Grizzlies Open Big Sky Season with 66-48 Win Over Northern Colorado

By DAVE GUFFEY | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

Head coach Travis DeCuire’s University of Montana Grizzlies started the 2015 new year in a big way by opening their Big Sky Conference season with a convincing 66-48 victory over the visiting Northern Colorado Bears Thursday evening in Dahlberg Arena.

Griz starters Martin Breunig, Brandon Gfeller, and Jordan Gregory combined for 57 points to lead the way, as Montana (4-7/1-0 BSC) snapped a three game losing streak in the win over UNC (5-7/0-1).

It was a nip-and-tuck opening half, which included eight lead changes and four ties. The Grizzlies made a game-changing run in the last five minutes of the first half when they out-scored the Bears 12-1 to take a 33-21 halftime lead.

The Bears had trailed by just one-point at 21-20 with 4:45 on a lay-up by senior forward Dominique Lee. However, after Lee’s bucket the Griz went on their scoring binge, and when Breunig scored on a highlight-reel dunk on an assist by Gregory, Montana jumped to its 12-point (33-21) lead at the break and never looked back.

UNC’s final lead was at 18-17 with 8:13 to go in the first half on a dunk by junior forward Cody Davis. Montana regained the lead (19-18) for good on a lay-up by Breunig at the 7:46 mark of the opening stanza.

“One of the things we talk about is we can always do better,” said first-year mentor DeCuire, who was coaching in his first career Big Sky contest. “We were playing pretty well, but I thought we could continue to execute better in the first half. We spent a lot of time on our defense when we got back from the break. We felt we were making progress but not really seeing the signs of it. Tonight was the first time we really had a chance to get everybody on one page.

After three straight 3-pointers by Gfeller in the opening minutes of the second half, Montana jumped to a 42-23 lead with 18:09 remaining, and led by at least 15 points the rest of the way.

“You want to make runs,” DeCuire said. “I feel if you can end a half and start a half on a run, you’re probably in pretty good shape. Typically, you want to start the game on a run, but that’s not always easy to do. I felt our two runs – end of the first half and beginning of the second half – put them away.”
The Grizzlies’ largest lead was 24 points at 60-36, and that huge advantage was established with a trey by Gregory with 8:16 left to play.

“For him (Gfeller), he’s a really good shooter,” DeCuire said. “It’s hard not to give it to him because he allows us to space the floor and get penetration for Mario (Dunn) Jordan and our posts. A guy like him is going to get those shots. He had two or three rattle out. I’d have liked to see him make seven or eight tonight.

“That’s one of the things you talk about is helping each other,” DeCuire said. “We talked all week about what can we do to make guys better and play to our strengths and do what we’re good at. We had three guys in double figures and Mario only takes two shots and he has (who had seven assists and one turnover). We never told Rio (Dunn) to take shots, but he was concentrating really hard on getting other guys off and we win because of that. He’ll figure out how to do that and score at the same time down the stretch.”

BBQGregory led the Griz with a game-high 24 points – his fifth game of the season and 10th of his career in which he has scored 20 or more points. Breunig added 18 points and pulled down a team-high 9 rebounds, while Gfeller added 15 and all of his points came from behind the arc. Freshman forward Fabijan Krslovic was one shy of his career-high with 8 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Cameron Michael was UNC’s only double-figure scorer with 15 points, while McDavis led the Bears with 9 boards off the bench.

The Griz tied their season-high with 11 treys, and also had a season-high 31 attempts from behind the arc. Montana out-rebounded the Bears 39-34.

UNC’s 48 points was a season-low by a UM opponent this season, as was the Bears’ 18 (of 49) made field goals, five assists, and three (tie) 3-pointers.

The Griz are back at home this Saturday, Jan. 3, hosting North Dakota (5-7/0-1) in a conference game, with a 7:05 p.m. tip-off in Dahlberg Arena. UND opened its league season with a 67-60 win at Montana State Thursday afternoon. The Bears play at Montana State Saturday afternoon.

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