Something about the second quarter just doesn't sit well with the Montana women's basketball team lately.
Last Saturday the Lady Griz fell victim to a 21-7 run leading up to halftime in a blowout loss at Montana State. On Thursday, Idaho used a 13-1 spurt in the second quarter to seize control en route to a 76-68 home win in front of a sparse crowd at Cowan Spectrum in Moscow, Idaho.
It was a special night for Vandals senior Mikayla Ferenz. She scored a game-high 23 points and in the process put herself in Idaho's record book as the most prolific scorer in team history (2,191 points).
Junior point guard McKenzie Johnston broke out of her shooting slump in scoring 21 points for the Lady Griz behind 9-for-14 shooting from the floor. Teammate Gabi Harrington matched that total with the help of 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range.
"It's been a struggle for Kenzie with that mask. It's no fun," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen told KMPT radio, referring to Johnston being forced to wear a piece of molded plastic on her face after breaking her nose a second time in early January. "I thought she had a helluva ball game tonight. She played 40, four assists and two turnovers. She ties up a lot of loose balls and just does a lot of the little things well."
Montana shot well overall, hitting 50 percent from the floor (26 for 52). But the Lady Griz couldn't keep up with the explosive Vandals, who connected on 12 of 28 shots from behind the arc and 26 of 60 overall.
"We're shooting good, the problem is they're making threes to our twos," Schweyen said.
Idaho exploded out of the chute, using 11 points in the first four minutes by Taylor Pierce to build an 18-10 lead. Montana trimmed its deficit to 22-18 by the end of the period and crept within one, 22-21, on a Harrington triple early in the second period.
That's when the Vandals seized control, surging to a 33-23 lead behind a pair of triples by Ferenz. Idaho's lead was 44-31 at halftime thanks to 15 points by Pierce, nine coming on three 3-point goals.
The Vandals stretched their lead to 58-36 in the first 4-plus minutes of the third frame. Harrington and Sammy Fatkin hit 3-balls to pull the Lady Griz within 13 at 63-50. Still, Montana trailed 66-50 at the end of the period despite a solid 8-for-15 shooting effort.
"Second half they flat-out competed," Schweyen said of her team. "They made a big run on us and we could have folded up and called it a night. But they kept battling."
Montana (10-10 overall, 5-6 Big Sky Conference) continued to push the Vandals (12-8, 9-2) in the fourth quarter, trimming its deficit to 74-66 on a Carmen Gfeller free throw with 29 seconds left. But it was too little, too late.
"We just gave them too many second chances," said Schweyen, alluding to Idaho's 13 offensive rebounds. "A team that's such a good scoring team, you can't let them have that many second chances ... They're hard to guard at times. It's hard when you're trying to run around those screens all night. It just was frustrating."
Harrington barely missed a double-double, collecting nine rebounds to go with her 21 points. She was 8 for 13 from the floor.
"It was good to see her get it going like that," Schweyen said. "She's such a weapon in a lot of ways."
The Lady Griz have lost two straight games and six of their last eight. They will try to regroup at Eastern Washington on Saturday afternoon.
Notes: Johnston has been reportedly cleared to play without her mask (broken nose) next week. She has been using the mask since early January ... Lady Griz freshman guard Katie Mayhue did not play Thursday. She is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.