Halfway Through Big Sky Play, Montana is Taking ‘One-Game-At-a-Time’ Approach

By NIC HALLISEY

Montana reached the midway point of the conference season last weekend, defeating Northern Arizona to improve to 9-0. The Grizzlies have by far been the top offensive and defensive team in the league through the first five weeks, but will get a challenge this week on the road, traveling to Northern Colorado (Thursday) and North Dakota (Saturday).

When Montana and Northern Colorado met on Jan. 4, UNC made 14 three-pointers to cut a 21-point deficit to just six points, before eventually falling by nine – UM’s closest margin in Big Sky play.

“There are a couple things that Northern Colorado does different than any other team,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “They shoot the ball and they spread you out. When we did a good job with the ball screens and penetration, and not leaving shooters, we kept their field-goal percentage low, and that’s when we got up by 21.”

Montana has held its last three opponents to 54.3 points per game and has the best three-point defense in Big Sky play. Both will be key against the Bears, who average more than 80 points and nine three-pointers per game.

Montana is riding a nine-game winning streak overall, including five consecutive wins on the road. Tipoff on Thursday is scheduled for 7 p.m. MT. In addition to airing on Comcast Entertainment Television in Colorado, Griz fans worldwide can watch the game on Pluto TV and WatchBigSky.com.

“It’s all about finding ways to get better and focusing one game at a time,” DeCuire said. “I want the guys to enjoy this; it’s part of the process, but so is working hard and preparing. You have to find a way to enjoy working toward the next one instead of celebrating the last one.”

Jr. Guard, Ahmaad Rorie. Photo Courtesy of GrizzlyAthletics.

JUST KEEP WINNING
Montana’s nine-game win streak is the longest under Travis DeCuire, and is tied for the eighth-longest active streak in the NCAA.

In more than a century of basketball at the university, Montana has reached nine consecutive victories 13 times (nine times against all-Division-I teams). The current nine-game winning streak is tied for the ninth-longest active streak amongst all Division-I opponents.

“We’re just trying to stay hungry,” Travis DeCuire said. “Any hint of complacency we deal with it right away, but I haven’t seen much of it. They’re playing for the bigger picture. They’re playing together. When you get a group willing to give up for the better of the whole, you’ve always got a chance to win, and right now we have a lot of guys doing that.”

STARTING STRONG
Montana is off to a 9-0 start to begin Big Sky Conference play, marking the second time in the Grizzlies’ 55-year history in the league. The Grizzlies also did it in 2012-13, winning their first 12 games.

Head Coach, TravisDeCuire.

21 GAMES IN
At 16-5 through 21 games, Montana is off to one of its better starts in school history. The Grizzlies have begun a season 16-5 or better 10 times prior to this season, most recently in 2012-13 (17-4 through 21 games).

16 AND COUNTING
Saturday’s victory over Northern Arizona not only extended Montana’s winning streak to nine games, but also matched last year’s season win total. The Griz went 16-16 a year ago, but now are on pace to reach the 20-win plateau for the third time in Travis DeCuire‘s four seasons. Montana is guaranteed to finish .500 or better for the 10th consecutive season.

ROAD STREAK
While Montana owns a nine-game winning streak overall, the Grizzlies’ five-game road win streak is tied for the seventh-longest actively in the NCAA. The Grizzlies trail Saint Mary’s (12), Purdue, ETSU, New Mexico State and Bucknell (7), and Old Dominion (6).

After losing four consecutive road games throughout November and December, the Grizzlies have now strung together five consecutive road wins. It marks the team’s first five-game road winning streak since winning five in a row to begin conference play in 2015-16. The team last won six consecutive road games January-February 2013.

SERIES VS. THE BEARS
Montana owns a 21-8 record against Northern Colorado, not including a 1976-77 victory that was vacated. The Grizzlies have won 10 of the last 13 in the series and are 8-5 in Greeley.

Travis DeCuire is 5-1 against the Bears, most recently beating them, 89-80, on Jan. 6 in Missoula. Four Grizzlies scored in double figures that night, led by Jamar Akoh‘s 34 points and eight rebounds. As a team, Montana shot 51 percent from the floor. UNC was led by Andre Spight, who scored 26 points and made six of UNC’s 14 three-pointers. The Grizzlies out-rebounded the Bears, 40-25, and scored 46 points in the paint.

Michael Oguine has scored in double figures in all four games against the Bears, while Ahmaad Rorie has done it in both games he has played in.

SCOUTING NORTHERN COLORADO

  • Northern Colorado enters Thursday’s contest with a 14-8 overall record, including a 5-4 mark in Big Sky play.
  • The Bears are 8-2 on their home court, winning two in a row and eight of their past nine.
  • UNC ranks third in the Big Sky, averaging more than 80 points per conference game.
  • Both Montana and UNC rank in the top three in the Big Sky for three-point defense and turnover margin.
  • Andre Spight ranks third in the Big Sky with 22.1 points scored per league game. He also ranks second in the league with 4.3 assists per game and third with 3.1 three-pointers made per game (31st). As a team, UNC ranks second in the Big Sky with 9.1 three-pointers made per game.
  • In addition to Spight, UNC has two additional players that rank in the top 15 in the conference for three-point shooting percentage.
  • Jonah Radenbaugh and Spight both rank in the top five in the Big Sky for minutes played.
  • Spight and Jordan Davis rank in the top 10 for scoring.
  • Jeff Linder is in his second season leading the Bears. UNC went 11-18 (7-11 BSC) a year ago.

