GRAND FORKS, N.D.- First-place Montana withstood a feisty second-half comeback attempt to gain a 61-42 win at Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Trailing 18, North Dakota clawed its way back to within nine thanks in part to its reserves, but the Lady Griz hung on to remain atop the league ladder.
"It's tough when you shoot 21 percent," UND head coach Travis Brewster said simply to the media following the game. "We have got to get back to working on the offensive end of the floor. Give Montana credit-- they're the best team in the league."
UND (10-13, 5-9 Big Sky) scored the first basket of the game-- a Madi Buck layup-- and held Montana (17-6, 11-3) off the scoreboard until the 15:27 mark. Up to that point, the Lady Griz had missed on all seven of its shots from the floor as North Dakota played some smothering defense, including two of Carly Rothfusz's three blocks on the afternoon.
But, UND couldn't use that defensive effort to translate into points with Montana scoring the next nine in a row to build a 9-2 edge seven minutes in. Megan Lauck's triple finally ended the offensive dryspell for UND, however, the home team managed just four field goals in the opening half to trail 24-14 at the break.
In the second stanza, UM quickly built its lead to 18 just over five minutes into the half. Enter UND's smaller lineup to try to mount the comeback.
Freshman Josie Dillon tripled from in front of the UND bench and later fed fellow rookie Mia Loyd on a drive to help kick start a momentum shift. Maggie Rickman scored two of her game-high-tying 13 points to push the advantage back to 18 midway through the period.
UND had another push in itself, starting again from a Dillon three and followed by a Nicole Smart jumper that got the home crowd fully into it for the first time. A few minutes later, Rothfusz muscled home a putback and was fouled to cut the lead to a dozen with 5:22 to play.
North Dakota looked primed to make a real run at the first-place Griz moments later when Buck was struck above the shoulders, sending her to the court and giving UND technical foul shots and the basketball. Buck made good on the freebies and after Loyd's free throw on the same trip cut it to nine, UND had it under double digits for the first time since the opening half and had 4:41 left to stage a rally.
The rally ended, though, when Montana held the home team without a field goal the rest of the way and secured the 61-42 victory to remain in first place.
Loyd and Buck each contributed seven points to lead the UND effort offensively. Rothfusz added a team-high eight rebounds to her four points and three blocks. Montana had three players in double figures led by 13 apiece from Katie Baker and Maggie Rickman.
North Dakota will head to Sacramento State Thursday to begin a two-game road trip with a 9:00 p.m. Central tip from the Hornet's Nest.