By ERIC TABER
Walter Wright and Michael Oguine have never played against Montana State, never getting a taste of the intensity that comes with the Brawl of the Wild rivalry. But looking at the way they played on Saturday, you wouldn’t know it.
The true freshman and the junior transfer looked like seasoned Montana veterans in their first Griz/Cat game, putting down 45 points between them, and leading the Griz to a gritty 80-72 come-from-behind victory over the Bobcats in Bozeman.
The victory is Montana’s 11th straight over Montana State, (9-12, 4-5 BSC) putting the Griz at 13-7 overall this year. At 8-1, UM remains on top of the Big Sky table half way through the league season. It’s also the Grizzlies’ 5th straight road win, keeping them undefeated in conference action outside of Missoula.
In a back-and-forth contest, Montana rallied from an eight-point second half deficit with 12:30 to play, and sealed the win when Oguine drained a three-pointer from the corner with 49 seconds on the clock.
The Griz finished with three players shooting in double figures leading to the 80-point final score, the team’s fourth highest output of the season. Wright led all scorers with 24, followed by Oguine on 21 and 14 for Martin Breunig. Wright, a point guard, also added 10 rebounds to post the only double-double of the game.
As smooth as Oguine, Wright and the Grizzly offense looked, per usual, defense was the difference. After a couldn’t-miss start to the game for MSU, where the Cats shot 75 percent from the field in the first 10 minutes, the Griz fought back in the battle of the boards, outrebounding MSU 41-28.
Montana (one of the league’s best three-point defending teams) also held MSU (one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams), to just 30 percent from behind the arc and 42 percent from the field. Conversely, the Griz shot nearly 50 percent from the field, and 46 percent from long range.
“We put that on the board every day, said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “Defense wins.”
“You’ve got to give them some credit though. In the first half they made every open shot they got, but we figured some things out in the second half defensively.”
To start the game, Montana State was riding the energy of a full house and a rivalry game, jumping out to a 23-20 lead after 12 minutes of play, seeming to make every shot they took.
The Grizzlies on the other hand, relied on their inside game with Breunig and Wright putting in six early points each from short range to keep pace.
Customarily, the Griz defense and rebounding kept the game within reach, as UM collected 11 offensive rebounds in the first half to the Bobcats’ four, all of which came in the last 30 seconds of the half. Going into the break, MSU held on to a 37-34 lead, and it was anyone’s ballgame at that point.
After trading blows early in the second half, the Cats caught fire again, going on a 10-2 run that built up an eight-point advantage for the home team with 12:30 to play.
The Griz then stormed back, led by Wright and Oguine who were able to penetrate the lane and put up several head-scratching circus shots.
Montana weathered foul trouble as well, with five players picking up four personal fouls, but no one crossed the line and fouled out with five.
MSU would threaten UM’s lead though, trailing by three with a minute to play. But Oguine would make sure it was not to be, hitting the trey from the corner to ice the game for the Griz.
While Wright, Oguine and Breunig grabbed the headlines, the Griz received important minutes from the bench in the likes of Bobby Moorehead, who drained his second three of the night to put UM up for good at 66-64 with 4:36 to play, and Jack Lopez, who assisted Oguine on the game clinching three.
Montana starts the month of February, looking to keep its unblemished road record in tact at Sacramento State on Thursday, Feb. 4, and Portland State on Saturday, Feb. 6. The Griz defeated Sac. State 77-58 in Missoula earlier this season, and defeated Portland State 79-66 as well.
Montana State makes the return trip to Missoula for the second leg of the Brawl of the Wild series on Feb. 20. Tipoff is set for 7pm at Dahlberg Arena.