MISSOULA — Carmen Gfeller scored 34 points and the Montana Lady Griz clamped down on defense in the second half en route to a 71-57 win over rival Montana State on Saturday in front of 4,059 fans at Dahlberg Arena.
With the win, the Lady Griz snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Bobcats.
Montana (18-9, 11-7 Big Sky Conference) held the Bobcats (18-11, 13-5) to just 33% shooting from the field. Each team struggled offensively early, as the first quarter ended with the Lady Griz in front 9-8. The two teams started 1 for 13 combined from the field.
"I'm really, really, really proud of the upperclassmen," Lady Griz coach Brian Holsinger said. "These guys have been through so much. They've been through a lot of hard things. Different coaches, different things and they've really bought in. It's one of the biggest things is when you have a new coach is you want the buy-in to what you want to do and I've been preaching defense, defense, defense all the time and rebound, rebound, rebound because I know that that wins.
"We've gotten better and better on that end of the floor and we made it really hard for them to score tonight. I think that was the biggest thing."
UM held a 32-28 halftime lead before extending the lead to as large as 17 in the third quarter. Gfeller, who also had eight rebounds, went 5-for-7 from beyond the 3-point line. Lady Griz guard Sophia Stiles added 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Abby Anderson had 12 points and also added five assists.
"It's been amazing. I've been here for five years and we never got a win so to do it on Senior Night made it a little more special," said Stiles, one of five UM seniors honored before Saturday's game. "Definitely took (the game) pretty serious but coach (Nate) Harris was definitely on me about relaxing my emotions. He said it's just another game which is nice to say but it doesn't feel like that. During that game, just like Carmen, I just wanted to get it. We've had a lot of close games so I was waiting for the final buzzer."
Gfeller scored 11 straight Lady Griz points in the second quarter as UM began to grow their lead. She shot the ball 11 for 16 from the field in what ended up being a career-high in scoring for her.
MSU got back within 37-32 in the third quarter before UM took control of the game back, and a 3-pointer from Gfeller made it 51-34 Lady Griz with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
MSU got within nine points in the first minute of the fourth quarter, but Anderson scored on a layup to make it 53-42 and the Lady Griz led by double-digits the rest of the way.
"I love these guys. We've been through so much," Gfeller said. "I'm so proud to call them teammates but even moreso to call them friends. They're phenomenal people. I'm just so happy that I've gotten the experience to play with them. Every single one of them brings something different to our team and without their leadership I don't know that we would be the team that we are so I'm just really thankful that I've had this experience."
Missoula native Lexi Deden led the Bobcats with 14 points, while Leia Beattie added 13. MSU also shot 4 for 18 from deep. The Bobcats forced 12 turnovers on Montana but the Lady Griz won the rebounding battle 36 to 28.
"The bigger element today was the crowd," MSU coach Tricia Binford said. "I thought the crowd was fantastic and it just gets loud in every moment, right? So for us we just need to be able to kind of just continue playing our game. I thought we were a little bit reactive today. We had a pretty tough preseason schedule with some road games with crowd noise trying to prepare you for those moments but you just need to get more of that experience to have the composure and the steadiness of just kind of playing our game and I just felt like we never got to playing our game today."