MISSOULA — It's been seven years since the Montana women's basketball team won a game at Eastern Washington.
The Lady Griz will try to buck that trend and snap out of their slump on Saturday when they battle the Eagles at 3 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney, Washington. Montana has lost six of its last eight and Eastern four of its last five, so both are starving for a confidence-restoring victory.
"These games are huge," said Montana senior post Jace Henderson, whose team sits in sixth place in the Big Sky Conference standings and needs to work up to fifth to earn a first-round bye in the league tourney.
"Every game before we get to the Big Sky Conference tourney is going to be big for us now."
The Eagles had a glorious run through the Treasure State last month when they picked up a 68-62 win at Montana and followed up with an overtime victory at Montana State. Since then they've fallen on hard times and their record reflects it (5-15 overall, 4-7 conference).
Eastern has been alarmingly bad at home with its 1-7 mark. The Eagles lost by 14 points in Thursday's home game against Montana State, but they have taken some Big Sky heavyweights to the buzzer, including Northern Colorado, which escaped with an OT win in Cheney in January.
"They're a super-physical, tough team and because they're so in-your-face on that defensive end, we have to be strong with the ball and stay aggressive," Henderson said. "Then we need to play to our strengths. That's being a team and distributing the ball to everybody."
Montana struggled with its shooting in its first meeting with the Eagles (36.4 percent from the floor). Eastern wasn't much better (39.3 percent) but made up for it with 10 treys.
Four times the Eagles have reached double digits in 3-point goals. Montana will need to improve its perimeter defense from Thursday when it surrendered 12 treys in a 76-68 loss at Idaho.
If the Lady Griz can earn a win Saturday, the rest of the regular season sets up nicely for them. Starting next week, five of their remaining eight league games are at Dahlberg Arena, where Montana has posted a rock-solid record of 6-3.
Montana coach Shannon Schweyen makes no bones about the main objective over the next four weeks.
"I'm OK with where we're at in the fact that I feel like we still have a chance to sneak in the top five down the stretch, which would be the ultimate goal right now," Schweyen said. "I like the fact we're going to be home a lot for the backstretch."
Notes: Lady Griz guard Gabi Harrington is coming off a breakthrough performance at Idaho. She scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds ... Saturday marks the final time Lady Griz point guard McKenzie Johnston will be required to wear a mask (broken nose). Johnston scored a season-high 21 points at Idaho ... Lady Griz freshman guard Katie Mayhue is out indefinitely with an ankle injury.