Griz Pound ISU, But Where to Begin

By BILL SCHWANKE

You wouldn’t think there would be much to write about in a 71-52 basketball game, but actually it’s hard to know where to start.

So let’s start with Brian Qvale, Montana’s only senior, honored on Senior Night by more than 4,000 fans. Qvale absorbed a pretty good pounding underneath to tally 21 points and nine rebounds in just 28 minutes of playing time with his parents among those looking on.

You have to love the big guy’s demeanor. I mean, it would be easy to lose one’s temper under there, but he just comes back for more.

Next let’s talk about Montana’s defense which, because of a sluggish (should we say flat) start on the offensive end, was necessary to keep the Idaho State Bengals at bay until Mathias Ward came off the bench to provide a shooting spark.

That’s right, Mathias Ward.

The 6-7 sophomore who has to fill in for the much bigger and taller Qvale against guys generally bigger than himself simply popped in a couple of mid-range jumpers at a key time, then stepped out for a three ball, taking the Griz from a 9-7 deficit to a 14-9 lead.

Montana trailed ISU 9-4 with four minutes gone in the first half. It didn’t seem like that much time passed before the Griz led 44-21 with 14-plus minutes left in the game. That’s a 40-12 run over a 30-minute stretch.

And how about Joe O’Brien, Idaho State’s head coach, who doesn’t seem to understand when a game is over. O’Brien kept calling timeouts, drawing up what he must have thought were 20-point plays of some kind. He called one with 16 seconds left and his team down 69-52. Even Griz coach Wayne Tinkle looked at him like he was nuts.

But then it struck me. This guy’s a lot smarter than he acts or looks. O’Brien knew that all he had to look forward to was a trip back to Pocatello. When I figured that out, I couldn’t really blame him for trying to kill some more time.

And then there were the Big Sky Conference’s finest. Outside of the fact that O’Brien was complaining about calls when his team was pressing all night and only had four second-half personals with fewer than 10 minutes to go, I could understand part of his frustration.

People kept waiting for the stripes to get a handle on the game, but in order to do that they would have to know what a handle is. Idaho State players took enough free steps Wednesday night to log a half marathon, but the number of traveling calls remarkably small.

If you’re waiting for it to get better, don’t hold your breath.

The Griz had a red-hot night from the floor, hitting 56 percent overall and nearly 46 percent from downtown. Montana held Idaho State to 29 percent in the first half and 33 percent for the game.

Others in double figures for Montana were Ward with 13 and Kareem Jamar with 11. Jamar quietly did his work on the boards again, matching Qvale’s nine rebounds.

The game was important from the standpoint that Tinkle was able to give key players a rest, most notably Will Cherry, still working his way back from that ankle injury. Cherry, while limited to 29 minutes, dished out an amazing eight assists.

It wasn’t perfect. The Griz were outrebounded, albeit by just one, and again were sloppy against the zone defense, amassing 16 turnovers.

But when you defend like the Grizzlies do, you can get away with it. It’s a big reason why the Griz are 20-and-7.

Tomorrow the Grizzlies will bus to Spokane for the honor of catching a 5 a.m. flight Friday in Spokane on the way to California to play a Bracket Buster game against Big West leader Long Beach State Saturday night.

You can watch it at 9 Mountain Time on ESPN2.  Back to Griz and Lady Griz Hoops blog home page.

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“Grizzly Bill” Schwanke is a UM journalism grad and Missoula native.  He spent 21 years doing play-by-play for Griz football and men’s basketball winning sportscaster of the year six times and working in Grizzly athletics for 15 years total. He’s enjoying retirement, especially the chance to spend time with his three grandsons. His wife Lynn and he have been married for 42years.