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Montana’s Sarah Ena muscles through traffic to get a shot off against Northern Colorado on Friday at Dahlberg Arena. Ena tied her career high with 21 points and led her team in rebounds with eight. Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

Tenacious, tough, persistent – whatever you want to call it, Montana’s got it and knows how to use it.

The Lady Griz are fast establishing an identity as a team that wins with defense and physicality that’s hard for its Big Sky Conference basketball foes to match. That was never more evident than Friday night.

After playing Northern Colorado to a virtual draw in the first half, Montana blew past the Bears behind a busy zone defense and a big night by fearless junior forward Sarah Ena. She matched her career high with 21 points and added a team-high eight rebounds in a 65-54 win in front of 3,271 fans at Dahlberg Arena.

“I think we are tough and more physical,” said Ena, whose team held a 30-22 edge in points in the paint. “Last couple years we have been too, but you don’t have the smooth-sailing finesse of Mandy (Morales) and Sonya (Rogers) like last season.

“Now sometimes when they’re keying on Lauren (Beck) and some of our outside shooters we’ve got to get tough in there and get some of the scrap shots. Everyone is working their tails off.”

The seven minutes coming out of halftime defined Friday’s game. Northern Colorado (2-5 conference, 9-11 overall) was held to two points and turned the ball over three times as the Lady Griz (5-2, 10-9) built a 10-point cushion.

“They were very aggressive getting out to the 3-point line,” said UNC coach Jaime White, whose team had four treys in the first half and two in the second.

“I thought Ena had a great game. She was tough to stop. Then a couple threes got blocked, eight blocks was a great job by Montana, and our kids just kind of backed off a little bit.”

Ena wasn’t the only one adding to her recent scoring success. Freshman guard Kenzie De Boer and junior forward Jessa Loman Linford each scored in double figures for the third straight game, tallying 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“We’re not big anywhere but we’re pretty big at a lot of places and we did a good job getting in the paint, attacking and putting some pressure on them,” said UM coach Robin Selvig, whose team held a 20-6 edge in points from the foul line. “(Ena) shot a good percentage tonight (7 for 9). That was really good, and everybody is chipping in.”

Ena’s last two games have been the best of her career from a scoring standpoint. She also had 21 points last Saturday at Montana State.

“She’s a little more under control offensively and she’s picking up an assist or two now,” Selvig noted. “When she just slows down a little bit she’s really good offensively.”

The first half was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams struggling to gain a foothold. The Bears opened a 30-25 lead two minutes before halftime, but Montana answered with a 6-0 run and led 31-30 at the break.

“We got hurt on the offensive boards in the first half,” said Selvig, whose team was out-rebounded 19-14 in the first half but turned the tables with a 24-19 edge in the second. “It’s hard to rebound out of the zone sometimes. They had too many second shots.”

Montana did a lot of damage from the line in a 13-4 run to start the second half. Loman Linford, De Boer and Ena all hit a pair of freebies before Beck nailed a 3-ball and Alyssa Smith scored a deuce to make it 44-34.

The Bears continued to struggle through the middle portion of the second half, going 10 minutes without a field goal. That enabled Montana to build a 59-40 lead with 5:35 remaining.

Northern Colorado put together a 9-0 run late in the game. But it was too little, too late for a team that has dropped five of its last six games.

With the win Montana moved into a tie with Portland State for second in the conference at 5-2. The Vikings will play host to league frontrunner Eastern Washington on Saturday while the Lady Griz entertain a Northern Arizona team that had Friday off after beating Montana State Thursday.

“They’re a pretty darn good team and they have new players I don’t even know about that are obviously good players,” Selvig said. “They’ve already got two (conference) road wins.

“That record thing can be deceptive,” he added, referring to the Jacks’ 5-15 overall mark. “They’re young like us. They’ve got the leading scorer and rebounder in the league (freshman Amy Patton), so they’re pretty talented.”

Notes: Selvig now has 735 career wins. He needs just two more to move into a tie with the late Kay Yow, former North Carolina State coach, at seventh on the all-time D-I women’s list. ... Friday marked the sixth straight game Montana held its opponent to less than 38 percent shooting (35.6). ... UM sophomore Misty Atkinson played the final 1:57 of the game, her first action of the season after suffering a knee injury two days before Montana’s season opener.

NORTHERN COLORADO (54)

    Mins    FG-A    FT-A    Reb    PF    A    Pts

f-Oosdyke    19    1-2    3-3    8    4    2    5

f-Merritt    21    4-6    2-2    4    3    0    10

g-Cooper    29    1-2    0-0    5    2    1    3

g-Stoermer    33    5-14    0-0    2    1    3    13

g-Cox    28    4-14    1-2    2    2    2    9

Timm    18    2-6    0-0    0    1    0    5

Brown    20    2-8    0-0    3    2    1    5

Strand    10    0-1    0-1    2    3    1    0

Fernandez    14    1-4    0-2    6    1    0    2

Maneotis    8    1-2    0-0    1    1    0    2

Totals    200    21-59    6-10    38    20    10    54

MONTANA (65)

    Mins    FG-A    FT-A    Reb    PF    A    Pts

f-Ena    30    7-9    7-11    8    4    2    21

f-Lomn Lnfrd    22    3-7    3-4    5    1    2    10

g-Beck    38    3-10    0-0    6    1    3    7

g-Nnce-Jnsn    11    1-3    0-2    1    0    0    2

g-Stender    29    1-4    0-2    6    1    1    3

Smith    16    1-3    2-2    4    1    1    4

De Boer    22    3-7    5-6    1    2    1    11

Hurley    8    0-2    0-0    2    0    0    0

Atkinson    2    0-0    2-2    1    0    0    2

Robison    18    2-4    1-1    1    2    1    5

Ware    4    0-1    0-2    1    0    0    0

Totals    200    21-50    20-32    38    12    11    65

Halftime score: Montana 31, Northern Colorado 30.

3-point goals: NC 6-25 (Cooper 1-2, Stoermer 3-9, Cox 0-6, Timm 1-4, Brown 1-4), UM 3-6 (Loman Linford 1-1, Nance-Johnson 0-1, Stender 1-1, Beck 1-2, De Boer 0-1).

Assists: NC 10 (Stoermer 3), UM 11 (Beck 3).

Turnovers: NC 15 (Stoermer 4), UM 13 (Ena 4).

Blocked shots: NC 3 (Stoermer 2), UM 8 (Robison 3).

Steals: NC 7 (Stoermer 4), UM 8 (Beck 3).

Attendance: 3,271

Officials: Ty Elkin, Bret Gervasoni, Tiffany Bird

Sports writer Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or at bill.speltz@lee.net.

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