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University of Montana Athletics

by Staff
The Montana women’s basketball team will open its post-finals, pre-Christmas, three-game road trip to California with a matchup against Cal Poly on Saturday night.
 
The Lady Griz (3-3) and Mustangs (3-5) will tip off at 7 p.m. (MT) inside the Mott Athletic Center in San Luis Obispo.
 
Montana will then travel south to San Diego for the USD Winter Classic. The Lady Griz will face the host Toreros (4-6) and UC San Diego (3-6) next Wednesday and Thursday afternoon.
 
Montana won’t play again until hosting Weber State on Friday, Dec. 29, to open Big Sky Conference play.
 
Coverage: Saturday’s game will air on ESPN+. For the local call, Ace Sauerwein can be heard on KGRZ (92.7 FM/1450 AM), KGRZMissoula.com and the Varsity Network app.
 
At a glance (Montana): The Lady Griz had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 78-69 home loss to Colorado State on Saturday night in Missoula.
 
Montana had previously defeated Grand Canyon, Dickinson State and Loyola Marymount.
 
McKenna Hofschild had 36 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists to lead the Rams, who improved to 8-0 with the win.
 
Montana had five players in double figures for the third time in four games, with Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw scoring 14 points, Carmen Gfeller and Mack Konig 13.
 
Macey Huard and Gina Marxen scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench.
 
Montana, which never led in the game, fell behind 12-2 but fought back to even the score at 24 early in the second quarter. Colorado State led 38-34 at the half.
 
The Rams scored 17 of the second half’s first 19 points to go up 55-36. Nine would be as close as the Lady Griz would get in the fourth quarter.
 
Montana outrebounded Colorado State 42-36 and allowed only one offensive rebound and no second-chance points, but went just 5 for 27 (.185) from the 3-point line.
 
Colorado State went 10 for 26 from the arc and had just five turnovers.
 
At a glance (Cal Poly): The Mustangs will enter Saturday’s game with a record of 3-5, with road wins at Idaho and Seattle, and a home win on Saturday over Fresno State, 84-59.
 
Three of Cal Poly’s losses have come on the road against ranked opponents: at Washington State (78-61), at Stanford (86-32) and at USC (85-44).
 
Cal Poly went 10-18 last season under first-year coach Shanele Stires, who was hired after the Mustangs went 3-22 in 2021-22.
 
Cal Poly was picked eighth out of 11 teams in this year’s Big West preseason poll.
 
The Mustangs played their first seven games this season on the road before playing their home opener on Saturday, an impressive 84-59 victory over Fresno State.
 
Cal Poly led 43-36 at the break, then outscored the Bulldogs 41-23 in the second half on 17-of-25 (.680) shooting.
 
Senior forward Natalia Ackerman leads Cal Poly in both scoring (10.8/g) and rebounding (7.5/g) while shooting 56.3 percent. She had 19 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s win, hitting all nine of her shots.
 
Junior guard Annika Shah is also averaging 10.8 points. She has gone 16 for 38 (.421) from the 3-point line this season.
 
Cal Poly, which is averaging 58.8 points this season, hadn’t score more than 68 points in a game until putting up 84 on Saturday against Fresno State. The Bulldogs entered the game with a 6-4 record.
 
Series history: Montana has won its three previous meetings with Cal Poly, all of which took place in the 1990s.
 
Montana won 79-42 in Missoula in 1994-95, 79-75 at San Luis Obispo in 1996-97 and 77-66 in Missoula in 1998-99.
 
In Montana’s lone win at Cal Poly in November 1996, the Lady Griz shot 53.1 percent, with Krista Redpath scoring 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Greta Koss had 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
 
Quoting coach Brian Holsinger:
 
On the state of his team six games in: “I think we’re in a good spot. Washington State and Gonzaga are very good teams. Those proved to be good early-season tests for us that pushed us forward.
 
“I was really disappointed in the Colorado State game. Obviously there was a big-time performance by McKenna. As disappointed as I was after the game, I’ll be more disappointed if we don’t learn from the mistakes that we made that didn’t allow us to win at home.
 
