Without starting post Jace Henderson, the Montana women's basketball team has struggled to stop the competition.
Idaho State attacked the Lady Griz down low Friday and came away with a 72-60 win at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho. Henderson, Montana's top rebounder and shot blocker, sat out for the second straight game with an ankle sprain.
The junior is questionable for Montana's Big Sky Conference tournament opener against Sacramento State on Monday at 12:05 p.m. in Reno, Nevada. The Lady Griz (9-9 conference, 13-16 overall) have lost six of their last seven and they have precious little time to turn things around.
"Whether we get Jace back or not we have to make the most of what we have," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen told KGVO radio after her injury-depleted troops surrendered 38 points in the paint to the Bengals.
"The rebounding, the presence in the zone, her running the floor, Jace does so much for us with her passing and scoring. She's one of those kids that thrives on that physical aspect and we missed that tonight for sure."
Montana played from behind the entire game. Idaho State (11-7, 19-10) jumped to a 12-2 lead behind eight points by senior Brooke Blair and her team maintained control for the duration.
"With their motion (offense) they get you out running around and back-screen you," Schweyen said. "With the situation with our personnel right now, Emma (Stockholm) and Caitlin (Lonergan) have never played in (Henderson's low middle spot in) the zone and they're out of position. That's where we're at right now."
Montana trailed 56-39 at the start of the fourth quarter but refused to go away quietly. The Lady Griz went on a 16-6 run capped by McKenzie Johnston's putback with 3:16 left, cutting Idaho State's lead to 62-55.
Unfortunately for Montana, it couldn't get the stops it needed down the stretch. Sai Tapasa hit two free throws with 2:56 left to stretch the Bengals' lead to 64-55, then Grace Kenyon added a layup to make it 66-55 with 2:24 left.
Idaho State shot a sizzling 52.1 percent from the floor (25 for 48). Montana shot 40.7 percent (22 for 54) and turned the ball over 13 times.
"That was the big key in the game, we did not handle the double in the post," Schweyen noted. "We talked about catch-look before you do anything and we had too many turnovers on that action. If you handle that good you get a layup. Unfortunately, we looked like we hadn't seen that before."
Johnston paced the Lady Griz with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Stockholm came off the bench to score 10 points.
Montana and its first-round Big Sky tourney opponent, Sac State, split in the regular season. The Lady Griz beat the Hornets in Missoula in January, 68-59, but lost to the Hornets in Sacramento on Feb. 10, 79-64.