MISSOULA — Sophia Stiles did something on Thursday night she had never done in her long, decorated basketball career in the state of Montana.
That, was win a game off of a buzzer-beater, but the senior guard from Malta for the Lady Griz checked that off of her list with a long two-point jumper that fell as the horn sounded to give UM a 61-59 victory over Weber State in front of 2,219 frenzied fans at Dahlberg Arena.
Weber State tied the game 59-59 off of a banked-in 3-pointer from Kori Pentzer with 27 seconds left, and Stiles brought the ball up the court and UM head coach Brian Holsinger opted to not call a timeout in the final seconds and let the time wind down before the last shot.
"I didn't think he was going to call a timeout. I just looked at him and he gave me a nod and said to go at six (seconds). I went at four so I was a little off but I liked having the flow for sure," Stiles said. "We practice it every day. Coach Holsinger is always on me and if I ever miss at practice he tells me to go again. He tells me I can miss so I guess that was a product of that."
Montana (13-5, 6-3 Big Sky Conference) started fast and led by as much as 11 points in the first quarter, but the Lady Griz slowed and Weber State took advantage and went into halftime up 35-33.
The Wildcats (8-13, 4-8) ballooned their lead to 48-33 halfway through the third quarter, but Montana began to chip away late in the third, and Weber State went into the fourth quarter holding a 51-42 advantage. The Lady Griz shot a combined 5 for 28 in the second and third quarters and went 1 for 12 from 3-point range.
"I'd used some timeouts to stop the bleeding earlier in the game and so I just felt like it was a good flow," Holsinger said of Stiles' final shot. "It was more of a feel than anything. I knew what I wanted to do in that moment anyways and so I didn't need a timeout to tell her what to do at that moment. We had enough time and I wanted to space the floor and let her create."
He added with a laugh, "She hadn't shot it well all game so I don't know if that was a good idea but it actually ended up being great," also adding he had full confidence in Stiles' ability to make that shot.
In the fourth quarter, Montana's defense was the catalyst in the final comeback. UM didn't allow Weber State to score in the fourth quarter until Daryn Hickok knocked down a pair of free throws with 2:21 left in the quarter. By then, Montana had worked its way back into a lead after a steal and layup from Abby Anderson made it 53-52 at the 3:43 mark, and Sammy Fatkin added another layup after that.
Free throws from Fatkin and Kyndall Keller pushed UM's lead to 59-56 before Pentzer's three tied the contest up. Montana held Weber State to just 2 for 12 shooting in the fourth quarter and blocked two shots and added three steals during their run back to the lead.
"It starts on defense and that's why Kyndall Keller came in and just gave us a huge lift," Holsinger said. "Her energy and urgency to defend rubbed off on everybody. It just rubbed off all over the floor and so she changed the momentum of the game. She actually did more than anybody and obviously Sammy made huge plays and Abby made a good play and people made plays but her energy changed everything for us."
Keller, a sophomore guard from Havre, finished with a season-high 20 minutes played.
Fatkin led the game with 20 points while Anderson added 14 and Carmen Gfeller poured in 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. UM's post duo of Gfeller and Anderson scored 20 of the team's first 23 points. Stiles finished with eight points and four assists for UM which as a team finished shooting 36.4% from the floor and went 3 for 15 from deep and 18 for 24 from the line.
The Lady Griz forced 14 turnovers on the night. Pentzer and Hickok led Weber State with 16 points each as the Wildcats finished shooting at a 40.7% rate from the field and went 4 for 12 from deep.
Stiles was mobbed by her teammates after the make as she put the exclamation point on the win.
"When if first went in I was a little shocked," Stiles said. "And then everyone just mauled me. It was so much fun. It'll be something I'll never forget."
Montana hosts another big contest on Saturday afternoon when they welcome Idaho State (13-8, 9-3 Big Sky) which fell to No. 3 in the Big Sky standings on Thursday after losing to Montana State in Bozeman. MSU and Southern Utah sit tied atop the league standings while the Lady Griz are currently No. 4.