Pitted against a win-hungry opponent struggling to snap a five-game skid, Montana almost pulled off another Houdini-like comeback Sunday afternoon.
But this time Northern Colorado, who blew a 19-point lead against UM on Friday, proved equal to the task. The Bears regrouped after squandering a 24-point bulge in regulation time and held off the Lady Griz for a 77-76 overtime win at Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley, Colorado.
"We dig ourselves too big of a hole," Montana coach Mike Petrino told KMPT radio. "We had a poor start and I'll be the first one to always take the responsibility for that. We settled down and competed after that but came up one play short."
Montana fell to 1-1 in Big Sky Conference play and 3-3 overall. Northern Colorado improved to 1-3, 2-7.
"We talked today about being resilient," said Bears coach Jenny Huth, whose team was picked to finish fifth in the league this season. "You know they're going to punch and you have to punch back.
"We had a really good lead again and credit to them and their coaching staff, they did a really good job of just managing that. But I thought we did a good job of managing ourselves, not getting too discouraged and finding a way."
Montana's inability to follow through in OT overshadowed its heroics in the fourth frame.
Northern Colorado led 63-59 when Sophia Stiles went in for a Lady Griz layup with 13.5 ticks left to trim her team's deficit to two points. Hannah Simental answered with a free throw for the hosts, but Hannah Thurmon drained a dramatic 3-ball for Montana with 4 ticks left in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime.
Once the extra period began, Montana spotted Northern Colorado a 70-64 lead on 3-pointers by Alexis Chapman and Simental. Then just like regulation time, the Lady Griz spent the rest of overtime trying to come back.
The situation looked bleak when Jasmine Gayles nailed a free throw to give the hosts a 73-68 lead with 65 seconds left. But Montana never went away and had a chance to tie trailing 73-70 with 20 seconds left. Unfortunately for the Lady Griz, they turned the ball over, UNC answered with four free throws in the final 15 seconds and not even a pair of 3-point shots by Bria Dixon were enough to prevent the loss.
Montana was without starting forward Abby Anderson, who was nursing a leg injury after recording a double-double in Friday's thrilling win. Anderson's presence in the middle might have helped against a Bears team that dominated the boards Sunday, 51-40. Northern Colorado turned 20 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points.
"I just didn't think we were very aggressive on offense to come out," said Petrino, whose team trailed by 24 in the second quarter. "Why that is, I don't know. We had too many turnovers (13).
"We gave away too many offensive rebounds. And how many times did we have the shot clock under 10 and we give up a contested shot and they get the rebound?"
Hannah Thurmon led the Lady Griz with 15 points, followed by Stiles with 14, Carmen Gfeller 13 and Bria Dixson 12. Madi Schoening grabbed a team-high eight rebounds but missed the most important part of the game after fouling out.
The Lady Griz, who had a three-game winning streak snapped with the loss, will have a week off before hitting the road again to play Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.
Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at email@example.com.