Montana basketball: Lady Griz head south for pair of games in Arizona

Montana is 3-2 and coming off a championship at its own Lady Griz Classic over the weekend, with wins against Northern Illinois and UC Davis. (GoGriz.com)

On its first winning streak since January, the Montana women’s basketball team will head to Arizona this week for a pair of games.

The Lady Griz will face Arizona on Wednesday in Tucson at 11 a.m., then travel to Phoenix for a game on Friday at 6 p.m. against Grand Canyon.

Coverage: Both games will air locally on KMPT 930 AM/99.7 FM, with Tom Stage and Dick Slater calling the action. Both will also have video coverage, through Arizona Live Stream on Wednesday, YouTube on Friday.

At a glance (Montana): Montana is 3-2 and coming off a championship at its own Lady Griz Classic over the weekend, with wins against Northern Illinois and UC Davis. Jace Henderson was named tournament MVP, while McKenzie Johnston was named all-tournament.

At a glance (Arizona): The Wildcats are 6-1 and on a five-game winning streak. Their only loss came at home against Loyola Marymount, which also has a win over UCLA. Sophomore guard Aari McDonald, a transfer from Washington, is averaging 26.6 points and is the nation’s second-leading scorer.

At a glance (Grand Canyon): The Lopes are 2-4, with wins over Incarnate Word and LIU Brooklyn, two teams that are a combined 0-15. Both of Grand Canyon’s wins this season have come at home, where the Lopes are 2-1.

History: Montana will be playing Arizona and Grand Canyon for the first time.

Montana quick hitters:

* Montana has won consecutive games for the first time since sweeping the Southern Utah-Northern Arizona road trip in late January.

* The Lady Griz have played 112 games in their history against the teams that currently make up the Pac-12 and have gone 54-58. Montana has faced 10 of the 12 teams in the league, missing out only on Arizona and Arizona State.

* Montana’s most recent game against the Pac-12 was a 90-78 home-court victory over Washington State in the opening round of the WNIT at the end of the 2013-14 season.

* The Lady Griz will face another Pac-12 opponent next week when Montana opens the Husky Classic against Washington.

* Portland State’s Ashley Bolston, who came within a steal of posting a quadruple-double in the Vikings’ home win over Portland on Saturday, was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week by the league office on Tuesday.

Montana’s McKenzie Johnston, who averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds in two wins at the Lady Griz Classic, was named the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week by College Sports Madness.

* Montana has not played a road game since opening the season at Gonzaga on Nov. 7.

* Wednesday’s game at Arizona will be the Wildcats’ School Day Game. The Lady Griz should be prepared, after playing in front of 6,610 fans at their own version on Nov. 20. More than 6,000 of those in attendance were elementary and middle schoolers.

* Montana improved to 72-4 all-time at the Lady Griz Classic with wins over Northern Illinois and UC Davis last weekend in the 38th edition of the tournament.

* Senior Jace Henderson was named the Lady Griz Classic MVP after averaging 15 points on 63.6-percent shooting, while adding 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists. She approached a triple-double against Northern Illinois, with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and went 7 for 8 against the Aggies.

McKenzie Johnston was named to the all-tournament team.

* Madi Schoening has missed Montana’s last four games due to injury.

* It’s a small sample size, but it’s encouraging that Montana is ranked second in the Big Sky in shooting at 42.4 percent, just behind Northern Arizona’s league-leading 42.7. The Lady Griz ranked last out of 12 teams two seasons ago at 35.1 percent, eighth a year ago at 39.8.

* Montana ranks first in the Big Sky, 10th nationally at just 13.2 fouls committed per game. The Lady Griz totaled just six fouls against UC Davis on Sunday, partly attributable to the Aggies taking 40 of their 64 shots from 3-point range.

* Montana also ranks first in the Big Sky and 13th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense. Northern Illinois and UC Davis went 14 for 67 (.209) from the arc last weekend.

* The Lady Griz have been behind with five minutes remaining in regulation 41 times under third-year coach Shannon Schweyen. They are now 2-39 in those games after Sunday’s rally to defeat UC Davis, which led 50-48 with five minutes to play and went up 53-48 at the 4:45 mark. From that point on, Montana outscored the Aggies 14-3 to close out the game.

