MISSOULA — It takes guts to give your team the green light from 3-point range when it's been a thorny issue for two months.
Guts and a good amount of faith.
"I really do believe we're better shooters than we've been shooting," said Montana women's basketball coach Shannon Schweyen, whose squad hit a season-high 10 triples in an 81-71 win over Southern Utah on Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.
"At some point in time we want to attack that with confidence. I like that the girls shot with confidence and it was nice to see some of those finally go in."
The Lady Griz, who launched 18 of their first 32 shots from behind the 3-point line, moved to 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play with their sixth triumph in eight games. They finished 10 for 24 from behind the arc and shot a season-best 50 percent overall (29 for 58).
Madi Schoening nailed four 3-pointers, including three in the first half, and Taylor Goligoski totaled three to account for most of the damage from downtown. Forward Hailey Nicholson matched her career high with a team-high 17 points — she was 8 for 9 from the floor, with most of her looks from close range — and Schoening and McKenzie Johnston each tallied 15 points.
"Unfortunately we gave Madi (Schoening) open looks early and as a shooter, once you see the ball go through the net a couple times, it changes things for you," said Southern Utah coach Chris Boettcher, whose team spotted the Lady Griz a 41-28 halftime lead. "It was unfortunate for us they chose today to break out."
The Lady Griz entered the game shooting 25.8 percent from 3-point land and 37.6 percent overall, but they sizzled through three quarters, hitting 8 of 20 attempts from behind the arc and 23 of 44 overall. Nicholson hit her first seven shots before finally missing.
"I’ve been kind of struggling out there and I just felt confident this game so I just kept shooting," she said. "I think it helps to make the first couple. That builds up your confidence even more. I feel like when I miss my first few I just don’t want to shoot anymore."
Saturday wasn't always pretty for Montana (6-7).
The hosts were on cruise control with just over 6 minutes left with a 73-51 lead. But the Thunderbirds (1-12) succeeded in making things interesting down the stretch, using a press to force nine fourth-quarter turnovers and narrow their deficit to 80-71 with just under a minute left.
Montana finished with 20 turnovers. Schweyen knows her team will need to improve on that with road games looming at North Dakota Thursday and Northern Colorado Saturday.
"They had a way of making it feel ugly," she said. "It was feeling really good and then at the end it felt kind of ugly.
"... They’re right up there near the top of the conference in steals, as you could see the last 10 minutes. We talked about meeting passes and we need to do a better job being strong with the ball. It was a good test for us in some different ways."
Johnston, who accounted for seven of Montana's 24 assists, felt the first quarter was crucial to her team's success. The Lady Griz raced to a 24-15 lead.
"The last couple games have been slow starts for us," she said. "We came out with more energy and everyone had a different kind of confidence this game."
Saturday marked 6-foot-2 forward Caitlin Lonergan's official debut as a member of the Lady Griz. An impressive leaper who played volleyball for Montana State in 2016, the Bozeman product came off the bench to score seven points and grab five rebounds.
"It seems like she’s been here forever and hasn’t had her little window yet," noted Schweyen, who welcomed Lonergan as a walk-on last winter. "I was happy to see her get out there.
"I think she was a little nervous the first time around and then she relaxed the second time out there and got a couple buckets down. She’s a big strong body and she’s got a nice touch. It was a long time coming for her and I’m excited about her future as a Lady Griz."
NOTES: Montana's 10 triples tied for the most ever made in a single game under Schweyen. The last time they reached 10 was November of 2016 ... Saturday also marked the first time UM has shot 50 percent under Schweyen ... Schoening and Jace Henderson tied for the team lead in rebounds for UM with eight apiece. Montana won the battle of the boards, 46-29 ... Montana boasted a 35-11 advantage in bench points.