MISSOULA — Jace Henderson tried to hold it all together while her team battled the hiccups Thursday.
The cure never came.
The Montana women's basketball team struggled with cold shooting in a 68-62 upset loss to Eastern Washington Thursday at Dahlberg Arena. The setback was Montana's second in a row and fifth straight in its series with the Eagles, who came to Dahlberg Arena with a 2-11 record.
Just like Saturday at Portland State, the Lady Griz spotted their opponent a sizeable lead and failed to recover despite 12 points and 17 rebounds by Henderson.
"Horrible start," said Montana coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team spotted the Eagles an 11-point lead in the first half. "We basically gave them all their strengths.
"We talked in scouting reports about what they like to do and we absolutely did the opposite for the first quarter. There's just too many good teams in this league to think you can come out like that and not have your head in the game."
In fairness to the Lady Griz, there were extenuating circumstances Thursday. The team was without starting shooting guard Taylor Goligoski, who suffered an undisclosed injury in practice, and Eastern Washington was exceptionally hot from 3-point range, hitting 10 of 20 attempts.
The key point came midway through the third quarter when the hosts closed to within a point, 39-38. Gabi Harrington squandered a chance to put Montana in front when she missed a fastbreak layup, then Eastern responded with 3-pointers on four straight trips down the floor.
"They were scoring at will in man in the first half," Schweyen noted. "We tried some zone (in the third quarter) and it was good for a while. Then they knocked some down.
"Credit to them. Obviously they're not shooting 50 percent from three for the season but they made big shots when they needed to. They make 10 (triples) and we go 1 for 14."
To Montana's credit, the team did not go away quietly. Despite a dismal 4-for-18 shooting effort in the fourth quarter, they managed to put a scare into the Eagles.
Emma Stockholm hit a bucket that shaved the Lady Griz deficit to 61-56 with 2:38 remaining. Harrington then grabbed a defensive rebound, but McKenzie Johnston, who has struggled to score since breaking her nose a second time and opting for a mask at Portland State last week, missed on a shot that would have pulled UM within three.
Eastern went back up by eight points on a dagger 3-point shot by Grace Kirscher with 1:29 left. Teammate Violet Kapri Morrow added two free throws with 69 seconds left to put Montana in a 66-58 hole.
"Our kids did a good job of sticking to the scout and the game plan tonight," Eastern veteran coach Wendy Schuller said. "It was huge we came out offensively early and knocked down what we were trying to do in our game plan.
"We're really young. We played an extremely difficult non-conference schedule. I think we had like the 35th toughest non-conference schedule in the country. I blame myself for that when we have a lot of babies out there on the floor for us ... We're finally starting to come together."
Harrington led the Lady Griz with 18 points, but she was 5 for 15 from the floor. Stockholm added 13 points but turned the ball over a game-high four times.
"I told the girls don't even look at their record, (Eastern) is a good basketball team," Schweyen said. "They're always physical. You have to expect doubles in the post. You have to expect digging on everything. We let them be the aggressor."
Eastern finished at 39.3 percent shooting from the floor (22 for 56). Montana shot 36.4 percent (20 for 55) and turned the ball over 14 times.
The Lady Griz will need to bounce back in a hurry with defending Big Sky Conference champion Northern Colorado coming to town for a Saturday game. Schweyen said she's hopeful that Goligoski will be back for that contest.