By ERIC TABER | Photo Gallery by WILLIAM MUNOZ
They don’t call it the Brawl of the Wild for nothing.
The Montana Grizzlies scrapped and clawed their way to an 87-78 victory over the Montana State Bobcats in a game that saw 55 fouls called between the two teams, giving Montana the sweep of their cross-state rivals in the Brawl of the Wild series this season.
The Griz received a total of 51 points from the hot hands of Brandon Gfeller and Michael Oguine on an unusually quiet night for the team’s leading scorers, Martin Breuing and Walter Wright, who totaled nine points apiece.
Oguine earned player of the game honors for the Griz, posting a new career high of 27 points for the true freshman, while Gfeller went 5-6 from three-point land to put up 24 points.
The future of Big Sky basketball was on full display, as Oguine and Montana State freshman Tyler Hall combined for 57 points between the two first-year players, with Hall leading all scorers on 30 points.
The Grizzlies move to 17-8 on the season, and 12-2 in conference play to remain tied at the top of the Big Sky table with Weber State. The Bobcats fall to 12-14 overall and 7-7 in league play, sitting in the middle of the table at seventh place.
On an uncharacteristically slow night for Breunig and Wright, head coach Travis DeCuire and the Grizzlies were forced to shuffle the cards, as Breunig was forced out of sync by the Cat’s physical play in the post, and Wright battled a bout of strep throat.
But with two men down, the door was left open for two others to step forward, and the result was a winning hand for the Griz.
“For us it’s a chess game,” said Coach DeCuire after leading Montana to its twelfth-straight win over Montana State.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces, and we just have to figure out which one they’re not paying attention to. Sometimes everybody thinks you’re coming with the queen, and we kill you with the rook, and we had to do that a little bit tonight.”
The game started in a back and forth manner, as it would be for a majority of the contest, with Brandon Gfeller draining the first of his three first-half treys in the opening minute of the game.
With the Bobcats answering each of the Grizzlies challenges, “3-Feller” kept the Griz hanging tough with the Cats, going 3-3 from behind the arc, and sinking a jumper to account for 11 points in the first five minutes of the game.
At the time, the Griz proved lethal with the deep ball, but couldn’t nail the bunnies in the opening quarter. Breuing and Wright couldn’t get the little shots to fall, and the Cat’s built a 23-15 lead halfway through the first period.
Oguine then took the reigns and sparked a 18-6 run for the Griz, scoring 10 points the last 10 minutes of the half to turn around Montana’s fortunes, and lead them to a 41-34 lead at the break.
Oguine went into the locker room with 17 points, the most of any players on the court at the time.
Gfeller got hot again to start the second half, nailing a pair of treys, one of which was an off balance fade away from the corner that extended the UM lead to 13 after a minute and a half of play.
The Cats battled back however, with Hall knocking down a pair of threes, Marcus Colbert popping a trey, then Hall capping off an 11-3 run for MSU with three free throws after being fouled behind the arc that brought the visitors within one at 53-54.
As the fouls mounted up, the Grizzlies inched their way ahead of the Cats with solid free throw shooting from Oguine, who was 12-14 from the charity stripe on the night.
The Grizzlies sealed the win in the last five minutes, going on a 14-7 run, and getting the season-high 6,522 fans on their feet as the Griz sent the Cats packing 87-78.
“We started playing by our rules,” said Coach DeCuire of the second half fight back that saw his Grizzlies fend off the Cats’ rally.
“We turned the table with our full court pressure and I think that made us a more aggressive team.
“I think once we got more aggressive with our defense we were better.”
Montana returns to the road next week to face its stiffest challenge of the league season, traveling to face the dangerous Idaho State Bengals on Thursday, Feb. 25, followed by a Saturday showdown with the Weber State Wildcats, with the top-spot in the conference on the line.
With the Lady Griz also picking up a victory over Montana State on Saturday, Montana now leads MSU 7-3 in overall Brawl of the Wild Series points for wins across all sports.
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