MISSOULA — The Montana women’s basketball team’s main storyline remains the same as it was four weeks ago.
It’s a group in limbo and in the works. The team lost its first two games but won the last two, including a home win over North Dakota on Sunday.
That instilled a huge dose of confidence that will come in handy when Lady Griz faces two strong teams including Wichita State on Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Cal (Berkeley) on Saturday at the Loyola Marymount Thanksgiving Classic in Los Angeles 4:30 p.m
However, an overriding question remains.
“I hope we can get Carmen (Gfeller) back soon,” said Montana coach Brian Holsinger, summing up the month of November for the Lady Griz, who are quickly adjusting to life without their best player and leader.
“Carmen will help a lot. For us it’s gaining confidence at the moment and that’s what we did (Sunday) before these neutral location games against good competition. You have to play against these types of teams to judge where you are.”
Holsinger, whose side play the highly acclaimed Gonzaga on December 21, believes in the old adage that steel sharpens steel. He felt Montana’s Nov. 11 loss at Colorado State actually taught his team some lessons that paid off in Sunday’s win. Next is a Wichita State team from the American Athletic Conference that has won three of their first four, including two in a row.
The Shockers made an impressive comeback in their last game last Saturday. They were down 17 points at halftime but held North Texas to 12 points in the second half in a 57-53 home win.
Wichita State looked like two completely different teams in the two halves against North Texas. After conceding 41 points in the first half, a season high, the Shockers went to a trapping zone defense. This defense held resistance to 4 of 27 shots from the field in the last two frames.
Not only is Gfeller a question mark for this weekend after spending part of the off-season in a hiking boot, but starting supervisor Mack Konig is also a question mark after suffering a hard shot in the eye on Sunday. Without the two, Montana has shrunk to nine grantees.
However, it doesn’t matter if the Lady Griz shoots like she did in the second half of Sunday, hitting 16 of 23 attempts from the field. Guards Sammy Fatkin and Gina Marxen led by 21 and 18 points, respectively.
Marxen says it’s “different” to play at a neutral venue. Luckily for her team, she and Fatkin have plenty of experience with this.
“The biggest challenge is finding the energy that the fans are providing and finding that in your own team and your teammates,” she said. “You’re kind of your own cheerleaders out there and you have to have each other’s backs. That’s the hardest part of being neutral.”
It will be even harder on Saturday against the Golden Bears of the Pac-12 Conference. Like Wichita State, they have won three of their first four and two in a row en route to the Los Angeles event. On November 16, they beat Idaho 84-71.
After Saturday’s game, Montana will take five days off before playing in Washington state on December 2. Lady Griz’s next home game is December 8 against Grand Canyon.
Bill Speltz is the Missoulian Sports Editor and has been a Sunday columnist for the past 16 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at [email protected]