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Lady Griz vs South Dakota 1

Montana senior Jace Henderson (right) will lead her team into an important home game against Northern Colorado on Saturday afternoon. Henderson, shown corralling the ball in a November home contest against South Dakota, scored a double-double Thursday against Eastern Washington with 12 points and 17 rebounds.

MISSOULA — After three straight wins to start the Big Sky Conference season, the Montana Lady Griz have gone cold.

Cold as in icy shooting and stiff defense.

That will need to change in a hurry. Defending league champion Northern Colorado is in Missoula and the Bears will be shooting for a 5-0 league start Saturday when they battle UM at 2 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.

Montana (8-6 overall, 3-2 conference) is already two games behind Northern Colorado (9-4, 4-0) in the loss column, so a win over the Bears is critical. In order to do so, the Lady Griz must find a way to contain guard Savannah Smith, a sharpshooter that Montana coach Shannon Schweyen equates to "a little tiny Steph Curry."

"She's really fun to watch but hopefully she won't look fun to watch against us," Schweyen said of the 5-foot-6 redshirt senior, who averages close to 18 points per game and has 34 triples.

"They're a good team. I think a lot of people maybe expected them not to be doing as well as they are. But they've got a lot of good players and they're always salty on D. We have to find a way to bounce back."

Northern Colorado won the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles last March but lost the leader of their program when coach Kamie Ethridge accepted the head position at Washington State. The Bears found Ethridge’s replacement in the Pac-12, former UCLA assistant Jenny Huth. 

Huth's team posted a character-building win at Eastern Washington on Monday night. The Bears trailed with just over 5 minutes left in regulation but rallied to win in overtime.

"We did struggle to score in spurts but I thought we had some really key baskets in overtime from Krystal (Leger-Walker) and Savannah (Smith) was able to get to the rim when her 3 wasn't falling," Huth said. " ... Overall, we had a lot to look at and get better from the game, including execution. But most importantly we found a way."

UNC opened its Big Sky schedule with a home sweep of Sacramento State and Portland State, outscoring the Hornets and Vikings in the first quarter by a combined 59-12. Last Saturday the Bears outscored Idaho 32-12 in the fourth quarter on the road to pick up an 86-72 win.

The Lady Griz will focus on starting better after spotting Portland State and Eastern Washington double-digit leads in their last two outings. Montana was without starting shooting guard Taylor Goligoski (knee) on Thursday and her status for Saturday is up in the air.

With or without Goligoski, the Lady Griz need to do a better job defending the paint and 3-point line. Portland State piled up eight treys in a win over Montana Saturday and Eastern Washington had 10 in Thursday's win at Dahlberg.

"(Thursday) we let people blow by us all night and you're never going to beat anybody if you don't start keeping people in front of you," Schweyen said.

Montana also needs to find its shooting touch. Prior to its two-game skid, it put together four winning performances in which it shot 44 percent or better. The Lady Griz continued to get high-percentage looks against Portland State and Eastern Washington but on both occasions shot under 37 percent.

After Saturday, Montana has a full week off before hosting Idaho next weekend.

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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