MISSOULA — The Montana Lady Griz let a 15-point lead slip away and fell to Northern Arizona 76-74 on Thursday evening in front of 2,128 fans at Dahlberg Arena.
It was the first time NAU had beaten UM in Missoula since March 9, 2007, snapping a 13-game skid.
UM came out of the gates firing behind a strong start by redshirt freshman Keeli Burton-Oliver who scored nine points in the first quarter as UM built a 22-11 lead at the first break. UM shot 10 for 16 in the first quarter from the field.
The Lady Griz extended their lead to 26-11 at the 8:41 mark of the second quarter after a basket by Libby Stump. But from there, UM stalled, and the Lumberjacks, who made it to the Big Sky Conference championship game last year, found their footing and used a 12-0 run to get back into the game before heading into halftime with a 35-33 lead.
"I think we just came in a little sped up, and one of things about this team, I don't know if it's a good thing or bad thing, but our momentum is completely dictated off of if we're making shots," said NAU head coach Loree Payne, a Havre native. "Our first couple of shots didn't fall, and I think that really hindered our ability to transition. And they were running in transition and they came out really going and getting some really great looks and our transition offense is predicated by us getting stops and we weren't able to get stops and I think that definitely kind of put us in a funk those first couple of minutes.
"But once we settled in and knocked down a few shots and got a few stops I felt like we never felt it was too far gone, especially in the first quarter with this team who can score a lot of points really quickly. It was really just them settling in."
The second half was more of a back-and-forth affair between the two teams with neither school grabbing full momentum. A layup by Burton-Oliver with under two minutes to play gave UM a 72-70 lead, but that was UM's last lead as NAU was able to close it out with a layup by Sophie Glancey plus four free throws by Glancey and Montana Oltrogge.
The Lady Griz were able to get one more look before the buzzer as Stump shot a 3-pointer but it was off the mark, sealing the win for NAU. Lady Griz head coach Brian Holsinger said on the final play, he wanted Stump to drive to her left and utilize her midrange jumper that was working at points throughout the game, rather than the 3-point look, but had full confidence in the freshman guard on that final possession with the play drawn up for her.
Carmen Gfeller and Burton-Oliver led the way for UM (5-9, 1-2 Big Sky) with 15 points each, while Gfeller added eight rebounds. Gina Marxen added 13 points and Stump added 12. UM shot the ball at a 45.2% rate from the field and went 5 for 16 from deep. However, both Gfeller and Burton-Oliver fouled out in the final minutes, and Montana lost the turnover battle 15 to 8, and was out-rebounded by NAU 46 to 42, including a 14 to 5 advantage on the offensive glass for the Lumberjacks.
"The beginning of the game is how we expected to play and then you relax and our youth is just evident in those moments," Holsinger said. "Part of it is we get in foul trouble. Foul trouble has been a massive issue for us. At some point you have to look in the mirror and have to change. But, really the second quarter, there was a stretch that was horrible on our part. We relax and don't do the right things. But we outplay them in almost every statistical category except for taking care of the ball and rebounding. That's the game.
"To me, you score 74 points and you should win the game, and we have not embraced a defensive identity like I want and it's disappointing."
Glancey led the game with 22 points off of the bench while Oltrogge — who transferred to NAU from perennial league contender Idaho State this past offseason — added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Jaiteh Fatoumata added 14 points while Regan Schenck poured in 10 for the Lumberjacks (8-8, 2-1). NAU shot 38.5% from the field and went 6 for 25 from deep. It was the second big win in a row over the Lady Griz for the Lumberjacks, as NAU was also the team that ended UM's season last year with a quarterfinal round victory at the conference tournament.
For Payne, who is in her sixth year heading NAU's program, to get a win in her home state — as she was greeted after the game by those who knew her from high school — it was a special feeling after the game.
"Just to have that composure down the stretch in the toughest atmosphere in the Big Sky, just really proud of the growth of this team," Payne said. "I love Montana and love everything about this program. I grew up watching this program and huge fan of everything that Rob (Selvig) did here and he should be in the Hall of Fame, I definitely think that's a no-brainer. Just watching this and being able to come, it's very nostalgic. In a lot of ways I spent a lot of time in this gym as a kid coming to camps and it's something very special they have here and for our players to come in and get to experience this and then come out with a win, it's definitely very special."