MISSOULA — Cowgirls, Wildcats and Bulldogs — oh my.
Wyoming, Kentucky and Gonzaga — oh my.
The Montana Lady Griz are staring at arguably the toughest opening week in team history, starting Monday at Wyoming. They had one last test run in front of a crowd Tuesday, putting together a solid all-around performance in an exhibition win over Black Hills State, 70-46, at Dahlberg Arena.
"It's going to be different than the two (exhibition) games we've played," Montana point guard McKenzie Johnston said of next week. "But (Kentucky and Gonzaga) are coming into our arena and we have great fans. At least we have that behind us.
"We just have to have confidence in ourselves and not really worry as much about who we're playing against but focus on the things we can control."
The Lady Griz are a more confident bunch this season and it shows on both ends. They forced 22 turnovers by the NCAA Division II Yellow Jackets and although the hosts didn't shoot lights out, their 22-for-57 effort was encouraging.
"There were a lot of positives about tonight," UM coach Shannon Schweyen said. "The girls played with a lot of intensity. They (Black Hills) were running a lot of different things and we were talking and trying to get it covered as best we could."
For the record, Schweyen didn't plan on next week being quite so difficult for her young team. Call it a unique set of circumstances.
"Wyoming is really good and people don't realize," Schweyen said of her team's opener. "They were picked to finish second in the (Mountain West Conference) and they have everybody back except one kid.
"The week is going to go really quick for us. Initially when we scheduled that week, Kentucky wasn't in the mix. But Kentucky needed another game late and it was a hard one to say no to. It'll be challenging."
Certainly the Lady Griz have already dealt with their fair share of adversity.
Senior leaders Kayleigh Valley and Alycia Harris were lost to knee injuries and guard Taylor Goligoski continues to battle a leg injury that has forced her to sit. On Tuesday guard Sierra Anderson sat and watched after tweaking her knee in practice. She is slated to have an MRI on Wednesday.
In Anderson's absence, Schweyen started Johnston and Madi Schoening at guard and Mekayla Isaak, Hailey Nicholson and Jace Henderson in her frontcourt. Schoening and Nicholson picked up the scoring slack with 19 and 14 points, respectively, and Henderson grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
"She's the type of kid where you wish you had 14 of them," Schweyen said of Henderson, a Billings native. "We're pleased to see the light coming on for her, things falling into place."
Montana jumped on Black Hills State early, building a 21-12 lead in the first quarter thanks to 7-for-14 shooting. The Lady Griz stretched their lead to 39-18 at halftime behind Schoening's 4-for-8 shooting and stifling defense that forced 13 turnovers by the visitors.
"Everyone was being aggressive," Johnston asserted. "When there were loose balls we were diving for them. We were getting our hands on a lot of balls, even if they weren't turnovers. Our help defense was a lot better, too."
The Yellow Jackets made a run in the third frame, cutting their deficit to 45-33 behind a 15-6 run. Montana used a Schoening 3-ball to stretch its lead back to 52-36 and outscored Black Hills 16-10 in the final frame.
The Yellow Jackets never did get comfortable with Montana's man defense, shooting 25.5 percent from the floor (13 for 51). Montana boasted a 22-8 edge in points in the paint and a 29-9 advantage in points off turnovers.
Next Monday's opener for the Lady Griz will start at 6:30 p.m. in Laramie, Wyoming.