By ERIC TABER
In a season billed as one of the most challenging in program history, the Montana Grizzlies will set out on one of the most challenging road trips of the season this week, facing an Idaho State team (14-12, 9-5 BSC) that has been the surprise of the league this year, and perennial Montana nemesis Weber State (20-7, 12-2 BSC), with the winner cementing the No. 1 spot on the league table.
The Griz face Idaho State on Thursday, Feb. 25 in Pocatello at Reed Gym, then travel down I-15 to Ogden, Utah, to face Weber State on Saturday, Feb. 27 at the Dee Events Center.
COVERAGE: Both games are available to watch free of charge via live stream at watchbigsky.com. The Montana/Weber State game can be seen live on KJZZ TV in the Utah market only. Links to live stats and a live audio stream can be found at gogriz.com.
SERIES HISTORY: Montana is seeking win No. 100 over Idaho State in program history this week. The Griz lead the all time series with the Bengals 99-44, and leads the all-time series with Weber State 71-50.
The Dee Events Center in Ogden has been a notoriously tough place for the Griz to win over the last decade however. Montana’s last win at Weber was a 66-65 thriller in the 2009-10 Big Sky Conference Championship game when Anthony Johnson set a new school record with 42 points to send the Griz to the big dance.
UM’s last regular season win over WSU was way back in the ’03-’04 season under Pat Kennedy. The Wildcats have rattled off 11 straight regular season home wins against the Griz, a figure you can bet Montana Head Coach Travis DeCuire will be looking to change ASAP.
WHERE THEY STAND: The Bengals are jockeying for one of the coveted top-four spots in the league which would give them a first-round bye in Reno at the conference tourney. At 9-5 in Big Sky play, Idaho State is holding on to a one game lead over Idaho (9-6 BSC). A pair of wins this week over UM and MSU would go a long way toward helping the Bengals, who face Idaho on the last week of the season. Idaho has their own work to do, though, with Eastern Washington, Weber State and ISU all at home to finish the season.
Weber State has been a half-game back on the Griz for most of the league season, but is now tied with Montana at 12-2 in BSC play, but hold the edge over the Griz on overall record. While there are very few post-season certainties in the conference right now, the smart money is on UM and Weber State to earn one of the top-four spots and a bye in the first round of the tournament.
GRIZ TRACKS: This week’s games against ISU and WSU are where the rubber meets the road for the Grizzlies. While winning on the road is never easy in the Big Sky, the Grizzlies have a pair of road sweeps and only one conference loss under their belts this season. That winning formula and the momentum of an 87-78 home win against rivals Montana State could prove the difference maker this weekend.
“You want to play well going into this situation that we’re going into,” said Coach DeCuire.
“These are championship games. Like we said, every game is a championship game for us all year long, it has been in conference at least, and now there is truth to that. We’ve put ourselves in a pretty good situation, and now you’ve got to go on the road and win. We have confidence winning on the road, which is good.”
Also helpful is the fact that the Grizzlies are winners of 13 out of the last 15, with six of those wins coming on the road.
In fact, since the beginning of league play, the Griz have seen their production numbers rise exponentially. Montana entered their league opener at NAU averaging just over 65 points per game. That number has skyrocketed to a nearly 73 point per game average over the season thanks to averaging over 78 PPG in league play.
After UM’s 87-78 win over Montana State, the Griz are now 13-1 when scoring more than 75 points in a game.
On the rise in the scoring column for the Griz is true freshman Michael Oguine, who posted a new career high of 27 points against the Bobcats last week. Oguine is now third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 PPG in his first season as a Grizzly.
The Griz have four players averaging double digits in the score column, with Martin Breunig leading the way on a 19.2 PPG average, the second best scoring average in the Big Sky. Other players averaging double figures are Walter Wright (12.2), Oguine (11.2), and Brandon Gfeller, who is averaging 10.6 PPG.
“3-feller” has been Montana’s long-range deadly weapon. Of the 79 shots from the field he’s made this season, 70 of them have been a three-pointer. The junior from Colfax, Wash., is fifth in the Big Sky in three-point field goals made, averaging 2.8 per game.
SCOUTING THE BENGALS: Idaho State is enjoying one of its best seasons in recent history, thanks largely to the play of junior guard Ethan Telfair, the Big Sky’s third best scorer, who is averaging 19 PPG, just .2 points fewer than Martin Breunig.
The Bengals are one of only two Big Sky teams to defeat Weber State this year, defending their home gym on Jan. 23 when Telfair hit a game winning buzzer beater to defeat Weber 68-69.
SCOUTING THE WILDCATS: The Montana/Weber rivalry is always one of the closest contests in the league, and Saturday’s contest should be no different.
On paper, the Griz and Wildcats are posting similar numbers, both scoring in the mid-70s while holding opponents to 67 points, and both able to drain their shots behind the arc.
The wild card will be Joel Bolomboy, whose playing status is listed as day-to-day after suffering a knee injury on Saturday.
While averaging a solid 17.6 PPG, Bolomboy has been a monster on the boards, ranked second in the nation in rebounding at 13 per game. He has reached a double-double in 23 of his 27 games this season, second most in the nation, and is a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award. He is also the Big Sky’s all-time leader in rebounds, now with 1,248 in his career.
Guard Jeremy Senglin acts as the yin to Bolomboy’s yang, taking care of business from the perimeter for the Wildcats, while allowing Bolomboy to do work inside. Senglin is averaging 18.4 PPG for WSU, and leads the league in three-point percentage, making 46-percent of his treys.