MISSOULA — Pitted against a taller, quicker and more polished opponent, the Montana Lady Griz leaned on their grit Sunday.
They showed a lot of it, especially on defense. It just wasn't enough to put a scare into the nationally-ranked and unbeaten Arizona Wildcats in a 77-42 loss at Dahlberg Arena.
"Obviously we got off to a bad start offensively and they got off to a good start," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen said after her team spotted the Wildcats a 23-6 lead in the first quarter. "Then I felt we had some series where we were getting some stops and working hard together and had some good block-outs.
"It was just a day where we kept waiting to make two in a row and somebody put a couple down. We hadn't hardly taken any bad shots in the first half. They just didn't go."
Arizona, ranked No. 24 in the USA Today/WBCA Coaches' Poll, hit almost 52 percent of its shots from the floor (31 for 60). Montana (2-2) hit just 24.5 percent (13 for 53).
"These guys have great quickness," Schweyen said of 6-0 Arizona. "If something is there, it's not there for long. Their on-ball pressure is good and their recovery out of things is good.
"We'll take a lot away from that. Obviously their size is a factor. Our post had a hard time having any kind of influence in there against 6-6 and 6-4 and very athletic."
For all their troubles shooting and turning the ball over 14 times, the Lady Griz did leave an impression on Arizona coach Adia Barnes. The former WNBA standout said she likes Montana's toughness.
"No. 32 (McKenzie Johnston) has a really nice mid-range game. She's a great floor general," Barnes said. "They run some actions. Their flex cuts are hard to guard because No. 44 (Emma Stockholm) steps out and shoots it.
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"What I respect about them is the coach puts them in position for their strengths and their players don't try to do stuff they're not good at doing. They're a smart team with a lot of potential."
Johnston, who scored 10 points to share team-high honors with Gabi Harrington and Taylor Goligoski, believes it's time for the Lady Griz to cash in on their potential. They have a tough road trip staring them in the face after Thanksgiving, with tests in California against Santa Clara on Friday and Cal State Fullerton on Saturday.
"I think we have a lot more to give," said Johnston, whose team was out-rebounded Sunday, 46-27. "I think we're a much better team than we've shown so far."
It's hard to find a silver lining in a game you lost by 35 points, but the Lady Griz might find solace in knowing they held the Wildcats' explosive point guard, Aari McDonald, to 19 points. The 5-foot-6 junior is one of the quickest women to compete at Dahlberg Arena in a long time.
"It's not like you're going to shut her down," Schweyen noted. "Keeping her to 19 when you consider she had 44 on No. 22-ranked Texas, I thought we did a fairly decent job on her. They just have a lot of weapons."
Montana was down to eight players Sunday because forwards Jamie Pickens (concussion) and Madi Schoening (back) were resting. Sophomore post Abby Anderson played a lot of minutes and Schweyen was encouraged by her performance on both ends.
"We've got to get her thinking to score the ball more," the coach said of Anderson, who tallied eight points. "We were really thin without Jamie (Pickens). It bums be out she didn't get to play against a top-25 at home."
Johnston believes her team can take something away from its most lopsided loss since last December's 100-51 setback at Arizona.
"You can learn a lot from them in the aspect of how they play," she said. "You don't get away with anything easy with teams like this. Our defense did well but there's a bunch of room for improvement."