MISSOULA — Call it a coming-of-age weekend for the Montana women's basketball team.
One day after blowing out Northern Illinois with hot shooting, the Lady Griz used stingy zone defense to stifle the vaunted UC Davis inside game Sunday. That and late heroics by Emma Stockholm and Gabi Harrington helped Montana to a 62-56 win in the Lady Griz Classic title game.
The weekend was just what the doctor ordered for Montana (3-2) after the team wrestled with injuries and a lack of shooting confidence in November. Senior post Jace Henderson was named tournament MVP and teammate McKenzie Johnston joined her on the all-tourney team after scoring a game-high 15 points against Davis (3-5).
"We started off slow this season and we really had a chip on our shoulder," said Stockholm, who enjoyed arguably the best game of her career with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
"Our coaches were on us all week, 'You've got to do this, this and this.' It finally came together. I felt a different energy level out there. Everything flowed perfectly."
The finish was fantastic for the Lady Griz. After hitting 9 of 35 shots in the middle quarters, they delivered a 9-for-11 effort in the fourth quarter.
Stockholm had the bucket everyone will remember. With her team clinging to a 57-56 lead and the shot clock winding down, she put up a jumper from the free-throw line that banked in.
It sent the crowd of 2,443 fans at Dahlberg Arena into a frenzy.
"I saw Jace (Henderson) getting triple-teamed down low and I was like, all right, I'm the only one that is pretty much open, right in her peripheral view," Stockholm said. "She tossed it out and when it banked I thought, 'Oh my gosh. Of course.' It was a great feeling."
Trailing 59-56, Davis guard Cierra McKeown launched a 3-ball with 20 seconds left that missed the mark and was rebounded by Harrington, who three minutes earlier hit a critical triple to pull Montana even. From there the Lady Griz used two free throws by Stockholm and one by Johnston to seal the deal.
"We've been working on the little things," said Harrington, who finished with 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals. "Like Coach (Shannon Schweyen) just said in the locker room, 'The little things are the big things that are going to separate us.'
"That's why she's been getting on us. It really showed this weekend."
Montana raced to an 18-12 lead in the first period, showing the same level of shooting confidence that helped it post a blowout win over Northern Illinois Saturday. The Lady Griz were 7 for 13 from the floor.
The second quarter was a different story for the hosts. They fell into a shooting funk in missing 12 of 15 shots and the result was a 30-25 halftime deficit.
The Lady Griz trailed by six points heading into the final frame before regrouping. Montana outscored Davis 24-12 in the fourth quarter behind seven points by Harrington, six by Stockholm and stingy 2-3 zone defense, which limited Aggies 6-foot-4 post Morgan Bertsch to 13 points — 10 under her season average.
"That's a good basketball team — experienced, poised, (Big West) conference champs," Schweyen said of Davis. "They have one hell of a player (Bertsch). So the Lady Griz showed me something today, that was for sure."
Schweyen said she decided to use a 2-3 zone because it was the best option against Bertsch, who tallied 21 points in a win over Nevada Saturday.
"Watching her in warm-ups, I was about ready to go back up to the locker room for the night," Schweyen joked about the senior Bertsch, who was named to the all-tourney team. "She's just unbelievably quick for her size and has great post moves."
Montana will shoot for its third straight win on Wednesday when it plays at Arizona at 11 a.m.
Northern Illinois 98, Nevada 69: The Huskies (4-3) bounced back from their humbling loss to the Lady Griz Saturday with a convincing win over the Wolf Pack (1-6). Former Plenty Coups standout Terae Briggs collected a team-high 19 points and 10 rebounds for Nevada but it wasn't enough.
Briggs was named to the all-tourney team along with Courtney Woods of Northern Illinois. Woods scored a game-high 28 points Sunday.
The weekend was one that Briggs will not soon forget. She had roughly 50 fans make the trip from eastern Montana to watch her play.
"I was literally counting down the days to play here," she said. "It was the first time and I honestly wanted to play the Lady Griz.
"But things happen. It was still a lot of fun to play in front of my family and the Montana fans."