By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies (7-6, 2-0 BSC) picked up the sweep of its first Big Sky Conference road trip of the season on Saturday, defeating the (3-9, 1-1) Southern Utah Thunderbirds 83-66 in Cedar City to follow up on its 90-84, 2OT road win at Northern Arizona on New Years Eve.
Montana shot a sizzling 53 percent from the field as the Griz dominated the T-Birds with a 24-point performance by Martin Breuing paired with 21 from Brandon Gfeller for 45 points between the two.
In addition to the white-hot shooting effort, the Griz were stifling on defense, holding SUU to 41 percent from the floor on 18-44 shooting, and outrebounding the T-Birds 39-20.
“We played phenomenal tonight defensively,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “We knew who their shooters were. They came out and made some shots early. We made some adjustments at timeouts and the guys responded, so I was happy with our defense tonight.”
The sweep on the road trip puts UM at 2-0 in the Big Sky, and gets the Grizzlies’ through one of the most challenging road trips of the season.
“This is a very difficulty trip,” DeCuire added. “It’s been 27 years since I’ve made this one, and I forgot how hard it is to get to Flagstaff and combine this one too. It’s been a long trip for us, and we’re happy to get out of here with two wins.”
The win at SUU caps off a tremendous weekend for both Martin Breunig and Brandon Gfeller. Breunig took a personal haul of 39 points over two games, and Gfeller shot lights out from behind the arc putting down 45 points on 14-24 from three point range on the weekend.
“We’re doing a good job of moving the ball,” Coach DeCuire added. “They’re collapsing on penetration on Walter and they’re doubling Martin, and it’s leaving Gfeller wide open, and right now his percentage is starting to catch up.”
Martin Breunig’s average is up to 17.8 points per game, while Brandon Gfeller upped his season average from 9.5 points per game, to 11.5 over the course of the last two games.
All told, the Griz had four players in double figures against Southern Utah. Junior guard Walter Wright put in 10 points, while true freshman Michael Oguine had the only double-double of the game with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The Grizzly bench chipped in another 14 points, led by true freshman Bobby Moorehead with eight.
The first half was a back and fourth affair as each team came out aggressively, resulting in four separate lead changes in the first 10 minutes of the game.
Martin Breunig proved he was going to be hard to stop early on, scoring four of the first seven points with a quick jumper to open the scoring, and dunk that was preceded by a deep Walter Wright three.
Breunig put in 15 points in the first half, followed by Gfeller who had 12, and the Griz took command of the back and forth start to the game, and ran out to a 40 – 28 halftime lead.
Montana exploded out of the gates in the second half, going on a 25-10 scoring run in the first 10 minutes of the game, built largely on the shoulders of a 14-0 run after the first media timeout. Montana’s largest lead of the game (28) came at the end of that run, with just over 11 minutes to play, when Coach DeCuire emptied the benches to give out valuable minutes.
The Grizzlies 83 point haul was its second highest total of the season, second only to the 90 points UM scored at NAU on Thursday.
Montana returns to the friendly confines of Dahlberg Arena next week where it will look to keep its perfect home record in tact when Portland State and Sacramento State travel to Missoula on Thursday and Saturday, respectively. The Vikings and Hornets faced off on Saturday while the Griz were playing Southern Utah, with Portland State defeating Sacramento State 76-68 at home.