Sophia Stiles in Flagstaff

Sophia Stiles and the Montana women's basketball team will shoot for a 2-0 start in Big Sky Conference play when they battle Sacramento State at The Nest on Monday night. In this photo, Stiles is shown weaving her way between Northern Arizona defenders during Saturday's game in Flagstaff, Arizona.

MISSOULA — It's been 11 years since the Montana women's basketball team won its first two Big Sky Conference road games of the season.

The Lady Griz will try to end the streak when they play at Sacramento State Monday at 8 p.m. in The Nest. Montana (6-4) is coming off an impressive win at Northern Arizona Saturday while the Hornets (2-8) were blown out by Montana State and have yet to beat a Division I opponent.

Still, Lady Griz coach Shannon Schweyen expects a tough test. Sacramento State is unique with its pressing, run-and-gun style from start to finish.

"They're back a little more to their old standards where they're playing about 12 kids each 16 minutes apiece," Schweyen said. "They're really shoveling them in and out so you have to be on top of who you have and communication is a key."

Montana's exemplary play in a 79-71 win over Northern Arizona has the team feeling sky-high. The Lady Griz have won four of their last five and shown themselves to be dangerous inside and outside.

The one area that continues to be a work in progress is defending the 3-point line. Montana allowed 10 triples to the Lumberjacks on Saturday and 15 in a loss at South Dakota two weeks ago.

Sacramento State is notorious for shooting a lot of 3-point shots under seventh-year coach Bunky Harkleroad. The high-scoring Hornets launched 30 in Saturday's humbling home loss to Montana State, 85-48.

"They're a team that if they get it going at home shooting threes, it can be tough," Schweyen said. "It's a tough environment there, The Nest, and we're expecting to be pressed from the get-go.

"Taking care of the ball and keeping your composure is always really big when you play there."

Prior to Saturday's loss, the Hornets had double-digit treys in three straight games. They hit 13 in a close loss at San Francisco on Dec. 14, 12 in a blowout home loss to Ohio State and 11 in a Dec. 19 win over NAIA Pacific Union College.

Cold shooting doomed Sacramento State in the loss to the Bobcats. The Hornets hit just 25.4 percent of their attempts from the floor (17 for 67). It marked the team's third game shooting under 30 percent.

The biggest difference between the Hornets and Bobcats came in the paint, where Sac State was out-rebounded, 59-37. Montana State's 25 offensive rebounds turned into 52 points in the paint and 31 second-chance points.

Montana has had Sacramento State's number in recent years. The Lady Griz have won in their last three meetings, including last year's epic 88-86 double-overtime verdict at The Nest in January. Prior to that game, Montana had lost five in a row in Sacramento.

The Hornets have three starters back from last year's 10-19 team, including senior forward Kennedy Nicholas, who was voted preseason All-Big Sky. Sac State was picked ninth in the preseason media poll, 10th in the coaches’ poll.

After Monday's game, Montana will return home for a pair of league contests later in the week. The Lady Griz will host Southern Utah (6-3) on Thursday night and Northern Colorado (1-0, 5-5) on Saturday afternoon.

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Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 13 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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