By ERIC TABER
On paper, it looked like if the Montana Grizzles played a flawless game, it would match up fairly evenly with the Kansas Jayhawks in terms of size in the post and style of play, just as it did against Gonzaga two weeks previous.
In the pregame head-to-head comparison though, there was one number that jumped out: 90. As in the 90 points per game that KU was averaging coming into Saturday’s game in Lawrence.
Compare 90 to the Grizzlies’ 67 point average, and you begin to see why the high flying Jayhawks were able to handle the Griz 88-46 in a sold out Allen Fieldhouse. That 90 points per game also is an indicator that No. 2 Kansas is playing some of the best basketball in the nation right now.
In a game that resembled a 16/1 seed matchup in the NCAA tournament (which it very well could be following conference play), Montana (4-6) couldn’t buy a bucket, shooting 26 percent from the field while Kansas (9-1) played with all the skill, speed and panache of a team loaded with future NBA talent, running away with a win that was never really in doubt for the home team.
“Like I told them in the locker room, that’s probably the last time this year you’re going to see that length, that athleticism, that girth and to go into a situation like this on the road,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire in his post game radio interview.
“We’ll be OK, we just need to take care of our bodies, be healthy and take advantage of this break after our next game, and come back with some fuel.”
The Griz shot 14-53 from the field in the game, and 6-19 from behind the three-point line to suffer its biggest defeat of the nonconference season. Martin Breunig was held to just nine points in 26 minutes, and was unable to be his normal dominant self after the senior forward picked up his third personal foul just moments into the second half.
The Jayhawks on the other hand shot 57 percent from the floor, were getting clean looks behind the three-point line to shoot 44 percent, and were able to outrebound the Griz 44-26 with a bigger, more physical team from one to five.
“That’s where the learning experience is, it teaches you to value the details of the game. You’ve got to do everything right to come in here and win this game, and minimize your mistakes. We’ve got a long way to go in that regard,” said Coach DeCuire.
The Grizzlies were led in scoring by Brandon Gfeller who went 3-6 on three’s to finish with a total of 12 points, the only scorer to reach double figures for Montana. The normally sharp shooting Walter Wright went just 2-10 from the field for UM, and tallied just seven points in total.
The Jayhawks were led by forward Perry Ellis with 18 points, who matched up well with Martin Breunig before foul trouble took Montana’s highest scorer out of the game.
In total, KU had four players in double figures, with Wayne Selden Jr. putting in 11, Brannen Greene adding 11 on 3-4 from behind the arc and 10 points from sophomore Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk.
The Grizzlies hung with the Jayhawks to open the game, going shot for shot, and trailing 7-9 after four minutes. KU then went on a 16-5 run over the next seven minutes to go up 29-12 and never looked back. Going into the halftime break , the Griz trailed 44-24 and were down, but not out as a second half run could have pulled UM back in it.
The comeback was not in the cards however, as Wayne Selden Jr. and the Jayhawks came out of the locker room on fire, scoring the first 12 points of the half, punctuated by a Selden dunk to open the half.
Kansas would power through the half on a 44-13 run with 3:55 remaining in the game, when the Griz went on its biggest run of the afternoon, scoring the last nine points of the contest, including a pair of threes from Brandon Gfeller.
In the end, the late run was too little, too late as KU moved to 9-1 with the 88-46 home victory, and UM fell to 4-6.
“The biggest thing for us is competing, being strong mentally. There were some adverse situations that got away from us, and I don’t think we fought through them. We’ll get better,” added Coach DeCuire.
The Grizzlies will get one final opportunity to fine tune its game before Big Sky Conference action starts on new year’s eve, when UM hosts Montana Western of the NAIA on Tuesday, Dec. 22. Tipoff for that game is set for 1:00 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.