“I also think there is a belief we have to build toward, that when we play a good team, we can beat them. We have to get over the hump to believe in those moments that we’re good enough to beat those teams. We get close but there is an extra step in the belief of how good we actually are.
 
“Obviously you don’t want all the injuries that have occurred. Those are hard. But from a basketball standpoint, we’re in a good place. We’ll how our team responds.”
 
On facing Cal Poly: “(Coach Shanele Stires) does a really good job of getting them to play hard. They really play hard and aggressive. They are very similar in a lot of ways to a (Loyola Marymount), a team that plays hard and really gets after it. Because they play so hard, you have to go beat them.
 
“Credit to her for getting them to play hard. It was an impressive performance against Fresno State. We’re worried about how we’re playing. If we go on the road and do the right things and play the right way, we should be successful.”
 
On playing three games over six days on a single road trip: “We have really hard travel in the Big Sky. The trips aren’t the easiest. This is a great opportunity for us to feel what that feels like. It’s a good challenge.
 
“It’s a good opportunity to bond, too. I love that we get to be on the road together on a trip that’s kind of fun and should be a little bit warmer and we get to do some fun things. It’s what you want at this time of year when you have a little bit of time off before Christmas.”
 
Montana notes:
 
* Montana’s three losses, to Washington State (10-2), Gonzaga (10-2) and Colorado State (8-0), have come against teams that are now a combined 28-4.
 
* Grand Canyon, which Montana defeated on the road, is 7-2 with five straight wins since losing to the Lady Griz.
 
* Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw, who has gone 16 for 31 from the arc, ranks 13th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (.516). Gina Marxen has gone 11 for 22 (.500).
 
* Montana went 14 for 15 from the free throw line against Colorado State after going 16 for 18 against Loyola Marymount. The Lady Griz now rank 16th nationally at 79.0 percent.
 
* Montana continues to lead the Big Sky in scoring (75.7/g). The Lady Griz rank ninth out of 10 league teams in scoring defense (69.7/g).
 
* Montana leads the Big Sky and ranks 47th nationally in 3-pointers made per game (8.2). The Lady Griz rank 32nd nationally with 25.3 attempts per game.
 
* Montana has outrebounded its last five opponents and is +7.7/game for the season.
 
* Saturday will be only Montana’s second road game of the season after opening with five of six at home.
 
* Espenmiller-McGraw is shooting 50.9 percent overall, 51.6 percent from the 3-point line, 84.2 percent from the free throw line. She is 16 for 17 from the free throw line since opening 0 for 2 against Gonzaga.
 
* After totaling four rebounds through the season’s first four games, Espenmiller-McGraw has had seven in back-to-back games.
 
* Carmen Gfeller scored 13 points against Colorado State to move past Skyla Sisco and Doris Deden on the Lady Griz career scoring list. Gfeller ranks 15th with 1,250 points.
 
* Dani Bartsch is doing it all. She is averaging 7.0 points on 53.8 percent shooting and 7.8 rebounds. She has 12 assists against just four turnovers, and she leads the team in both blocks (7) and steals (11).
 
* Gina Marxen ranks third on the team in scoring (9.8/g) off the bench. She has had 14 assists the last four games.
 
* Montana turned the ball over 50 times in its first three games. The last three: 29.
 
Around the Big Sky Conference:
 
* Preseason favorite Eastern Washington leads the Big Sky at 6-2. The Eagles’ only losses were by eight on the road at now 6-3 UC Irvine and by two at home to now 10-2 Gonzaga.
 
* EWU has the Big Sky’s top NET ranking of 53. Montana (115), Northern Arizona (124), Montana State (130) and Idaho (156) follow. The rest of the Big Sky is 218 or lower.
 
* After opening the season with road losses at Oregon and Arizona, Northern Arizona has won six of seven to improve to 6-3. The Lumberjacks are averaging more than 82 points in their wins.
 
* Portland State (5-3) is above .500 while Idaho (4-4), Idaho State (4-4) and Montana (3-3) are at .500.
 
* After opening the season 0-7, Weber State has won three straight, over Nevada, Utah Tech and Westminster, for first-year coach Jenteal Jackson.
 
Upcoming: Montana will face San Diego and UC San Diego next week at the USD Winter Classic, the team’s final games before Christmas.

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