MISSOULA — After attacking the rim with great success Friday, Montana was forced to find another way to win Saturday.
Long Beach State used its pesky zone defense and zone press to deny the Lady Griz basketball team easy looks in the paint. Montana adjusted, doing enough damage from the perimeter and free-throw line to defeat the 49ers, 67-60, on the second and final night of the Lady Griz Classic.
Sophomore point guard McKenzie Johnston and sophomore forward Hailey Nicholson were named to the all-tournament team for Montana (2-5). Johnston, a Helena product, was the catalyst Saturday with 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
"We kept talking in the locker room about we're going to need to have composure tonight because their zone makes you feel a little bit ugly," UM coach Shannon Schweyen said. "The girls showed a lot of grit at the end and we came out of there with some huge boards."
Montana finished with a 39-35 edge in rebounds against a team that features a 6-foot-5 center in Emma Merriweather. Nicholson had eight rebounds to go with her eight points and Billings product Jace Henderson added six rebounds and 11 points.
The Lady Griz hit a season-high eight 3-point goals on 23 attempts and outscored the 49ers (1-7) at the foul line, 17-9. Montana's 19 turnovers were a season high, but the hosts also forced 19 turnovers, with Henderson and Johnston each collecting three steals.
The Lady Griz enjoyed a 35-27 lead at intermission behind 15 points by Johnston.
"I've been slow from the three-point line, so hitting a couple threes early was a big confidence booster," Johnston said of her first half. "Once I hit those I had more confidence in myself.
"Our team was doing a great job of passing and I had open looks."
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Long Beach State, a quick young team that beat Arizona last week, staged a comeback in the third quarter and took a 47-46 lead on a Cecily Wilson transition basket with 1:06 left in the period. The Lady Griz missed eight shots in a row through the middle part of the quarter but emerged with a 48-47 lead at the end thanks to a Nicholson bucket.
There were a total of 11 lead changes in the game and the fourth quarter was back-and-forth early. The key point came with 6 minutes left when Montana's Madi Schoening hit a three that kissed off the glass, giving her team a 53-51 edge. It marked the start of a critical 8-0 run that also included a triple by Sierra Anderson and a pair of free throws by Henderson.
"I thought going into this game we'd need to bury some threes against them because they're pretty big inside and they trap and double you," said Schweyen, whose team has won two in a row. "We got a lot of good looks and fortunately Kenzie (Johnston) had a hot had (with four triples) and Sierra (Anderson) hit that big one late."
The 49ers rallied again and cut a seven-point deficit down to three, with Shanijah Davidson's two free throws making the score 59-56 with just over three minutes left. From there the hosts did a nice job closing out, with Nicholson hitting a pivotal basket on the baseline and her teammates going 6 for 6 from the foul line in the final 32 seconds.
Montana finished 38.9 percent from the field (21 for 54). The team has shot better than 38 percent from the floor in its last three games, which bodes well for the future.
Long Beach State finished at 38.6 percent (22 for 57) shooting. Davison had a team-high 19 points and Cecily Wilson recorded a double-double for the 49ers with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
In the first game Saturday, Oral Roberts (5-3) posted a 60-50 win over Cal State Fullerton (2-6). The Golden Eagles, like the Lady Griz, finished 2-0 in the Classic.
Joining Johnston and Nicholson on the all-tourney team were Wilson, Daeja Smith of Cal State Fullerton and Mariah Martianez of Oral Roberts.