Montana’s only other late-game rally under Schweyen came at home last December against Northern Arizona, when Montana trailed by 21 in the third quarter and by five with five minutes left in regulation, only to win 70-62 in overtime.

* Junior Taylor Goligoski went 4 for 6 from 3-point range on Saturday against Northern Illinois. The only time she’s made more triples in a game came against Incarnate Word her freshman season, when she went 6 for 6.

* Montana averaged more than a point per possession between its two games last weekend, a nice bounce-back after finishing at 0.63 and scoring just 41 points in a home loss against South Dakota a week earlier.

* Speaking of Montana’s two nonconference losses …

Gonzaga is now 8-1 after defeating No. 8 Stanford on Sunday in Spokane in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score of 79-73 might suggest. The Bulldogs led by 18 late in the third quarter and didn’t face a deficit the final 35 minutes.

And South Dakota is now 7-1 after collecting its own win over a ranked team, 64-59 against No. 23 Iowa State last Wednesday. There was no letdown three days later when the Coyotes knocked off Wisconsin-Green Bay 55-49.

* Montana outscored UC Davis 30-12 on Sunday when McKenzie Johnston, Katie Mayhue, Gabi Harrington, Emma Stockholm and Jace Henderson were the court together. And they did that while playing together for just 10:38, with a chunk of that coming in the fourth quarter, when Montana rallied.

* Montana outscored UC Davis 54-41 when Stockholm was on the floor on Sunday. It was 15-8 in favor of the Aggies when Stockholm was on the bench.

* Stockholm had her first career double-double against UC Davis, with 11 points and 12 rebounds. She also set season highs in assists (3) and blocks (2) against the Aggies.

* McKenzie Johnston (8/1) and Jace Henderson (8/0) combined for 16 assists and one turnover against Northern Illinois.

* Gabi Harrington had 14 points (on 5-of-8 shooting) and eight rebounds against UC Davis on Sunday. Her eight rebounds were a career high. Her points were one off her career high of 15, scored against Massachusetts at Iowa’s tournament in Harrington’s third game as a true freshman in 2016-17.

* The 28 points Montana scored in the first quarter against Northern Illinois were the most points scored in a period with Shannon Schweyen as coach.

* The seven 3-pointers Montana made against the Huskies on Saturday were a season high.

* Through the season’s first three games, Montana had 18 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points. In two games over the weekend: 28 offensive rebounds, 38 second-chance points.

* Kylie Frohlich made her collegiate debut over the weekend. She had five points in five minutes against Northern Illinois and scored her first basket against UC Davis.

* Montana sophomore guard Sammy Fatkin, who is sitting out this season after transferring, played last season for Arizona. She played in 28 of 30 games, averaging more than 11 minutes per game.

* As part of the home-and-home deal, Montana will get a game against the Wildcats at Dahlberg Arena next season.

Five things to know about Arizona:

* The Wildcats haven’t finished above .500 since the 2010-11 season and are coming off a 6-24 season, but coach Adia Barnes has the pieces in place in her third year.

* Sophomore guard Aari McDonald (Washington), senior forward Tee Tee Starks (Iowa State) and junior forward Dominique McBryde (Purdue) all became eligible this season after sitting out last winter after transferring into the program.

* Arizona also has freshman forward Cate Reese, who is averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds in her first season.

* The Wildcats were picked 10th by both the coaches and media in the Pac-12 preseason polls, ahead in both of Washington State and Washington.

* Through seven games, Arizona’s opponents are shooting 33.3 percent and have been getting out-rebounded by the Wildcats by eight boards per game.

Five things to know about Grand Canyon:

* The Lopes, who play in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), are 54-20 at Grand Canyon University Arena since it opened in 2011.

* GCU coach Nicole Powell, who played at Stanford, is in her second season. She coached under then-Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves for one season at that school, then moved with him to Oregon when he was named the Ducks’ head coach. She spent three years as an assistant at Oregon before moving to GCU.

