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Montana Lady Griz finish up non-conference slate with home game against Utah State

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Lady Griz vs. Seattle 13.JPG

Carmen Gfeller, middle, and the Montana women's basketball team will host Utah State in their final non-conference game Monday night. Gfeller leads the Lady Griz in scoring at 15.1 points per game.

MISSOULA — With one more chance to build momentum before playing at Big Sky Conference defending champion Idaho State next week, the Montana women's basketball team will try to seize the moment Monday night.

The Lady Griz will play host to Utah State at 6 p.m. The Aggies (5-4) defeated Montana (8-2) last season in Logan, Utah, but you could make the argument UM is a much better team this season, with wins in seven of its last eight games.

Montana played an impressive second half Thursday in an 83-57 home win over Seattle University. After shooting 30 percent in the first half, UM went 18 for 32 (.563) in the second to finish at 43.5 percent for the game.

Seattle finished at 29.4 percent. It marked the fourth time this season the Lady Griz have held an opponent to less than 30 percent shooting.

"Offensively we still have a ways to go. We're missing things and wide-open people," Montana coach Brian Holsinger said. "We're going to get better at reading the game without me telling them where the openings are."

The Aggies will be hungry for a bounce-back win after having nine days to think about a humbling 81-55 loss at Ball State on Dec. 11. Montana will want to keep an eye out for junior guard/forward Adryana Quezada. She registered a double-double in Utah State's last two games, with 17 points and 10 boards in the 66-65 victory against Arkansas State (Dec. 8) and 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss at Ball State.

Holsinger will have a decision to make heading into the game. After starting slow in three straight contests, he switched up his starting lineup Thursday, replacing scrappy guard Katerina Tsineke with long-range sharpshooter Haley Huard.

The move seemed to motivate both of them in Thursday's win.

The true freshman Huard hit four 3-pointers and scored 12 points. Tsineke, coming off the bench for the first time, erupted for a season-high 18.

Tsineke entered the game 2 for 17 from 3-point range. She hit three of her six attempts against the Redhawks, scoring her 18 points in just 17 minutes.

"Every once in a while, you pull the right strings as a coach and it just works out," Holsinger said. "You do it with as much information as you can to help the team.

"When you're unselfish, you do whatever is best for the team. Selflessness is the epitome of a team. Then (Tsineke) comes out and shoots better than she has all season. I'm proud of her."

Montana will want to bring its A game defensively for Monday's contest. Through nine games, Utah State's scoring average of 70.2 points qualifies as the program's seventh-highest season average and the highest mark since averaging 77.3 points per game in the 2013-14 season.

In the Aggies' first two games this fall — wins over over Westminster and Cal State Fullerton — they topped the 80-point plateau for the first time since reaching the marks versus UC Irvine and Dixie State in November of 2017.

Montana is one of four teams off to a 2-0 start in Big Sky Conference play along with Montana State, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. The Lady Griz have the best overall record in the Big Sky at 8-2, but the Bobcats have the longest current win streak at six games.

After Monday, the Lady Griz will have their Christmas break before resuming their league slate on Dec. 30 against the Bengals (4-6) in Pocatello, Idaho.   

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 bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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