By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies were held back by a cold shooting night, leading to a missed opportunity to beat Weber State for the first time on their home court in a regular season game since 2004, as the Wildcats held on to defeat the Griz 60-54.
The loss bumps the Griz down the Big Sky table into second place, putting them at 13-3 in the Big Sky and 18-9 overall. Weber State meanwhile, picks up their thirteenth-straight home win this season, and lays claim to first place in the Bit Sky Conference at 14-2 in league play, and 22-7 overall. The win was also the 1,000th for Wildcats as a D-I school.
Montana had its worst three-point shooting display of the season, making only two shots on 11 attempts. From the field, UM was 22-61, shooting an overall 36% from the floor.
The Griz were led in scoring by freshman Michael Oguine who had 21 points on 50 percent shooting, just one week after he posted a new career high of 27 points against Montana State. Oguine was the driving force for the Griz in the second half, scoring 14 points after the break as the Griz chased a 22-30 halftime lead for the Wildcats.
Martin Breunig was dominant early for Montana, scoring nine of the first 11 points, and finishing on 15 points.
But it was the basketball version of a pitcher’s duel at the Dee Events Center on Saturday, with both teams putting up a stifling defensive effort.
Coming into the game, Montana was averaging nearly 74 points per game, and Weber was averaging 78 PPG on the season. For the Grizzlies, the defense was there, but the shots just wouldn’t fall.
“Our defensive players did their jobs,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “You figure if you hold them to 39 percent, 27 from three, you win. The problem is that we couldn’t get the lid off the thing even from the free throw line. We win the glass 38-34, and we’re even on the turnovers, so we gave our selves an opportunity on the defensive end, we just couldn’t make a shot.”
The Grizzlies started the game with the lead, as Breunig asserted his will down low in the absence of Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy, who missed the game with a knee injury suffered last week.
The Griz jumped out to a 15-12 lead halfway through the opening period when Bobby Moorehead picked off a WSU pass and fed Oguine for the jumper to give UM a three-point lead.
Not long after though, the Griz went on the first of two long scoring droughts that turned UM’s lead into a 27-17 deficit, and kept the Griz out of the scoring column for over five minutes.
Oguine would add a circus shot layup to break the scoring drought, and the Griz entered the locker room down 22-30 at the half.
Montana came out of the halftime break on a tear, scoring the first eight points of the half in short order to tie the game at 30, thanks to a pair of jumpers from Mario Dunn, and four more points in the paint from Fabijan Krslovic and Oguine.
Breunig seemed to vent a little bit of frustration, throwing down a huge dunk just minutes later, after stealing the ball, feeding it to Wright, and getting the feed back for the slam.
Breunig’s dunk and a pair of Oguine free throws closed WSU’s lead to 35-34, but then the shooting drought reappeared.
For five more minutes, the Griz went scoreless, but the Montana defense was also airtight, allowing only two more points.
Bobby Moorehead snapped the drought with 7:54 to play, nailing the first three-pointer of the night for the Griz to tie the game at 37.
After tying the game again at 39, Weber State started to slowly pull away from Montana until Oguine started attacking the rim to draw fouls.
The plan worked, as Oguine scored 12 of Montana’s last 15 points, but it was too little, too late for the Griz as Weber State defended their home court with the 54-60 win.
THE GOOD NEWS: Montana returns home next week for the final two regular season games of the season as the Griz host North Dakota on Thursday, March 3 at 8 p.m., and Northern Colorado on Saturday, March 5, in a 2 p.m. tipoff.
Montana defeated both UND and UNC on the road earlier in the league season.
THE BETTER NEWS: Weber State is forced to take one of the Big Sky’s most difficult road trips to finish the season next week, traveling to face Idaho and Eastern Washington in Moscow and Cheney, respectively.