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University of Montana guard Sophia Stiles pulls the basketball away from Montana State defense as she makes her way to the basket.

While the Lady Griz led by double digits at some points, Montana could not secure an opening day win against Utah State University on Nov. 25, losing 74-81 on the road. This was UM’s first competitive action since March for the team, as well as UM Athletics.

“We said early on we would learn a lot about ourselves,” Lady Griz head coach Mike Petrino said in a radio interview postgame. “There’s great learning situations out there, there is growth no question, we just gotta be better on containing the ball upfront.”

Petrino, in his first year as head coach for Montana, brought on eight new faces to the Lady Griz team for the 2020-2021 season. On the starting lineup, transfer Hannah Thurmon made her first impression in a Montana uniform and scored five points, joining five other Grizzlies scoring five or more. 

Montana started up with a quick run from sophomore Carmen Gfeller and Willa Albrecht to put a 10-point lead 32-22 midway through the second quarter. Gfeller, coming off her redshirt season, led the Lady Griz in scoring with 21 points off of 8-13 from the floor.

While Montana started strong, Utah State brought the game back as the first half ended, closing the gap to a two point game at intermission. The Aggies leading scorer, Meagan Mendezona, put up 18 points, half of which came in the first half alongside an aggie 11-0 run. 

“I think the last three minutes [of the first half] was a downpoint in the game with careless turnovers. [Utah State] scored seven possessions in a row and we have to be better defensively,” Petrino said.

The Aggies out rebounded the Lady Griz 42-33, racking up eight more defensive rebounds.

The end of the third quarter featured multiple lead changes, as well as both teams shooting over 50% from the field, trailing 58-56 at the end of the third quarter. 

Montana held the lead with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, but from then on it was all Utah State. Petrino said the team was close, but never took control of the game.

“I think our defense needed some work,” he said. “When we missed shots some fatigue came back and we needed to transition to defense faster.”

Only limited attendance was allowed at the game because of COVID-19. UM’s radio broadcaster Shawn Tinemann estimated there to be about 45 to 50 family members and fans in attendance. 

After some tight scores, including a 72-76 deficit with a minute left in the game, the Lady Griz could not summit the final shot, and fouled out for the rest of the game. The next game for Montana is a home doubleheader against conference opponent Southern Utah on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5.