already going to get on you. Those were just gifts to them.”
Montana made just six baskets in the first half on 28.6 percent shooting, while committing 13 turnovers. Compounding the problems on that end of the court was the team’s rebounding.
The Lady Griz had just one offensive rebound at the half, on a night when that could have helped stop the bleeding. Instead it was one-and-done, repeat.
“It’s tough when you have one person taking the shot and wondering if you’re ever going to get a putback,” said Schweyen. “When you’re struggling offensively, it’s always nice to get those.
“It gives you a morale boost when someone gets a rebound-putback, but those were few and far between.”
The teams were tied at 7-7 six minutes into the game. That’s when Plitzuweit added a variation to her command to her team: “Move the ball and we’ll get any shot we want.” She had seen something.
It wasn’t cocky. It was spoken out of confidence, in her motion offense and in the players who have been drilled to run it to full effect.
Attacking the rim, mixed in with some driving and distributing, South Dakota shot 10 for 16 in the second quarter, when the Coyotes took full control, outscoring the Lady Griz 22-8.
Already playing without Sophia Stiles and Madi Schoening, who missed her second straight game with an injury, Schweyen inserted the flu-stricken Gabi Harrington into the lineup midway through the first quarter. She lasted a single minute before she had to be subbed out. Her night was done.
That left the Lady Griz in a familiar spot: relying on inexperienced players against a good team, which was supposed to be something this program left behind two years ago.
“We’ve got to battle through this stretch until we get people back,” said Schweyen. “Even so, we’re better than what we showed tonight.
“That’s what was disappointing. We didn’t execute well offensively, and against a good ball club, you’re not going to get anything easy on them.”
When Montana faced another mid-major heavyweight to open the season, playing at Gonzaga earlier this month, the Lady Griz trailed big at the half, 42-17, then showed some fight in the second half.
It was there again on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to take any sort of bite out of the Coyotes’ lead.
Montana hit all three of its 3-pointers in the second half and cut its turnovers nearly in half, going from 13 to seven.
“We had some stops in the second half, but we couldn’t dig out of the hole we dug. We couldn’t score with them,” said Schweyen.
Ciara Duffy, 6-foot-1 but with the skills of a perimeter player, led South Dakota with 26 points, on 11-of-18 shooting. She was masterful around the basket, finishing with a soft touch, and even managed to knock down a pair of 3-pointers.
Even with 26 points, she still managed to blend in with her teammates. That’s when a team knows it has something special going on.
“She’s a good player. She gets to the hole well and is a good 3-point shooter,” said Schweyen. “But their big weapon is their balance. They just have a ton of balance.”
Jace Henderson led Montana, which hosts the 38th Lady Griz Classic next Saturday and Sunday, with 10 points.