LEADING THE BIG SKY
Through nine games, Montana holds a 2.5-game lead in the Big Sky standings. The Grizzlies, though, also are atop the conference for many offensive and defensive statistical categories. The Grizzlies rank first for:

  • Scoring offense (83.8
  • Scoring defense (66.1)
  • Scoring margin (+17.7)
  • Field-goal percentage (.500)
  • Field-goal percentage defense (.378)
  • Three-point field-goal percentage (.438)
  • Three-point field-goal percentage defense (.329)
  • Steals (9.2)
  • Turnover margin (+4.9)
  • Assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2)

The Grizzlies also rank second for rebounding (37.0 and rebounding margin (+3.9).

Photo Courtesy of GrizzlyAthletics.

NATIONAL RANKING
Montana cracked the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll for the first time this season on Jan. 15, and following three more wins has moved up to No. 16 in this week’s poll. The Mid-Major Top 25 ranks the top teams from the America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast and Western Athletic conferences, in addition to independents.

The Grizzlies earned 294 points in this week’s poll, nearly twice as many as the prior week (153). The poll, now in its 19th season, is voted on by 31 head coaches.

PLAYING FROM IN FRONT
Through nine Big Sky games, the Grizzlies have trailed for just 49 minutes, 46 seconds out of 360 total minutes (13.7 percent). More impressive, they have trailed for just 6:43 in the second half.

SHARP SHOOTERS
Two Big Sky athletes rank in the top 15 in league play for field-goal percentage, three-point shooting and free-throw percentage. Both play for the Grizzlies.

Ahmaad Rorie ranks 15th for field-goal percentage (.496), seventh for three-point shooting (.486) and third for free-throw percentage (.935). Michael Oguine ranks seventh (.551), sixth (.500) and 11th (.814).

TERRIFIC TRIO
Montana is the only school in Big Sky play to have three players rank in the top 20 for scoring, with juniors Ahmaad Rorie (18.6; eighth), Michael Oguine (17.9; ninth) and Jamar Akoh (16.4; 11th) accomplishing the feat.

Rorie has been in double figures 19 times this season – including 20-plus on 11 occasions. Oguine has been in double figures in all but two contests, while Akoh has accomplished the feat in 12 of his past 14 contests, including four double-doubles.

TRENDING

  • Montana is undefeated at home this season (9-0).
  • The Grizzlies are a perfect 13-0 when leading at halftime, compared to 2-5 when trailing.
  • UM is 12-2 in games decided by double digits.
  • The Grizzlies are 8-0 when scoring 80 or more points, and 14-1 when scoring at least 70 points.
  • Montana is 11-1 when opponents score fewer than 70 points, with the exception coming in a three-point loss at Washington.
  • Montana is 11-0 when shooting above .450.
  • Montana is 6-0 when opponents shoot .400 or worse.
  • The Grizzlies are 7-0 when holding a better three-point percentage and 9-1 when shooting more free throws.
  • Ironically, the Grizzlies are 4-0 when opponents make eight or more three-pointers.
  • Montana is 14-2 when turning the ball over less than its opponent.

BEST IN THE BIG SKY
Travis DeCuire is off to unprecedented success as head coach of the Grizzlies. In addition to his 73 wins and .613 winning percentage, DeCuire holds a 48-15 mark in Big Sky action (.762), by far the best of any Montana coach in school history. In fact, the winning percentage is currently the third-best in Big Sky history, and best among coaches with at least 40 wins.

FORCING TURNOVERS
Montana has forced at least 13 turnovers in every game this season and ranks among the nation’s best, forcing 17.00 turnovers per game (14th in NCAA). The Grizzlies have turned the ball over more times than their opponent just four times in 21 games and hold a +4.0 turnover margin (17th in NCAA).

On four occasions, Montana has forced 20 or more turnovers in a game, and in a win at Pitt (Nov. 13), the Grizzlies forced the Panthers into 19 turnovers, converting them into 30 points – an average of 1.58 points per turnover.

SIMPLE ROUTINE
Montana is one of 18 NCAA Division I schools to use the same starting lineup in every game this season, using guards Michael Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie, and forwards Jamar AkohFabijan Krslovic and Bobby Moorehead.

THREE-POINT SUCCESS
Through non-conference play, Montana ranked last in the Big Sky Conference for three-point field-goal defense (.388) and second-to-last for three-point offense (.284). However, the Grizzlies have turned things around and lead the league for both three-point shooting (.438) and three-point defense (.378) during Big Sky action.

The improvement was best seen last week in wins over Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Thunderbirds entered the contest averaging nearly 9 makes and 24 three-point attempts per game, but were held to just 1-of-11 shooting, with Montana’s mindset on taking away SUU’s go-to shot. Two nights later vs. the Lumberjacks, the Grizzlies made a season-most 12 three-pointers (42.9 percent) en route to victory.

50%
Montana is shooting 50 percent from the floor during its nine conference games, a league best. At home this season, the Grizzlies have made at least half of their shots in seven of their past eight games, including a season-high 62 percent vs. North Dakota (Jan. 4).

THE 1,000-POINT CLUB
Guard Michael Oguine became the 32nd member of Montana’s 1,000-point club on Saturday, scoring 23 points against Northern Arizona. The junior now sits in 31st place and is one of 14 players in UM history to reach the milestone in his third season. At his current pace, Oguine could finish his junior season with more than 1,200 points, which would rank in the top 16.

PULLING AWAY
Montana concluded the first half of Big Sky play with an 18-point victory over Northern Arizona (Jan. 27). After trailing early in the first half, Montana was able to take a seven-point lead into halftime by holding the Lumberjacks to just two made field goals over the final 10:57 of the first half. Following the intermission, Montana made 11 of its first 12 shots offensively, while forcing turnovers on six of NAU’s first seven possessions of the half. Just 6:29 into the second half, the Grizzlies had expanded a seven-point lead to 28 points.