By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies’ challenging nonconference schedule reaches its zenith on Saturday, Dec. 19 as the Griz (4-5) travel to one of college basketball’s ancestral homes, Phog Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, to take on the nation’s No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (8-1).
Tipoff from Allen Fieldhouse is set for noon Mountain Time on Saturday on ESPN3. Dave Armstrong will provide the play-by-play and Chris Piper will serve as analyst.
Montana is coming off its fourth-straight win at home on Tuesday, with a scrappy 79-59 victory over the Great Falls Argos during finals week. With testing out of the way, the Griz depart for Lawrence on Friday, seeking to quiet the 16,000 strong at Phog Allen, and give UM its first road win of the season.
The Jayhawks are coming off a come-from-behind 82-67 victory over former Montana coach Wayne Tinkle’s Oregon State Beavers on Dec. 12 in Lawrence.
The Grizzlies have proven its mettle against highly touted teams by defeating Boise State 74-72, which, at the time were receiving top-25 votes, and taking the nationally ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to the wire on the road.
“Get back on defense, execute offense, handle their pressure and rebound the ball,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire on his team’s focus on beating KU.
“For us, we just have to be disciplined, and go out and not make mistakes. If we don’t beat ourselves we can play with anyone. That’s the biggest thing for us to overcome is mental mistakes that cost us. If we can minimize those we’ll be fine.”
SERIES HISTORY: Saturday’s contest will be just the second time UM and KU have faced each other in program history. The Jayhawks lead the series 1-0 with a 68-56 win on Dec. 1, 1962. It was the season opener for both teams that year, and the first game for Griz head coach Ron Nord.
The Jayhawks are 16-0 all-time against Big Sky Conference opponents, including a 109-72 victory over Northern Colorado to open the 2015-16 season.
KEYS FOR THE GRIZ: The Big Sky Conference’s fourth leading scorer, senior forward Martin Breunig, who also brings the league’s second best field goal percentage to KU, leads the Grizzlies, averaging 18.3 points per game.
Breunig has scored 20 points or more in five of the Grizzlies’ nine outings this year, and has posted three double-doubles
In each of Montana’s four victories this season, the Griz have scored over 70 points, including 74 to defeat Boise State of the Mountain West conference, and 80 to earn UM’s first victory over the University of San Francisco in the West Coast Conference.
Montana has the Big Sky’s third-best scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 66.8 points per contest. The Griz also bring the conference’s second best three-point defense, holding opponents to .301 so far this year. However, the normally hot-shooting three-point Griz currently have a league-low .283 average from behind the arc. UM has been fierce on the boards though, outrebounding its opponents 314-309, and averaging 34.9 per game.
Junior guard Walter Wright is shooting an average of 10.6 points per contest, followed closely by true freshman Michael Oguine with 9.9 PPG. Junior guard Brandon Gfeller earned the Player of the Game award against Great Falls after a 17-point outing that consisted of 5-7 from three-point range. Gfeller is right there amongst Montana’s leading scorers, with a 9.7 PPG average.
SCOUTING THE JAYHAWKS: Kansas leads the Big 12 in scoring with an average of 90 points per game, and field goal percentage at .522. In six of its eight victories this season, the Jayhawks have won by 10 or more points. KU’s only loss came to the current No. 1 seed Michigan State at the State Farm Champions Classic in Chicago, falling 73-79 to the Spartans.
Junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. leads Kansas in scoring at 16.6 points per game after his 22 points against Oregon State. Selden also leads the Big 12 in 3-point field goals made at 3.3 and 3-point field goal percentage at 60.0 percent, which is fifth nationally. He is fourth in the league in scoring.
Senior F Perry Ellis is second on the KU team in scoring at 14.3 points per game and leads KU with 5.9 rebounds per contest.
Kansas Coach Bill Self on the Griz:
- What does Montana bring to town?
BILL SELF: “Well, they’ve been a little bit inconsistent, kind of like us. They’ve obviously had the last shot against Gonzaga at Gonzaga to send it to overtime and had the lead with a minute left, and then Gonzaga had a player, a freshman, make a couple of plays to actually give them the lead back.
“They are very good, experienced inside, (they’ve) got a guy that can certainly score on the block and plays well beyond his standing height, and then they’ve got some quick guys on the perimeter.”
UP NEXT: The Griz return home for one final nonconference outing against Montana-Western on Dec. 22 before opening Big Sky play on the road at Northern Arizona on New Years Eve for a noon tipoff.