By Montana Sports Information
Fresh off an important home victory over the always tough Milwaukee Panthers, the Montana Grizzlies continue the program’s first All-D-I schedule on Wednesday in Dahlberg Arena with redemption on their minds.
After experiencing the high of defeating Boise State at home in 2015, the Griz made a trip to California and played what head coach Travis DeCuire calls “maybe our worst game of the year” at San Jose State, yet only losing by three points, 64-61.
Montana (2-6) will look to bounce back when the Spartans (4-3) pay a visit to Dahlberg Arena on Wed., Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. on the return leg of a home-and-home series.
San Jose State heads to Missoula riding a three-game win streak, including road victories over Washington State (88-76) and Idaho (58-49), with a 55-40 home win against Santa Clara as well. It’s the Spartan’s first three-game win streak against D-I opponents since Dec. 2012.
Montana is seeking its first nonconference two-game win streak over a D-I opponent since 2012 when the Griz defeated Idaho and San Diego in consecutive games.
WATCH/LISTEN: Fans around the region can watch the game LIVE on their local SWX station. In Missoula, SWX is available on Carter Cable channel 199. The game can also be seen on SWX in the Spokane market of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
Former Griz head coach Don Holst will provide the color commentary, and Carl Arky will call the play-by-play. Shaun Rainey will have sideline updates as well.
Fans nationwide can watch the game via live stream on GoGriz.com/watch, and the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network will provide the statewide radio broadcast of the game featuring the “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran.
Live stats are available at GrizStats.com for fans who like to follow the numbers and live tweets are available at @UMGRIZZLIES_BB.
SERIES HISTORY: The all-time series with the Spartans is knotted at 6-6 after last season’s loss in San Jose. The series dates back to 1948 when George Dahlberg was coaching the Griz. Montana is 3-1 all-time against the Spartans in Missoula. The last time SJSU came to town was in 1992, a 55-51 win for the Griz under Blaine Taylor.
GRIZ TRACKS: Coach DeCuire was quick to credit the Montana defense following Saturday’s 75-69 win over Milwaukee, holding off a late 8-0 run by the Panthers for the victory.
Defense should once again play a big role for the Griz as SJSU comes to town seeking to win four-straight for the first time since 2011 with two forwards averaging over 13 points each in 6-foot-9 Ryan Welage (13.7 PPG) and 6-8 Brandon Clarke (13.6 PPG).
Without the inside dominance of Martin Breunig, the Griz will look play inside-out defense and keep the Spartans from crashing the boards.
“Their athleticism inside is going to be huge. For us, teams that crash from the perimeter are very difficult to defend because we help so much. So, getting back to our guy, blocking him off and keep him off the offensive glass is huge,” says DeCuire.
“We need to be the aggressor and go out there and throw the first punch, and we need to put them on their heels, whether that’s with defensive pressure or attacking them.”
Montana started perhaps its most aggressive lineup against Milwaukee, with DeCuire giving Sayeed Pridgett and Michael Oguine the start.
It was the first start of the season for sophomore standout Oguine, who returned to the lineup against South Dakota after missing the first part of the season due to injury. Junior forward Fabijan Krslovic made his 60th career start for the Griz against Milwaukee and his eighth-straight start so far this season.
Krslovic is climbing the Big Sky rankings for rebounds, currently listed at No. 8 on the league’s career active leader list and No. 7 for blocked shots. This season he’s currently sitting second in the league in total rebounds, averaging 8.5 boards-per-contest and is one of only five players to post three 10-rebound games.
Overall, the Griz are ranked second in the Big Sky in rebounding defense with a team average of 34.1 boards-per-game over eight games.
The Griz are averaging over 12 turnovers per game, however, carrying the Big Sky’s fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.1, and DeCuire adds cutting down on the giveaways will be Montana’s biggest key against the Spartans.
“Take care of the ball. We need a shot on every possession. I’m not going to give up on that. If we can minimize their points off turnovers, we should be fine.”
GRIZ BITS: The Grizzlies’ are just past the midway point of the most difficult nonconference schedule in program history, and have the RPI to prove it. Despite a 2-6 record, UM currently has the fourth-highest RPI in the Big Sky at 220.
Montana is currently shooting 75.2 percent from the free-throw line, the second-highest average in the Big Sky and the 43rd highest average among 347 ranked D-I teams. Walter Wright has yet to miss a free throw, going a perfect 18-18 from the line so far this year. Sayeed Pridgett has the next highest average on the team (among players who’ve shot more than one free throw) with an 82.6 percent average on 19-23 from the line.
Brandon Gfeller remains 35 three-pointers shy of breaking the Montana school record for career triples. He’s currently third on the Big Sky’s career active leaders list for three-pointers with 185 behind Weber’s Jeremy Senglin (239) and Eastern Washington’s Felix Von Hofe (195).
Montana’s bench has been über-productive so far this season, scoring 32 points against the Panthers, highlighted by 4-of-4 for Mario Dunn from three-point land. Against both Oral Roberts and South Dakota the Griz bench combined for 42 points.