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Shannon Schweyen talking to troops in Reno

Montana women's basketball coach Shannon Schweyen talks with her team during a timeout in the action in Monday's Big Sky Conference tournament opener in Reno, Nevada.


RENO, Nev. — Five weeks ago, she stole the show in a win over Montana at Dahlberg Arena.

Three days ago she was named Most Valuable Player of the Big Sky Conference.

On Wednesday the Lady Griz will try to exact revenge against Savannah Smith and regular-season champion Northern Colorado in a Big Sky tournament quarterfinal inside the Reno Events Center. The Bears (23-6) have beaten Montana (14-16) twice, including Feb. 1, when Smith scored eight of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter in a 64-58 win in Missoula.

Will the third time be a charm for the injury-depleted Lady Griz? It might if they play with the same aggressiveness they displayed in Monday's 87-80 first-round win over Sacramento State.

"I think that's a huge confidence boost going into this game," said Montana guard Madi Schoening, who posted a double-double the last time her team faced the Bears with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"We definitely can play with them. When we execute the scouting report right and we're doing well on offense and playing our kind of game, we're a tough team to beat. They're on a 10-game winning streak but why not us?"

That sort of attitude served the Lady Griz well on Monday. They enjoyed one of their best shooting performances of the season (33 for 73) and won the battle of the boards, 45-40.

Just as important, Montana made a lot of hustle plays, and 10 players made notable contributions. That included post Jace Henderson of Billings, who came into the game with a badly sprained ankle and managed to grab three rebounds in six minutes of second-half action.

"One of my favorite stats was that we had 22 assists as a team," Schoening said. "That's just huge to show that we're sharing the ball really well and really looking for our teammates."

Montana will have its hands full with the Bears. And not just because of sharpshooting guard Smith, who averaged close to 20 points per game in league play.

Senior guard Savannah Scott, like Smith, has over 1,000 career points. Backcourt mate Kianna Williams is the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.

"They have some very talented guards, and they're extremely disciplined, and they're really good defenders," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. "They shoot the three. They get to the hole.

"They've had adversity as well, losing their post player during the season (Courtney Smith, personal reasons) and then Savannah Scott was out for a while (left knee). But they're hard to guard. It will be very similar to Sac State in some ways as far as (stopping penetration). Guarding people on the perimeter is also going to be a big priority."

Northern Colorado beat LSU and DePaul early in the season, so the team is capable of exceptional feats. It's also important to note the Bears appeared vulnerable in three of their last four games. They escaped with a 60-54 win at last-place Southern Utah, then edged North Dakota 51-45 and Portland State 63-60 before getting on track last Friday with 15 treys in a 90-68 home win over Sac State.

"We made a lot of shots and had a great flow and pace when we were playing at our best," said UNC coach Kamie Ethridge, who is 3-0 against Schweyen. "I loved seeing our team play at such a high-level. You want to be on a high and confident as you head into the postseason, but you do not want to lose your edge being too confident."

The Lady Griz have two reasons to feel good about the matchup: They led Northern Colorado in the fourth quarter on Feb. 1 before fading late, and they have a game under their belt this week at the Reno Events Center.

"It's an advantage getting used to the rims because (Northern Colorado) only has the little shoot-around time they get," Schoening noted. "That will help us out huge."