MISSOULA — Ten minutes into Monday's game, the tip of the sword was revealed.
The Montana women's basketball team is a more gritty bunch this season. There's a noticeable spike in aggression that helps on the boards and defense and seems to elevate the team's confidence level on the offensive end.
So even though it wasn't always pretty, the team's exhibition opener against NAIA Carroll College was something to build on. The Lady Griz used 13 points from Madi Schoening to outlast the hyper-motivated Fighting Saints, 55-48, in front of a healthy crowd of 2,178 at Dahlberg Arena.
"We definitely talked about it in practice, amping it up a little bit," said Schoening, who hit two big buckets in the final six minutes. "Confidence is way higher this year for us, getting a year of experience under our belts."
"Me and (point guard) Kenzie (Johnston) are definitely clicking really well. She's finding me on the floor."
Schoening and Johnston may not be the most imposing guards in the Big Sky Conference but both are tough as nails. Johnston is blossoming as a bona fide leader, racking up eight points, seven rebounds and six assists against Carroll.
Considering the poise the Lady Griz played with Monday in the absence of their top scorer from last winter — sophomore shooting guard Taylor Goligoski sat out again with a strained quadriceps — the future looks promising. Five different players scored six or more points against the Saints, including Schoening, Johnston, Gabi Harrington with nine, Emma Stockholm with eight and Sierra Anderson with six.
"They sat back in that zone so obviously we were going to get threes," said UM coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team hit 8 of 20 attempts from behind the arc and 21 of 52 shots overall. "Unfortunately we got lots of good inside looks but didn't make many of them.
"It was a little bit of a scramble but it was good to see that, to see a different zone and have to make some changes. I was proud of the way some of those kids came in off the bench and played with confidence. Gabi (Harrington) gave us a huge lift with her two threes and Emma (Stockholm) as well."
Montana set the tone with an 8-0 run to close out the first quarter. Schoening, Johnston, Mekayla Isaak and Jace Henderson all hit buckets in the surge.
With a 23-14 edge in rebounds and a 16-6 advantage in points in the paint, Montana took a 35-25 advantage into halftime. Carroll shaved its deficit to two in the third quarter and the Lady Griz seemed to lose some steam in committing six turnovers.
Carroll's deficit was 45-42 after Mikaela Olson's 3-ball early in the fourth quarter. The Lady Griz responded with stifling defense, a big put-back by Mekayla Isaak and two clutch shots by Schoening, including one from 3-point range, in holding off the Saints.
"They were starting to feel it a little bit in the second half and shoot the ball better," Schweyen said of Carroll. "But I was proud of the way our girls responded.
"Madi had a great game in a lot of different ways. Thirteen points but boy she got some tough boards and played tough. You know (UM assistant coach) Mike (Petrino) summed it up the other day: He said, 'She never has a lazy day.' That's how she plays. She leaves it out there. I love the way she plays."
Notes: Schweyen said that Goligoski is "doing ok, she's just a little slow coming back" from her injury. The coach said she's being careful not to push her sharpshooting guard from Hamilton ... True freshman forward Abby Anderson will redshirt this season. She was in a car accident this past weekend. The vehicle she was riding in hit an elk and she injured her back and neck.