* The Lopes went 16-14 in Powell’s first year and ended their season in the semifinals of the WAC tournament.

* Grand Canyon was picked fourth in the WAC preseason polls, behind New Mexico State, Cal State Bakersfield and Seattle. Senior forward AJ Cephas, a transfer from Nevada, and freshman guard Laura Piera were both voted preseason second-team All-WAC. (Cephas hasn’t played since the second game of the season.)

* Senior forward ShaRon Miller leads the team in scoring (11.7/g) and rebounding (7.8/g) and is shooting 51.0 percent through six games.

Montana insider:

Fresh off winning the 38th Lady Griz Classic over the weekend, Montana is right back at it this week, with road games at Arizona and Grand Canyon.

With Wednesday’s 11 a.m. tip, the matchup against Arizona comes less than 72 hours after Montana was seen on the court hoisting the Lady Griz Classic trophy.

“I’m excited about what we did last weekend, but you don’t get to enjoy it very long before you need to start working on the next one,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.

“Those were two great wins for us. It’s great to have a little momentum and feel like we’re playing good basketball.”

Montana felt anything but for much of November, not after getting beaten soundly by both Gonzaga and South Dakota. Both teams have since showed that they are even stronger than anyone thought going into the season.

“Both of those teams were difficult to guard,” said Schweyen. “And South Dakota’s balance was so good.

“Oftentimes it comes down to matchups. We had a hard time guarding what they did. They spread you out and run you off a bunch of screens, then they knock down shots or had girls who could drive, and we didn’t close out very well.”

Now along comes Arizona, which is outscoring its opponents by nearly 24 points per game while putting up 76.7 each outing.

“Transition is certainly going to be huge,” said Schweyen. “(Aari) McDonald loves to get out and push it and drive to the hole and create shots for other people. It’s going to be a big-time emphasis to get back and get our defense built. That will be our No. 1 priority.”

McDonald is the key to everything Arizona does. She is averaging nearly 27 points per game, but she also leads her team in assists. She has made more 3-pointers than any other Arizona player and has taken more than half (50 of 91) of her team’s free throws.

“You’re not going to shut her down, whether we man or zone them,” said Schweyen. “She is a good scorer in a number of different ways. We’ve got to try to limit the good looks she gets. Then we need to rebound. They’re athletic and big, but not out-of-our-league big.”

In Montana’s losses this season, the Lady Griz shot 35 percent and scored just 17 first-half points in a 76-52 loss at Gonzaga. Against South Dakota, Montana trailed 36-15 at the half and shot just 32.6 percent on its way to a 64-41 home loss, the fewest points scored at home since the 1978-79 season.

Opponents are shooting 33.3 percent against the Wildcats through seven games.

“We’ve got to execute offensively,” said Schweyen. “They have good defensive pressure and like to pick you up and work you full, which we haven’t seen a lot of. We’ve got to handle that and be able to run some things.”

With Arizona’s three transfers all playing at least 20 minutes and McDonald running the show, with a freshman as the team’s No. 2 scorer, the Wildcats are nothing like they were last year, when they went 6-24, and that after opening 2-0.

“They are a much different team than they were last year. When you have transfers during that year when they’re sitting out, you know what’s ahead,” said Schweyen. “They’re the real deal. The wins they’ve gotten have caught people’s attention.”

Montana will then head north to face Grand Canyon on Friday. It’s a team Schweyen couldn’t speak of in-depth early in the week. She just hadn’t had time yet to focus on the Lopes.

“I saw them play last year on video and was impressed with them,” said Schweyen. Despite its record, Grand Canyon is shooting 46.7 percent and nearly 40 percent from the arc.

“They were athletic and they transitioned a bunch. (Coach Nicole Powell) is doing a good job down there.”

Upcoming: Montana will head west next week for Seattle and the Husky Classic. The Lady Griz will open against host Washington on Saturday, Dec. 15, then face either Boise State or Saint Francis on the 16th.

And that will close out Montana’s nonconference schedule. The Lady Griz will get an exhibition game against Montana Tech on Dec. 20, then open Big Sky play on Dec. 29 and 31 at home against Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.