Editor’s Note: Photos from Thursday night’s Griz vs Idaho Game
By ERIC TABER | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
With the a rematch of last year’s Big Sky Conference tournament championship game in the cards, it didn’t take much for the Montana Grizzlies to get fired up to face the Eastern Washington Eagles, and it showed.
The Griz (12-7, 7-1 BSC) enacted revenge on the Eagles (9-10, 3-4 BSC) from last year’s loss with a fiery 74-69 victory in Dahlberg Arena on Saturday. Montana shot a season-high 58 percent from the field, and giving the nearly 5,000 in attendance plenty to cheer about.
Walter Wright and Martin Breunig combined for 51 points, nine rebounds and nine assist as the Grizzles rebounded from Thursday’s loss to Idaho with an unselfish and methodical win produced by 40 points in the paint for the hosts – just like Montana head coach Travis DeCuire drew it up.
“Guys came through when we needed it most. We didn’t take 30 threes, we wanted to attack the paint as much as possible, get high percentage shots and get the best shot for our team,” said DeCuire after the win.
“I thought we were a lot more patient tonight. We really stressed that, and we stressed the type of threes we would take.”
The Griz have averaged over 22 three-point attempts per game this season. Against the Eagles, they shot only 11, and were effective when they did so, netting 5 for a 45 percent average behind the arc.
Walter Wright earned player of the game honors with six assists and a career-high 25 points, comprised of five three-pointers and a bevy of circus shots from the field. The junior guard didn’t step off the court virtually the entire game, playing all 40 minutes, save about 15 seconds at the end of the game.
“You could tell in his eyes that he wanted the ball,” said DeCuire of Wright. “He turns the ball over on one, and comes right back at ‘em again. That’s playing with fire a little bit, but you’ve got to have that type of confidence to be successful, and he’s playing with a lot of that right now, so we’re happy with him.”
Just as dangerous and brimming with confidence was Breunig, who netted 26 points to lead all scorers. It was Breunig’s fourth game in a row scoring more than 20 points, and his tenth 20-plus point performance of the season.
Breunig also pulled down seven rebounds, dished out three assists and had pair of blocks, one of which was one of the night’s top highlights.
With a big rotation on the court for the Griz, Fabijan Krslovic was posting up under the hoop against EWU’s Venky Jois. When Jois attempted a hook shot over Krslovic, Breunig skied above both over them both and swatted Jois’ shot into the stands.
Also providing a spark for the Griz was junior guard Mario Dunn, who continues to work his way back from wrist surgery. Dunn put in six much needed points for UM right when it was needed, snapping a 19-7 run by the Eagles in the first half.
True Freshman Michael Oguine proved once again to be a senior-level handful for opposing defenses, netting eight points and six rebounds on the night, before succumbing to foul trouble.
As expected, the game was tight from bell to bell. The Grizzlies finished the game on a 14-5 run after Eastern tied the game with 6:11 left to play.
As time wound down, the Eagles were in a position to make a move on the lead when Jois hit a jumper to pull the visitors within three at 69-66. Wright answered right back for the Griz though, sealing the game with a spectacular reverse layin to put Montana up by five with 1:12 to play.
EWU hit back when Austin McBroom drained a three with 29 seconds to play, and the Eagles were down 69-71.
You could hear high school basketball coaches across the state screaming about the importance of free throws as Breunig hit three from the strip down the stretch, but Jois missed both of his on EWU’s final possession, and the Griz sealed the 74-69 victory.
The win over EWU puts the Grizzlies back on top of the Big Sky conference table at 7-1 in league play after Idaho State handed Weber State its first loss of the season on Saturday, and Idaho fell to Montana State in Bozeman. EWU remains winless on the road during Big Sky paly at 0-4.
Coming into the game, the Grizzlies led the Big Sky in three-point defense, holding opponents 31.2 percent per game, while the Eagles were ranked nationally in shooting the long ball, draining an average of 10.6 treys per outing. As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and while Saturday’s game wasn’t for a title, it had that feeling, and the Grizzly D held the Eagles to 6-20 from behind the arc.
UP NEXT: The Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats will face off for the 291st time in UM history next Saturday, January 30 in Bozeman. The Cats currently lead the all-time series with the Griz 144-147, but Montana has not lost a game to its cross-state rivals since the 2009-10 season.