MISSOULA — Just when it appeared the Montana Lady Griz gained some traction, the basketball gods threw down another fresh sheet of ice on the trail.
It's been that way for most of two seasons now. Earlier this week, forward Jace Henderson became the fourth starter to be knocked out of the lineup because of an injury.
Unlike Sophia Stiles, Kayleigh Valley and Alycia Harris, Henderson's injury will not keep her out long. She's day-to-day with a sprained ankle and coach Shannon Schweyen has to decide whether to play or rest her Friday night when the Lady Griz finish their regular season at Idaho State.
Because of Wednesday's loss at Weber State, the Lady Griz know for certain they'll be playing in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament Monday in Reno, Nevada. But they can still improve their seeding, moving up from seventh to fifth if things fall their way.
Beating Idaho State on senior night won't be easy. The Bengals are also fighting for the No. 5 seed, which would set them up for a first-round matchup in the Big Sky tourney against the last-place team, Southern Utah (3-25).
Idaho State currently sits in fifth in the league standings with a mark of 10-7 (18-10 overall). Like the Lady Griz (9-8, 13-15), the Bengals are coming off a loss, dropping a 61-60 home heartbreaker to Montana State Wednesday.
That was a rare setback at Reed Gym. The Bengals are 8-3 at home this season.
"I think everybody in the league agrees that maybe they are one of the most physical teams," Schweyen said. "That will always be a key, to not be out-physical-ed.
"We had two broken noses when we played them last year. Sierra (Anderson in Pocatello) and then Kenzie (Johnston) at the (Big Sky) tournament. They get after you and they’re big and strong. We go from real quickness playing Weber State to real physical."
Idaho State has one of the Big Sky's most balanced attacks, with five players averaging between 9.6 and 13.4 points per game. The Bengals lead the league in both field goal percentage (45.4) and field goal percentage defense (37.3).
Montana must find a way to contain 6-foot forward Grace Kenyon, who is playing at a first-team All-Big Sky level. She had a triple-double earlier this year against Utah Valley and almost had another in late February against Portland State.
"You have to really be communicating defensively because they run a lot of things and have multiple kids that can score," Schweyen said. "And you can't just key on one kid. You have to be on the same page and that will be huge for us."
Beyond the players, Idaho State has one of the best coaches in the conference in 10th-year skipper Seton Sobolewski. He has led the Bengals to the Big Sky tourney title game the last two seasons, doing it the hard way without a first-round bye.
Needless to say, Friday's winner is going to feel a lot better about its chances heading into the Big Sky tourney.
"It would be nice to go into the tournament with a little bit of momentum and feeling like you're coming off a good one," Schweyen said.