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Montana's Sophia Stiles earned her first start Saturday at Northern Arizona and responded with eight points and eight rebounds. She's expected to make her first home start Thursday against Northern Colorado.

TOMMY MARTINO, MISSOULIAN

MISSOULA — As Shannon Schweyen sat in her hotel room mulling Montana's situation Friday, one thought kept running through her head:

Do what's best for the team, even if it means bucking tradition.

So that's what the Lady Griz basketball coach did Saturday, taking her only senior out of the starting lineup and inserting true freshman guard Sophia Stiles. Anyone who knows anything about the Lady Griz and Schweyen's predecessor, Robin Selvig, knows that's quite the rarity.

The move worked wonders in a win at Northern Arizona and there's no backing down in Schweyen as her team prepares for a duel with Big Sky Conference preseason favorite Northern Colorado Thursday at Dahlberg Arena.

"Part of the reason I hadn't done something sooner was a product of being around that for 20-some years," Schweyen said, alluding to former coach Robin Selvig's ironclad policy of sticking with his starting lineups through ups and downs. "I kind of felt like this was the right thing to do, but yet this is the pattern I've know.

"Our starts have been bad and I felt like we needed to make a change. I remember when I was a freshman and I felt like I earned my chance and I was happy Rob (Selvig) gave it to me."

Stiles earned her start by scoring a game-high 26 points last Thursday in a win at Southern Utah. Her first start paid off for Montana when she scored the first seven points of the game Saturday, keying a win at Northern Arizona.

"We've been having to skew some things according to all these teams that have these four-guard lineups in the league," Schweyen said. "I think we have a better matchup playing more of a four-guard lineup off the bat. We got off to a good start at NAU."

Stiles said she was both excited and grateful to crack the lineup at NAU. Considering she played very little AAU basketball while attending Malta High School, the accomplishment was remarkable.

"I think Malta is just like a pretty big basketball town and Class B is pretty competitive," she said of her preparation for the college ranks. "I've just already grown up in the gym.

"I may not have done much AAU but I've played a lot of basketball. We have open gyms all the time in Malta and the high school boys and girls will call each other."

Montana will see a different Northern Colorado team the second time around.

Post Courtney Smith stung the Lady Griz for eight first-quarter points in sparking the Bears to a 68-50 home win on Jan 6. But Smith left Northern Colorado for an undisclosed reason last week.

"Obviously Courtney Smith not being with the team is a different dimension for them," Schweyen said. "Their backup post (sophomore Bridget Hintz) is a nice player though and they're still able to run the things they do well, even with Hintz taking over at that spot. They're probably getting more comfortable with her with the two games last week."

Stiles says her team needs to be better defensively this time around. Certainly the Lady Griz have a good defensive performance in them — they currently lead the Big Sky in fewest points allowed per game.

"I don't know if it was just like we didn't follow our game plan or we were just slow, but executing defensively will create a better outcome for us this time," Stiles said. "We've worked really hard to get here and we just want to keep working hard to stay here."

With first-place Montana clinging to a half-game lead over Weber State and a one-game lead over Northern Colorado, Montana State and Idaho, Thursday's game is critical. Schweyen is hoping for a large turnout of fans, calling the Bears "one of the best teams to come into Dahlberg this year."

Montana will lean on its league-leading defense and improved shooting, which keyed its first road sweep under Schweyen last week.

"I learned we can make some impressive runs and not just by halfcourt offense," Schweyen said of the road sweep. "We got a ton of transition (points) in that Southern Utah game, which is not necessarily something we've done since Mandy (Morales) and Sonya (Rogers) played."

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