(Editor's note: Montana athletics press release)
It took less than three minutes on Thursday to get the feeling that it was going to be an out-of-sorts kind of night for the Montana women’s basketball team, which lost 69-61 at Big Sky Conference preseason favorite Idaho State.
For as locked in as Montana’s defense has been this season, it was Idaho State’s Montana -- Montana Oltrogge -- who got an open look at a transition 3-pointer 90 seconds into the game and drained it.
She did it again 30 seconds later, then again less than a minute after that.
It sparked Idaho State to an early 11-2 lead, and the Bengals (6-6, 2-1 BSC) would stay in front the rest of the way to win their 15th consecutive game at Reed Gym and their fifth straight over Montana (9-3, 2-1 BSC), which dropped its first Big Sky game.
The Bengals led 38-24 at the half and built a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Lady Griz finally found a rhythm.
Montana would put up 27 points in the final period and get the lead down to four, 61-57, with more than two and a half minutes still to play, but Idaho State looked like the veteran team it is, scoring the next six points to put the game out of reach.
“I’m proud of how we battled in the second half. We had it to four points. They are a good team and they executed down the stretch,” said first-year coach Brian Holsinger. “We needed a defensive stop, and they executed a little bit better than we did down the stretch. Execution is what wins.
“But the game was won or lost in a lot of ways in the first half. We mentally didn’t come ready.”
And that maybe wasn’t a surprise. The player who provides the team’s heartbeat, Sophia Stiles, was unable to play. The Lady Griz had multiple players sick after returning from the Christmas break. And injuries allowed Montana to go just eight deep against a team that requires you to be at full strength.
“I think that kind of showed, and as a coach you have to be realistic,” said Holsinger. “We’ve dealt with some sickness. We’ve dealt with some people missing. But I’m proud of them. They battled.
“We got into more of a rhythm in the second half because we got used to who was out there. We did some really good things, but when you dig yourself a hole on the road, it’s really tough. We dug a hole by not being ourselves.”
After Oltrogge’s hot start and his team’s 11-2 deficit less than three minutes in, Holsinger called a timeout. He didn’t like the way it was headed.
“We don’t have our leader, that could be it, but we made some really uncharacteristic mistakes for our team,” he said. “We pride ourselves on our transition defense and taking care of the ball. We were discombobulated in the first half.
“Just some weird stuff at the beginning of the game that we haven’t had happen this season.”
Montana outrebounded its opponent for the 11th time in 12 games this season but couldn’t overcome a season-high 22 turnovers and a cold start that had the Lady Griz at 24 points at the break, half of what they had through 20 minutes in their final game before the Christmas break.
Montana used a 7-0 run in the first quarter to pull within 14-12, but Idaho State would close the period scoring the final six points to build a 20-12 lead.
The Bengals did it again to close the first half, scoring seven straight to build a 31-24 lead into a 38-24 advantage at the break. It was Montana’s largest halftime deficit of the season.
Montana had its chance in the third quarter, when it held the home team to 2-of-15 shooting, but the Lady Griz would go just 2 for 12 themselves, and ISU led 45-34 after three.
A 3-pointer by Nyah Morris-Nelson early in the final period got the deficit below 10. A three-point play by Carmen Gfeller made it 53-45, and another Morris-Nelson triple with 3:12 to go made it 61-55.
After getting a stop and a basket off a sweet high-low feed from Sammy Fatkin to Abby Anderson, Montana trailed by just four, 61-57, with a lot of time left to play.
But Idaho State is too veteran and has been in that situation too many times as a group. The Bengals were nearly perfect down the stretch, hitting both of their shots and going 4 for 4 from the line.
Gfeller would score 15 points and grab nine rebounds, while Katerina Tsineke, getting the start in place of Stiles, had 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals.
Gfeller (34), Tsineke (34), Anderson (32) and Fatkin (30) all played more than 30 minutes.
Anderson had 11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks, Fatkin 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. And some postgame praise from her coach.
“Credit to Sammy. She has not played point guard all year. Yesterday was the first day and then she goes out and plays 20 minutes of point guard for us tonight,” said Holsinger.
“But they are disappointed. We didn’t play our best today.”
Estefania Ors led Idaho State, which was playing without first-team All-Big Sky guard Dora Goles, with 15 points. Diaba Konate added 12 off the bench for the Bengals, who shot 43.3 percent to match the highest percentage Montana has allowed this season.
Montana will play an upstart Weber State (6-6, 2-1 BSC) team on Saturday at 1 p.m. in Ogden. The Wildcats knocked off Montana State on Thursday night, 68-63.
“If we learn from tonight and play the right way on Saturday and the way we can, perfect,” said Holsinger. “If we don’t, that’s when I’m going to be really disappointed. We can learn a lot from this game.”