For three quarters the Montana women's basketball team gave Big Sky Conference power Weber State a serious test Wednesday.
Then the Wildcats ignited.
Forced to play without starting post Jace Henderson, who suffered a badly-sprained ankle in practice Tuesday, Montana fell victim to a 15-point surge to start the fourth quarter in dropping an 89-73 decision in Ogden, Utah. It marked the fifth loss in six games for UM.
"It basically came down to we didn't shoot the ball all that well and someone needs to get more of a hot hand," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen told KGVO radio after her team shot 38.7 percent from the floor (29 for 75).
The Lady Griz fell to 9-8 in Big Sky Conference play and 13-15 overall. Their hopes of earning a top-4 seeding and a bye in the first round of next week's league tourney were dashed as they fell into a tie with Montana State for seventh place. The Cats won a thriller at Idaho State, 61-60.
Weber State (11-6, 19-9) moved to 13-2 at the cavernous Dee Events Center. But for a while it looked as if Montana might steal one, with the Lady Griz trailing by just two after three periods, 61-59.
"They're hard to guard and they've been good here at home," Schweyen said. "We had a helluva time keeping them in front of us in zone. Just a real battle trying to contain them."
The game featured big sways in momentum in the first three frames. Montana led 31-21 midway through the second period before Weber went on a 21-8 run to take a 42-39 lead into halftime. Guard Larryn Brooks was a thorn in the side of the Lady Griz, scoring 18 of her game-high 30 points before intermission.
"She's the real deal," Schweyen said of Brooks, who started for Indiana of the Big Ten prior to transferring to Texas Tech and then Weber State. "We tried to keep track of her as best we could.
"We gave up too many on transition. Lots of little things. Then with losing Jace (Henderson), we had a couple people playing out of position in the zone. But I was proud of how they competed. They played hard and kept battling."
Weber State hit 7 of its first 8 shots to start the fourth quarter. Montana went from trailing by a basket to staring uphill at a 76-59 deficit with 6 minutes left.
The Wildcats finished 12 for 17 shooting from the floor in the final stanza. Montana was 6 for 15.
On the bright side for the Lady Griz, guard McKenzie Johnston flirted with a triple double in tallying 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Caitlin Lonergan continued to impress with her inside play, coming off the bench to score a team-high 18 points and grab nine rebounds.
If not for the defense and rebounding of Weber post Jocelyn Adams, Montana might just have pulled the upset. Adams had 13 boards and blocked four shots.
The Lady Griz will try to get back on track when they play at Idaho State in their regular-season finale on Friday night. Schweyen is hopeful Henderson will return in Pocatello and shake off some rust before her team's Big Sky tourney opener Monday.
"We'll see what happens," Schweyen said. "We missed her tonight. She does so many great things for this team right now."