MISSOULA — Now that they've harnessed the power of persistence, the Montana Lady Griz stand poised for a major breakthrough.
Thursday's epic comeback — UM trailed by 21 points in the third quarter but rallied to beat visiting Northern Arizona in overtime — produced Montana's second straight win. The Lady Griz have never won three in a row under second-year basketball coach Shannon Schweyen, but that may change Saturday in a 2 p.m. duel with Southern Utah at Dahlberg Arena.
The Lady Griz (5-7) and Thunderbirds (1-11) are headed in opposite directions. Montana has won five of its last seven and Southern Utah has lost its last eight, including its Big Sky Conference debut at Montana State Thursday. The T-birds trailed by 34 at one point before dropping a 91-71 verdict.
Schweyen's young team is unaccustomed to being a decided favorite in Big Sky action, so it will need to guard against complacency Saturday.
"They’ve (Southern Utah) got good players and that’s the thing with everybody in the league right now: I don’t think anybody would be surprised with anything," Schweyen said. "We saw it last season. The (Southern Utah) team that was 1-13 would jump up and beat somebody. We’ve all learned our lesson in that respect."
On Thursday the Lady Griz were able to overcome cold shooting. That's hard to do on a regular basis.
Montana guard Taylor Goligoski believes there's a way out no matter how her team shoots the ball.
"We need to bring this defense we had the second half Thursday and bring it to the next game and our shots will start falling," she said.
Schweyen is optimistic her team will snap out of its shooting doldrums. Montana and Southern Utah are both near the bottom of the Big Sky in scoring consistency, each averaging about 60 points a game.
"It would be nice if this new conference season brought us the gift of shooting a little bit and we could shoot the ball better," Schweyen said. "I really do feel like one of these games it’s going to happen.
"I know Taylor (Goligoski) is a better shooter than what she’s been shooting. I know there’s some kids on our team where we’re due to have one of those games when somebody gets hot. Kenzie (Johnston) has had that big game where she knocked down some threes and got hot from the perimeter but it really hasn’t happened to many other people yet."
Southern Utah's only win came back in November when it earned a 70-67 decision over visiting Utah State. But the T-birds have been competitive in December, dropping a narrow 76-74 decision at Arizona just before Christmas and a 71-64 home verdict against UC Irvine.
Southern Utah is led by 5-foot-7 guard Breanu Reid (11.7 ppg.) and 6-2 center Whitney Johnson (10.3 ppg.). Reid has led the Thunderbirds in scoring in their last four games and tallied 19 points at Montana State.
Notes: Montana sophomore forward Caitlin Lonergan is not expected to play Saturday. She is still waiting to get clearance after transferring from Montana State last winter ... The Thunderbirds were picked to finish dead last in the Big Sky in the preseason media and coaches' polls ... Seven of Southern Utah's 11 losses have come by eight points or fewer ... SUU head coach Chris Boettcher is in his fourth season at the helm. Prior to coming to Cedar City, he coached the Shiga Lakestars of the Professional Basketball Japan League.