MISSOULA — The name of the team may be Houston Baptist, but the next opponent for the Montana Lady Griz is more international than it is Texas.
Montana will shoot for its third straight win Friday at noon (Mountain) when it battles the Houston Baptist Huskies for the first time in the Grand Canyon Classic in Phoenix. The Huskies have three foreign players in their starting lineup, including ones from Ireland, Luxembourg and Australia.
Houston Baptist actually has a total of seven international players on its roster. The Huskies' globe-trotting approach to recruiting has served them well. They are 3-2 and picked to finish second in the Southland Conference.
"It's a good opportunity to play against different types of teams, different styles," said Montana coach Brian Holsinger, whose squad will have a quick turnaround, playing Nicholls State on Saturday at noon in Phoenix. "We'll go down and do what we do, but you have to be able to adjust.
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"It's back-to-back games, so your bench will come into play. It will be a good opportunity to see how we do when we don't have a whole day to prepare for the next team."
The Huskies are led by junior guard Timia Jefferson, a Texas native, and senior guard Julijia Vujakovic of Luxembourg.
Jefferson was named to the Southland preseason all-conference first team. She averages 12.4 points per game after averaging a team-high 15 last season. Vujakovic averages 9.2 points per game and has collected nine steals.
Montana is off to a 3-1 start, with wins at North Dakota and North Dakota State last week. The Saturday win over the Bison was especially satisfying because the Lady Griz showed poise down the stretch and won on an eight-foot shot in the key by Carmen Gfeller with 1.3 seconds left.
"We're learning how to win, so those are big moments," said Holsinger, whose team trailed by 10 points at halftime after struggling with North Dakota State's zone defense.
"We hung in there in the first half with our defense, so I was really proud of them. Second half we calmed down and started to execute what we could do."
The game was especially promising for Lady Griz starting guard Katerina Tsineke and reserve forward Kylie Frohlich. Tsineke enjoyed the best performance of her brief career at Montana with 11 points and four rebounds. Frohlich, a Sentinel grad who has been hampered by an ankle injury, came off the bench to score six points, grab three rebounds and spark her team with hustle plays.
"When somebody is struggling, somebody else steps up and I was so proud," Holsinger said. "We had to start Kylie the second half because there was a mix-up with fouls with Abby (Anderson). Kylie brought a calmness and poise to us that we needed (against) the zone that was excellent. Her and Dani Bartsch were excellent in the second half setting the tone."
It's not just the winning that's encouraging for Montana. It's the winning away from Dahlberg Arena. Last winter the Lady Griz were 6-6 in true road games.
"I don't care how it is on the road, you face adversity," Holsinger said. "We faced a ton of adversity (Saturday) from them throwing out a zone and massive foul trouble. But I told our kids, 'Stay poised and everything will be OK. Good teams find a way to get the job done on the road.' We took a step forward."
Notes: Gfeller was named Big Sky Conference women's basketball player of the week Tuesday. She averaged 13 points on 71% shooting and 10 rebounds as Montana picked up a two-game road sweep in North Dakota. In Saturday's 65-63 victory over North Dakota State, Gfeller's double-double performance helped Montana to the two-point victory. She recorded 18 points and 10 rebounds for her third career double-double and the second one of the season. Gfeller was 12 for 17 shooting on the week to total 26 points and had three blocked shots and two assists ... Houston Baptist has been trounced in both of its away games (at TCU and New Mexico).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.