MISSOULA — Last November the Montana women's basketball team entertained Gonzaga and Kentucky, drawing large crowds for obvious reasons.
The name South Dakota just doesn't have the same sit-up-and-take-notice appeal. But it should.
The Coyotes will invade Dahlberg Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m. in what might just be Montana's toughest home test of the season. That's right, toughest — the Coyotes ran the table in winning the Summit League last winter and they're ranked No. 8 in the collegeinsider.com mid-major poll with a 4-1 record.
"Very impressive with their size, they execute well, they have big guards," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. "We'll have our hands full but I'm excited to have a good quality team like that here at Dahlberg."
Montana's floor leader is also excited. Junior point guard McKenzie Johnston scored 17 points in a loss at Gonzaga earlier this month and she says the Lady Griz are ready to take another crack at a mid-major power.
Saturday should be closer — Montana lost to the Zags by 24 — if the Lady Griz can build on what they did offensively Tuesday. They shot 51.5 percent in a blowout home win over NAIA Providence (Great Falls).
"That was very encouraging," Johnston said. "There were people taking shots that you could tell they're confident right when it left their hand. We need to just carry that to bigger games.
"We'll have to play great defense against South Dakota because they're a great team offensively. We need to make it so they're not taking easy shots and then we have to transition on the other end."
South Dakota has a trio of returning starters in senior guard Allison Arens, junior guard Ciara Duffy and junior guard Madison McKeever. All three were named Preseason All-Summit League and Arens has scored over 1,000 points in her college career.
This season's additions to the starting lineup include junior forward Taylor Frederick and sophomore guard Chloe Lamb. In her inaugural start, Frederick scored 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
South Dakota's only loss this season was at defending Missouri Valley Conference champion Drake last week. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the collegeinsider.com mid-major poll.
"They have five good basketball players on the floor at all times," Schweyen said of the Coyotes, who have played in the WNIT four straight years and reached the quarterfinals last March. "They all shoot it, they all do things pretty well. They are very balanced in their attack, so it’s hard to focus on just one person.”
There are several question marks for Montana heading into the game. Starting junior guard Madi Schoening sat out Tuesday's game with a foot injury and is day-to-day. Sophomore backcourt teammate Sophia Stiles (knee) hasn't played all season but she's hoping to return at some point.
Regardless, Schweyen would love to see her team get out and run whenever possible. To do that, Montana will need to hit the defensive boards and force the Coyotes into a cold shooting night (they average 84.4 points per game).
"We've got some smaller lineups occasionally where we feel like we can get out and get going," Schweyen said. "But we want to make sure if we're doing that we're not turning it over."
Notes: South Dakota is 56-17 under third-year coach Dawn Plitzuweit, the 2017-18 Summit League Coach of the Year. She led the Coyotes to 29 wins last season ... One reason the Lady Griz have never played the Coyotes is they only moved up to Division I 10 years ago ... South Dakota State denied South Dakota a trip to the NCAA tourney last year, beating the Coyotes in the Summit League tourney final, 65-50.