By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies and Montana State Bobcats will square off for the 293rd time in school history this week as the Brawl of the Wild series continues in Missoula on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The Grizzlies (16-8, 11-2 BSC) seek their twelfth-straight victory over the cross-state rival Bobcats (12-13, 7-6 BSC), while also seeking to remain in pole position of the race for a Big Sky Conference regular season championship. UM is also seeking a top-four finish, giving the Griz a by in the first round of the league tournament.
WATCH: Both the Griz and Lady Griz games will be available to watch statewide on ABC/Fox Montana, and SWX in the Billings market. The Griz/Cat game will be seen on Fox Montana, while the Lady Griz will be seen on ABC Montana. Folks in Billings can see both on SWX.
Griz fans worldwide can tune in for free via web stream at WatchBigSky.com. The statewide radio broadcast will be on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, as well as via web stream worldwide at GoGriz.com.
SERIES HISTORY: The Griz trail the Cats 145-147 in the overall series. UM has rattled off 11 straight wins since the 2009-10 season.
BRAWL OF THE WILD: Montana currently leads Montana State 5-3 in the 2015-16 edition of the Brawl of the Wild series. Montana has won the trophy that measures overall head-to-head wins in each sport for the last three years, every year since its inception.
Northwestern Energy, Town Pump and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana are proud sponsors of this year’s Brawl of the Wild series.
GRIZ TRACKS: In the three weeks since the last time the Griz and Cats met on the hardwood in Bozeman, a lot has changed in the Big Sky men’s basketball race.
While the Grizzlies still hold the top spot in the league and are winners of three straight, the Bobcats are making noise. MSU set a new Big Sky Conference record for most three-pointers in a game, hitting 25 long balls against Northern Arizona last week en route to a 101-58 drubbing of the Lumberjacks that turned heads around the nation.
No doubt the Bobcats bring a hot hand to Dahlberg Arena on Saturday, but the Grizzlies have been one of the best in the nation in preventing the long ball, setting up an interesting matchup of hot shooting versus stifling defense.
In fact, the Griz have the nation’s forty first-best three-point field goal defense, holding opponents to 31.2 percent from behind the arc (a Big Sky best). Meanwhile, since their barrage against Northern Arizona, the Cats have climbed to No. 14 in the country in three-point field goals, connecting on nearly 10 treys per game.
As such, Montana head coach Travis DeCuire is expecting a totally different ballgame than played out in Bozeman a few weeks back.
“No question (MSU is a different team), and we need to be a different team. We played from behind in that game, and we can’t continue to spot people points and think that we’re going to win games,” said DeCuire.
“For us it’s all about our team defense. Just be in the right places, stick to your roles, and trust each other. Trust yourself and trust each other to be in all the right places, and at the end of the game, and the percentages should be where we want them.”
“We’re hungry. We want an opportunity to compete for a championship, so we know how important each game is, and how important our prep is. So right now our minds are in a good state, but we’ve got to sustain that,” he added.
Martin Breunig entered some pretty elite company this week, becoming the No. 4 highest scoring international student-athlete in all of Division I basketball, averaging 19.6 points per game. The nation’s No. 1 international player is Buddy Hield of Oklahoma (by way of the Bahamas), who is averaging 25.6 PPG.
Breunig is currently seventh in the nation in overall field goal percentage, making 66.2 percent of the shots he’s attempted this season, and during conference play, he’s making a whopping 71 percent of his attempts, a league best. Case in point: against NAU, he went 12-14, missing only two shots from the field.
Breunig also set a new career high for blocks in a game last week, turning away four shots against Southern Utah.
FRESHMAN IMPACT: True freshman Michael Oguine is having a truly special first year as a Grizzly. Amongst four-year players in Montana’s 1,000 point club, only Kevin Criswell averaged more points per game than Oguine, who is currently putting in 10.5 PPG. Criswell finished his freshman campaign with a 15.1 PPG average. Matt Martin is the closest behind Oguine, who averaged 9.4 PPG as a freshman.
For reference, Montana’s leading scorer in school history, Larry Krystkowiak averaged 4.9 PPG as a freshman, and Michael Ray Richardson averaged 7.5 PPG in his first year as a Grizzly.
Also making an impact during his first year as Griz is Walter Wright, a junior transfer from Snow College in Utah. Wright is No. 19 in the Big Sky in scoring so far this year, averaging 12.2 PPG, and is dishing out the third-most assists in the Big Sky at an average of 4.6 per game.
- Montana has received 19 points in the Mid-Major Top-25 this week, the only Big Sky team to receive points in the poll. For comparative purposes, only two of UM’s opponents this season are receiving votes: Pepperdine sits just below UM on the ranking, collecting 17 points, while Gonzaga is at No. 3 with 704 points.
- Martin Breunig has posted the most 20 point+ performances (14), and the second most 25 point + performances (6) than anyone in the Big Sky Conference this season.
- Breunig has also posted the second most double-doubles (10) in the Big Sky Conference this season
- The Grizzlies are 13-2 this season when leading at halftime, and 3-6 this season when trailing at halftime. Against MSU on Jan. 20, the Griz trailed the Cats 34-37 at the break.
- Montana is also 14-2 this year when winning the rebounding battle, and 2-6 when getting beat on the glass. In conference play, the Griz are third in the Big Sky in rebounding margin at +5.3, and second in defensive rebounding, averaging 29.9 boards per game. The Cats are first in the league in offensive rebounds however, at 13.2 per game. Expect the battle of the boards to be fierce on Saturday.
- Former Montana all-conference guard Jordan Gregory signed to play professional ball in Australia it was announced this week. He signed a one-year contract to play for the Rockhampton Rockets in Queensland.