For a team forced to stay up until 3 in the morning, the Montana Lady Griz sure showed a lot of fight Monday night.
With its flight cancelled Sunday afternoon, the team had to wait another seven hours before making the trip south to Wyoming. The Lady Griz finally arrived in Laramie at 2:30 a.m. on Monday.
Sixteen hours later, injury-depleted Montana gave the Cowgirls all they wanted at Arena-Auditorium. The Lady Griz trailed by just one point with under five minutes left but couldn't get over the hump, dropping their opener, 67-62, in front of 2,484 fans.
Considering the Cowgirls returned four starters from a team that went 23-10 last season, you could make the argument that Monday's road performance was the best by the Lady Griz since 2015.
"Extremely proud," Montana coach Shannon Schweyen told KMPT AM 930. "This is is a good environment here. (Wyoming) has a nice crowd and they get after it, and our girls just absolutely never said die.
"We were down nine in the first half and they kept battling. I'm so proud of the way they competed. It's been a while since we've been in a road game with a quality opponent like Wyoming."
Montana (0-1) was without the services of last season's scoring leader, guard Taylor Goligoski, who is battling a leg injury. Madi Schoening, Sierra Anderson and McKenzie Johnston picked up the slack in her absence, combining for 39 points.
"There were a lot of bright things tonight," Schweyen said. "I love the look in their eyes. They thought they could win this."
Schoening and Anderson shared the team lead in scoring with 14 points apiece, followed by Johnston with 11 and Jace Henderson with 10 to go along with her game-high eight rebounds.
"Jace was huge for us tonight," Schweyen said of the junior forward from Billings. "She played fearless. She gets the eight boards and she looked like she wanted the ball down there."
From the beginning, it was obvious Montana has improved a lot since last season, when it went 7-23. Johnston scored seven points in the first period, and her team trailed by just three after one period, 12-9.
True freshman Sophia Stiles of Malta scored a layup to pull the Lady Griz within one early in the second stanza. Wyoming (2-0) answered with a 9-2 run, but Montana finished out the half with a 9-3 run and trailed by just one at the half, 26-25.
"They're hard to guard — it's a tough action to be guarding all the time and the girls did a nice job," Schweyen said. "The girls took a lot of charges and it gave us a chance to be in the game."
Hailey Nicholson hit a jumper to put the Lady Griz on top 27-26 early in the third period. From there, the game went back and forth, and Montana trailed by just a point with 4:51 left, 52-51, after a jumper by Henderson.
From there, Wyoming seized control, 57-51, thanks to a Bailee Cotton bucket and free throw and a Liv Roberts drive to the hole. Montana crept back within three on a pair of Schoening free throws with 33 ticks left but failed to draw any closer.
"They were getting just as tired as we were," Schweyen noted. "We were a little thin with foul trouble, but we had really good looks at the end there.
"But to come in this environment and do this ... We reminded them that this is pretty much the same team we played at home last year and lost by 25. It's hard to not be extremely happy about tonight."
Roberts, a Missoula Sentinel grad, led the Cowgirls with 15 points. All but six of those came at the foul line where she hit nine of 10.