When he’s in need of a pick-me-up, Montana head basketball coach Travis DeCuire stops off on the way to the Adams Center and grabs a cup of coffee called “The Hunt.”
He’ll want to make it an extra-large this week.
DeCuire and his Montana Grizzlies (5-8) begin the hunt for a Big Sky Conference championship on Thursday, opening league play with Idaho State (3-10), followed by a championship rematch with Weber State at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
THE GAME: The Road to Reno officially begins with the Bengals on Thurs., Dec. 29, who bring preseason first-team All-Big Sky guard Ethan Telfair to Missoula for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
Montana has plenty of momentum going into the game. The Griz will take the court on a two-game win streak, capping off the most difficult nonconference schedule in program history with a road win over UC-Riverside (71-63) and a key home win over Pepperdine (71-70).
Montana’s road win over Riverside was the first true nonconference road win for UM in over two years, and the win over Pepperdine was only the second in program history, and the first since 1991.
Idaho State head coach Bill Evans has also challenged the Bengals with a difficult nonconference schedule, dropping their last two games to Boise State (82-59) and BYU (84-58). ISU has also taken on New Mexico, Utah State, Texas Tech, and the current No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers.
The Bengals have picked up three wins over Lamar, Bristol and Montana Tech, each played at Holt Arena in Pocatello, keeping them winless (0-8) on the road. The win against Bristol does not count toward NCAA standings, and therefore ISU’s record sits at 2-10 in the Big Sky standings.
WATCH/LISTEN: The Idaho State game kicks off Montana’s video coverage on WatchBigSky.com, the league’s streaming platform. Fans around the globe can tune in to watch the Griz live and free of charge in every conference game for the rest of the season.
The “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran brings you the statewide call on the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network, which can also be heard online at GoGriz.com. Live stats are also available at GoGriz.com, and a live twitter feed can be found @UMGRIZZLIES_BB.
SERIES HISTORY: The Griz picked up the 100th win in series history over the Bengals the last time the two met on February 25, 2016, taking a 100-44 all-time lead. The series dates back to the 1932-33 season when Idaho State was referred to as Idaho Southern.
LAST MATCHUP: Montana held on to a tie for first on the Big Sky table with the league tournament just around the corner when UM visited ISU in Feb. of 2016.
Bobby Moorehead came off the bench and posted a career-high 24 points thanks to eight three-pointers to lead the Griz past the Bengals 90-77 in Pocatello.
GRIZ TRACKS: Grizzly redshirt sophomore Ahmaad Rorie has played a big part in Montana’s two-game win streak and has been increasing his productivity to dangerous levels as the Big Sky season begins. Against Riverside, Rorie led all scorers with 25 points and followed that up with a game-high 21 points against Pepperdine.
Rorie is also cementing his place among the league’s best ball-handlers, carrying the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.7.
With his 21 points, five rebounds and eight assists against the Waves, Rorie earned Montana’s nomination for Big Sky Player of the Week. The Tacoma, Wash., native also put on a strong defensive display, holding Pepperdine’s preseason all-conference guard Lamond Murray Jr. to just 14 points on the day.
After knocking down five three-pointers against Pepperdine and netting 17-points, senior guard Brandon Gfeller has brought his career total to 190 made three-pointers. He now needs 29 more threes to break the school record for career triples, set in 2006 by Kevin Criswell (218).
With 18 regular-season games to play, Gfeller will need to average 1.6 threes-per-game to break the record.
Junior forward Fabijan Krslovic continues his strong work in the post, though quiet in his last two outings. Krslovic has collected the second-most offensive rebounds in the Big Sky, averaging 2.85 per game, ranking him No. 81 nationally.
GRIZ BITS: With only two misses from the free throw line this season, Walter Wright leads the Big Sky in free throw percentage, making 92.1 percent of his 38 shots. That’s good enough to rank him No. 14 in the nation.
As a team, the Griz rank No. 19 in the nation in free throw percentage, making 76.8 percent of their shots (172-224).
BENGAL BITS: Ethan Telfair is leading the Big Sky Conference and is ranked No. 8 nationally in steals-per-game, averaging 2.89 takeaways a game.
Telfair is also one of only 15 players in the nation to register a triple-double this year, posting 25 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds against New Mexico on Nov. 11 in a Bengal loss.
The little brother of former NBA player Sebastian Telfair leads the Bengals in scoring, averaging 16.2 PPG, ranking him at No. 8 in the Big Sky, one place ahead of Rorie, the Grizzlies leading scorer who averages 15.5 PPG.
ON DECK: Montana and Weber State face each other twice during the 206-17 league schedule, once in the first week of action, and the second in the last week before the conference tournament in Reno.