MISSOULA — It's been three years since the Montana women's basketball team started 5-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
It was former coach Robin Selvig's second-to-last season. His Lady Griz went on to win the Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles before losing to Notre Dame in the Big Dance.
The Lady Griz can match that start with a win Saturday afternoon at Dahlberg Arena. Momentum is on their side, especially at home where they've won four in a row.
But beating upstart Portland State is not going to be easy. The Vikings are 3-1 in league play and on Thursday snapped Montana State's 31-game home win streak with a 69-60 decision.
It's Montana's biggest game to-date under coach Shannon Schweyen and she likes the way her team is playing.
"I love the way they're coming together," said the coach, whose squad holds a share of the Big Sky lead with Northern Colorado. "Our depth has been great for us, playing hard minutes when they're out there and then cheering for each other all the time.
"We talked in the locker room (Thursday) about how we need to make sure we take care of business at home and then hopefully sneak out some road wins. We've got a tough team rolling in Saturday."
Portland State was particularly hard on Montana last season, beating the Lady Griz by 20 points at Dahlberg Arena and 23 at the Stott Center. Montana had a tough time cracking the Vikings' defense.
"They're a really big, aggressive team and we really struggled with their zone last year," said Montana's Madi Schoening, one of three team members to start as a freshman last winter. "I don't think we'll make the same mistakes this time. We're smarter and more selective with our shots."
Key to Montana's strong league start has been dependable defense and improved shooting. The Lady Griz rank No. 1 in points allowed in Big Sky competition (60.6 average) and they're shooting at a 38.4 percent clip in five league games.
Montana will have its hands full with Portland State junior guards Ashley Bolston and Sidney Rielly.
The 6-foot Rielly posted a team-high 18 points at Montana State, extending her streak of double-digit scoring games to 16 dating back to last season. She ranks third in the Big Sky at 19.9 points per game and has hit 15 for her last 29 shots.
The 6-2 Bolston scored a season-low 15 points in the Vikings' win at Montana State. But she has averaged 19.3 per game in league action and has posted double-digit points in 13 straight contests dating back to last year.
"She is a marquee player," Schweyen said of Bolston. "She makes what they do defensively much better, just because of her size. She is a big body at the top of their zone.
"... You have to have a combination of an inside and outside game if you’re going to be successful against them."
Considering the Lady Griz will play five of their next seven games on the road, Saturday is critical. Montana is 7-3 at Dahlberg this season and 1-3 in true road contests.