Walter Wright: Welcome to Montana basketball.
In his first game wearing maroon and silver, junior guard Walter Wright lit up the scoreboard for 31 points and led the Montana Grizzlies to an 83-64 exhibition win over the DIII Whitworth Pirates on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies shot 56 percent from the floor and 31 percent from the three-point line to battle out of a slow start to the second half, going on a 31-8 run to pull away with the victory. It was Montana’s second win over the Pirates in as many years.
The win was also the first in Coach Travis DeCuire’s second season at Montana, who used the exhibition to spread the minutes to the many new faces on the team. All told, five players scored eight points or more with Riley Bradshaw being the only other Griz in double figures with 10 points.
“There were some things out there for us that we missed, but I’ll take 56 percent from the floor,” said DeCuire. “Holding them to 12 percent from the three, only two three pointers made, if we can continue to do that on a continual basis we’ll be fine.”
Wright was a man possessed with ball in hand, shooting 14-19 from the field with seven assists and four rebounds to complete a dominant performance.
“He did what he does well, you know, get to the rim and finish,” said DeCure of Wright. “He plays well in space. So we provided that space for him to do what he does, but that’s one great outing for his first division one basketball game.”
Also making an impact for the Griz was sophomore Fabijan Krslovic who was a single point away from a double-double, pulling down 10 rebounds to go along with nine points.
Still, the Grizzly performance showed signs of a little rust that needed to be shaken off. After taking a seven-point lead into the halftime break, the Pirates came out firing in the second, taking a 43-44 lead three minutes after the break.
Once the Pirates turned up the intensity, that’s when Wright turned up the aggression.
“My teammates and coach just told me to stay aggressive. So when they tied the game up I just knew I had to stay on it,” said Wright. “We were running a ball screen. Their big was switching, and we just wanted to attack that mismatch.”
Turns out, attacking the mismatch was the right thing to do, as Wright poured in a crucial 16 second-half points while UM’s normal go-to, Martin Breunig, was having a slow night.
While Whitworth battled to stay neck and neck, Coach DeCuire put in what proved to be his most effective combo on the night with Wright, Mike Oguine, Brandon Gfeller, Krslovic and Breunig, and the Griz put some space between themselves and the Pirates.
Breunig suffered foul trouble in the first half during a stretch where it seemed all the calls were going against the Griz, and ended up with only 13 minutes and eight points on the night.
With any exhibition, you want to use the opportunity to polish the look of your team before the regular season commences, and for Coach DeCuire, his Grizzlies did just that.
“It’s a learning experience. You want to learn from your exhibition games. There’s no reason to come out against a team you’re going to run away from by 40 or 50 points.
“For us, we had a chance to beat a top-10 team. That team’s going to win a lot of games this year, and they could have beaten us.”
The Griz had better learn from Tuesday’s experience quickly, as one of the season’s biggest games is up next for Montana, and it’s the first one on the schedule.
Former Big Sky Conference foe Boise State travels to Missoula to take on the Griz in UM’s regular season opener on Nov. 13. The Griz took the Broncos to double-overtime last season before falling 67-72 in Boise.
The Griz get the opportunity to repay the favor to last year’s eventual Mountain West champions. The Broncos, who are currently receiving votes in the preseason top-25 this season, fell to the Grizzlies 62-58 last time they visited Dahlberg Arena in 2006.
Tipoff for against Boise State is set for 7:00 p.m. in the Adams Center on November 13.