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McKenzie Johnston for EWU preview

Point guard McKenzie Johnston, shown going up for a shot against Northern Arizona last Saturday, leads the Montana Lady Griz in scoring despite breaking her nose twice this season. She broke it a second time in Thursday's win at Sacramento State, prompting her to wear a mask in competition. Johnston will lead Montana into battle against Eastern Washington Thursday at Dahlberg Arena.

MISSOULA — Those pesky neighbors to the west haven’t been real neighborly to the Montana Lady Griz lately.

Eastern Washington has won its last four matchups with the Silver & Maroon dating back to 2015. The Eagles will shoot for five in a row Thursday when they invade Dahlberg Arena for a Big Sky Conference basketball clash at 7 p.m.

Both teams are hungry for a bounce-back win. The Lady Griz (8-5, 3-1) suffered their first league loss Saturday at Portland State. The Eagles (2-11, 1-3) are hoping to regroup after dropping a heartbreaking 67-62 overtime decision at home Monday to defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado.

"We're excited to be back home and you always want to get back out there after you've had a discouraging loss," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said. "We just absolutely got blitzed in the first half by Portland State. I was impressed how we bounced back and I'm curious to see how we build on that."

In 27 years of coaching, Schweyen doesn't remember a first quarter quite like the one Portland State enjoyed Saturday. The Vikings (10-2, 2-1) were 5 for 5 from 3-point range and 12 for 15 overall from the field.

Sometimes the basketball gods are just plain against you. The Lady Griz responded by outscoring the Vikings over the final three quarters, 51-49, but it wasn't nearly enough.

"We watched a lot of video and I think they were open to understanding they have to learn from it," Schweyen said. "We talked about you need to be able to make little adjustments in games.

"When you have young kids, sometimes that can be challenging. I really feel like they're fired up now. They believe that they've showed up for most all games and Saturday was just one of those days things didn't go our way."

Eastern Washington is off to its worst start in a long time. One reason is its lack of offensive consistency. The team ranks dead last in the Big Sky with an average of 56.4 points per game (12 fewer than Montana).

Still, Schweyen expects a struggle Thursday.

"They're always going to be good defensively," the coach said. "(Coach) Wendy (Schuller) does a really nice job of always having them playing hard and playing good defense.

"Typically when you play them they're pretty physical. You have to be able to handle that. They press and trap some and get after you, so we have to keep our composure. And hopefully we'll get back a little of our shooting touch."

The Lady Griz shot 31.8 percent at Portland State. Prior to Saturday they had put together a four-game win streak, each time shooting better than 43 percent.

If Montana wins on Thursday, it will set up a battle for first place in the Big Sky with Northern Colorado on Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg. The Bears (9-4, 4-0) are the only remaining team with a perfect record in league action.

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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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