By Montana Sports Information
The Montana women’s basketball team didn’t pick up a victory in its final nonconference game, but the Lady Griz will still take some momentum into their short Christmas break after falling in a competitive game against the Mountain West Conference favorite on Wednesday.
Ellen Nystrom scored 27 points to lead Colorado State, which defeated Montana by 32 points last season in Fort Collins, to a 63-49 victory over the Lady Griz at Dahlberg Arena.
Montana (3-8) trailed by 10 after the first quarter, then played mostly even with the Rams (8-4) the rest of the way.
“I was really proud of the girls tonight. They really battled,” said first-year coach Shannon Schweyen. “They were into this game more than they have been a lot of games.
“We’ve been talking so much about the intensity and focus that they have to have on the floor when they come out, and tonight every possession looked important to them.”
Nystrom scored 20 of her 27 points in the second half, and that was good enough to stop every potential Montana rally before any of them could get too serious.
Montana didn’t help itself, going 2 for 10 from the free throw line in the second half, 1 for 8 in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Griz never got closer than nine in the fourth quarter, but some better free throw shooting and better ball protection may have made it a lot more interesting.
“Bottom line, if we make some of those free throws in the second half, it’s going to be a much closer game,” said Schweyen. “It might have come down to a one-possession game.
“We’ve got to start focusing and knocking those down. When we’re struggling to score from the field, those are valuable points.”
Callie Kaiser went 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the first quarter to stake the Rams to a 24-14 lead at the first break.
Montana trailed by 12 late in the second quarter but scored the final five points of the half, all from the free throw line, to pull within 33-26.
The Lady Griz shot just 30.8 percent in the first half, with eight turnovers, but nearly doubled up the Rams on the boards, 23-12, and turned eight offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
Nystrom, last year’s Mountain West Player of the Year, scored 13 of her team’s 19 points in the third quarter, and she either scored or assisted on all but one of Colorado State’s second-half baskets while being guarded by any number of different Lady Griz.
“She is just a really, really nice player. One of the most complete players I’ve seen in a long time. She makes it look effortless,” said Schweyen. “They isolate her and let her go to work.”
Even though Colorado State had a decided height advantage, Montana hung with the Rams in the second half despite playing McKenzie Johnston, Sierra Anderson and Taylor Goligoski, all 5-foot-8 or shorter, for almost the entire 20 minutes.
Schweyen rolled with it because the lineup produced, especially when Anderson got a hot hand. She was 3 for 5 from the arc in the second half.
“She shot the ball well in practice this week, so it was nice to see Sierra get in there and knock down some shots,” said Schweyen.
“The way they spread it out and go four and five on the perimeter, I thought the smaller lineup was something we could get away with tonight. It was good for us.”
Anderson’s third triple of the third quarter brought Montana within eight, 48-40, but Nystrom scored the final four points of the quarter and assisted on Stine Austgulen’s 3-pointer early in the fourth that ballooned the lead to a game-high 15 points, 55-40.
Johnston and Goligoski answered with baskets to cut into the lead, but missed free throws and some costly turnovers kept Montana from getting any closer than nine points.
“We had some untimely turnovers late in the game that hurt us a little bit, and they were unforced,” said Schweyen. “Turnovers are bad, but when they’re completely unforced, they really hurt.
“But it was a good battle by all the girls. They fought hard and adjusted with our game plan. For a young group to pick up on those things and be able to execute, I was really encouraged.”
Anderson finished with a team- and season-high 13 points, three off her career best. Goligoski added 11, but nobody else scored more than six as Montana shot 34.0 percent.
Montana finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage, the team’s best effort since out-boarding Great Falls by 25 in the season opener, and turned 15 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points, a season high.
Nystrom finished with a line of 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists, all game highs. Kaiser added 13 points, all of which came in the first half.
Montana opens Big Sky Conference play next week with games at Idaho State (6-5) and Weber State (6-5) on Dec. 29 and 31.