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Madi Schoening for Providence advance

Madi Schoening and the Montana women's basketball team will shoot for their first win Tuesday when they play host to Providence (Great Falls) at Dahlberg Arena. The game has a special start time of 11:30 a.m. because it's the second annual Lady Griz School Day. The event drew over 7,000 fans last season.

MISSOULA — The first go-round was humbling for the Montana women's basketball team two weeks ago at Gonzaga.

The second should be much better — and louder.

The Lady Griz will shoot for their first win Tuesday when they play host to NAIA Providence (Great Falls) at Dahlberg Arena. The game has a special start time of 11:30 a.m. because it's the second annual School Day for kids.

Last season the game drew 7,018 fans, most of whom were grammar-school age. Tuesday promises to be just as festive.

"Obviously it's going to be an electric atmosphere," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. "It's a little different going at 11:30, but that's not bad for us because we practice early in the morning anyhow.

"If you've got problems getting up for a game with a sold-out crowd, you've got issues. The girls will be really excited. We've got to take every experience we get out there to be improving."

The Lady Griz (0-1) have an unusual schedule to the start the season. They started off with one of the best teams in the Northwest two weeks ago. Now they'll play a heavy underdog at home in a game that doesn't even count for the Argos (exhibition). Then it's back into the fire Saturday night with a home game against South Dakota, a team ranked No. 6 in the latest collegeinsider.com mid-major poll.

Schweyen says her team won't have much room for error Saturday.

"Right now I want see improvement in our communication," she said, alluding in part to the fact Gonzaga had 40 points in the paint in its win over Montana. "We definitely need to get better with that if we want to compete for a championship. We've really emphasized it in practice.

"Providence has a nice team with really good players. The keys to our success will be good ball pressure, executing offensively and hopefully getting out and getting some transition baskets."

The 18th-ranked Argos boast a sparkling 7-0 record. They hit the century mark on Saturday in a 100-87 home win over 22nd-ranked Arizona Christian (1-0).

Providence has three players averaging more than 14 points per game. The list includes 6-foot-1 post Parker Esary (18.6 ppg.), 5-7 guard Jenna Randich (15.3) and 5-5 guard Emilee Maldonado (14.3).

Montana's best offensive threat has been junior point guard McKenzie Johnston of Helena. She scored 17 points and dished out seven assists in the 76-52 loss at Gonzaga.

"We've had a lot of time in this spell here in between games to refine some things that we felt like we needed to improve on," Schweyen said. "We've done a lot of shooting and just got back to basics.

"It's always hard when you have a loss to sit on for a long time. You want to get back out there and get it out of your mind."

The Lady Griz may have to go without sophomore spark plug guard Sophia Stiles this season because she is leaning toward redshirting. That means Johnston is going to need some other backcourt players to pick up the slack, including juniors Taylor Goligoski and Madi Schoening, sophomore Gabi Harrington and true freshmen Katie Mayhue and Jordyn Schweyen.

Together that group of five needs to shoot better. Goligoski, Schoening, Harrington and Mayhue shot a combined 7 for 29 against Gonzaga.

"We executed well enough to get wide-open shots," remarked coach Schweyen. "We just need people to start making those. You have to knock those down. You can't beat good people on the road shooting 30 percent."

That said, Montana's third-year coach was happy with the never-say-die spirit her team showed in the second half at Gonzaga. The Lady Griz outscored the Zags in the final two quarters, 35-34, after spotting Gonzaga a 25-point halftime lead.

"They're all feeling that feeling of as you progress and get older, it becomes more urgent," said coach Schweyen, alluding to the fact she has five upperclassmen in her starting lineup, including senior post Jace Henderson. "You realize you only get so many trips out there and you want to make the most of every experience." 

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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