By ERIC TABER | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
The Montana Grizzlies embark on its second Big Sky road trip of the season, heading to Grand Forks, North Dakota the long way, via Greeley, Colorado as the Griz look to remain undefeated in league play against Northern Colorado and North Dakota.
The Griz and UNC Bears will tip off in a rematch of last season’s wild triple-overtime Griz victory in Greeley on Thursday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m., before heading to Grand Forks to face UND at 1 p.m. (MT) on Saturday, Jan 16.
THE ROAD TRIP: Montana hits the road at 9-6 overall and 4-0 in Big Sky play, but just 2-6 on the road so far this season. The Griz needed two overtimes against Northern Arizona to walk away from its first road trip of the year undefeated. The UNC/UND road trip has proven tricky so far this season, with Eastern Washington coming away winless, while Idaho was able to navigate the waters and pick up the road sweep.
WATCH: Griz fans in the Denver metro area can watch the Montana/Northern Colorado game on Comcast Entertainment Television (CET – Ch. 900 HD), a Comcast network available only on XFINITY TV service in the Comcast Colorado cable footprint. Currently CET is available in approximately 900,000 homes in the Denver area.
The Montana/North Dakota game can be seen nation wide on Fox College Sports – Pacific and regionally in the North Dakota market on the Midco Sports Network. Alex Heinert will bring you the play-by-play at UND, with Greg Stemen providing color commentary.
Both games can also be seen live via web stream for FREE at watchbigsky.com
SERIES HISTORY: The Griz lead the all-time series with both Northern Colorado (19-7) and North Dakota (9-8).
LAST MEETINGS: Montana swept the home-and-home series with both UNC and UND last season, beating the Bears 66-48 in Missoula, then following it up with a 74-63 win over North Dakota.
Montana opened the return road trip battling to a 65-61 win in Grand Forks, led by Jordan Gregory and Martin Breunig, who combined for 35 points and 14 rebounds.
The return trip to UNC was a memorable one, with the Griz pulling out an 83-81 win in triple-overtime on two clutch Jordan Gregory free throws with 2.2 seconds left in the third OT period. Brandon Gfeller was the hero for the Griz that night though, canning a three pointer with just 0.2 seconds left in the second overtime to keep Grizzly hopes alive in the third OT. Gfeller scored a team-high 21 points and tied his, then, career high of seven three-pointers.
GRIZ TRACKS: Walter Wright earned Big Sky co-Player of the Week honors after scoring 38 points and dishing out 21 assists over the course of two wins for the Grizzlies last week.
Against Sacramento State, Wright dished out 12 assists, just two shy of tying the school record of 14 set by Nate DuChesne in 1989 against Simon Fraser.
Wright’s nod from the league was the second in as many weeks for UM, with Brandon Gfeller taking Player of the Week honors following Montana’s road sweep of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.
Montana is averaging over 82 points per contest during Big Sky play so far this season. The Grizzlies entered league play averaging 65 points per game. That’s a 17 point difference that has increased UM’s overall average to just over 70 PPG.
On the other side of the ball, the Grizzlies continue to produce one of the most stifling defenses in the league, holding opponents to just 67 PPG, the second best scoring defense in the Big Sky behind Idaho’s 65 PPG. The net result is a +3.1 scoring margin, the third best in the Big Sky.
Over the course of four conference games, Walter Wright and Martin Breunig have equaled each other’s output, averaging 16.8 PPG each. The Grizzlies now have four players scoring in double figures, with Brandon Gfeller averaging 15.5 PPG, and true freshman Michael Oguine averaging 13.8 PPG.
Junior guard Jack Lopez is knocking on the door to a double figure average on 8.5 PPG following a career-high 21 points against Sac. St. Lopez has started for Montana in each of the past five games, his first five career starts.
Martin Breunig has continued his stellar senior season for the Griz, picking up fifth and sixth double-doubles of the year last week against Portland State and Sacramento State. His season average is just 0.8 rebounds shy of double-double figures, with 17.3 PPG (the sixth best in the Big Sky), and a 9.2 boards per game average. His six double-doubles are the second most in the league this season behind Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy, who has picked up a whopping 15.
SCOUTING THE BEARS: Northern Colorado may be the most dangerous 4-12 (1-2 BSC) team in the league, taking home wins over Eastern Washington and Colorado State already this season. The Bears are averaging over 75 points per game, but allowing a league worst 83 PPG from its opponents.
Junior guard Dallas Anglin is averaging 18.4 points in just eight games for the Bears, but are led in scoring by another junior guard, Anthony Johnson, who has averaged 14.4 PPG over 16 games.
SCOUTING THE FIGHTING HAWKS: The Griz will have to contend with the Big Sky’s leading scorer at North Dakota. Junior guard Quinton Hooker averaged 23.5 PPG over UND’s last two games at Weber State and Idaho State, bringing his season average to 19.1 PPG.
Hooker is the only Fighting Hawk that is averaging double figures on the season though, as UND ranks ninth in the Big Sky in scoring as a team, one place above the Grizzlies, averaging 70.3 PPG. Defensively, UND is allowing 70.5 PPG as compared to UM’s 67.1.