Losses sting, but the Montana Grizzlies continue their trip down the West Coast with a chance to sting the Sacramento State Hornets on their home court, something UM has not accomplished in two seasons.
The Griz and Hornets will tip off from “The Nest” on Saturday, Jan. 21 at 8:00 p.m. (MT).
THE GAME: Montana (10-10, 5-2 BSC) is looking to rebound from Thursday’s loss at Portland State when the Griz allowed the Vikings to go on an 18-3 run to start the second half, creating an insurmountable 22-point lead.
Sac. State (5-12, 2-4 BSC) is also looking to rebound from a loss on Thursday to Montana State, who snapped the two-game win streak the Hornet’s had going after wins at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. That pair of wins were the Hornet’s first back-to-back Big Sky road victories since they beat Idaho State and Weber State in January of 2015.
With only the pair of wins in conference play, SSU is looking to climb into the top-half of the league’s rankings, currently sitting at No. 9 on the table.
The Grizzlies, however, look to move back above .500 on the season and avoid a third Big Sky loss. North Dakota made the race for the conference championship interesting for the Griz by beating previously undefeated Weber State in Grand Forks on Thursday, bumping UM to No. 3 on the table.
Montana traveled to Sacramento on Friday from Oregon, with head coach Travis DeCuire taking a hard look at Thursday’s missteps to prevent a second half collapse in California.
“We often talk about the fact that every possession matters, and sometimes I’ll take film and total up the mistakes and see how many points the other team benefitted off that. I’ll probably do the same thing here. I’ll probably go find about 40 or 50 points on the board we gave away from some mistakes and breakdowns, try to fix those and do what we haven’t done yet, which is try to win in Sacramento,” said DeCuire after the game in Portland.
WATCH/LISTEN: Fans around the globe can watch the UM at Sac. State game live and free of charge on the league’s digital video streaming platform, WatchBigSky.com, and via the Big Sky Conference Mobile App, available to download free from the App Store and on Google Play.
The “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran will bring you the statewide radio call on the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network. An audio-only stream of the radio call is also available at GoGriz.com. Fans can also follow live twitter updates @UMGRIZZLIES_BB, and live stats are available at HornetSports.com.
SERIES HISTORY: The Grizzlies hold a robust 38-7 lead in the all-time series against the Hornets. The last two of those seven losses have occurred in the last two years, however, and have both happened in Sacramento.
LAST MATCHUP: Montana avenged its regular season loss in Sacramento at the Big Sky tournament quarterfinal on March 10 in Reno. The Griz and Hornets met for the third time that season, and Montana played like it had the home-court advantage, dispatching SSU 70-53 to advance to the tournament semifinal.
Fans that made the trip to Reno were treated to a vintage display from Martin Breunig, who scored a game-high 24 points and pulled down 16 boards. Walter Wright added 12 points to go along with six dimes, and Mario Dunn posted a season-high 10 points. The win was No. 20 on the season for the Griz and made DeCuire the first coach in UM history to post back-to-back 20-win seasons in his first two years.
IMPLICATIONS: With North Dakota’s upset of Weber State on Thursday at UND, there are now five teams each within a game of taking over first place in the league standings, with two losses each. A loss in Sacramento could spell disaster for the 5-2 Griz, with Portland State, Eastern Washington, and North Dakota each carrying two losses as well.
The good news: Montana returns home next week to host EWU and Idaho, who is in the mix with three conference losses. Each team is jockeying to earn a coveted top-five finish and a first-round tournament bye.
GRIZ TRACKS: Fabijan Krslovic bumped his average points per game up considerably after a 24-point career night at PSU. Going into the contest at Portland he was averaging 6.5 PPG; he’s now tied with Jack Lopez as the team’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 7.4 PPG.
Krslovic’s field goal percentage is the best on the team, however, at 58 percent, also the sixth-best in the Big Sky. His average of 7.3 rebounds per game is also the sixth-best overall in the conference, and with 52 offensive rebounds to his name, he’s ranked No. 4 in the league in that category. It was the second game in a row Krslovic has posted a new career high.
Ahmaad Rorie also posted a career night at Portland State with 29 points. His season average is now as high as it’s ever been at 17.4 PPG.
GRIZ BITS: The Griz are 0-2 this year in the state of Oregon after falling to the Ducks in Eugene and Vikings in Portland … Thursday’s loss at Portland State was only the tenth Big Sky Conference loss for DeCuire in his three seasons at Montana.
SCOUTING THE HORNETS: Despite having only five wins this year, the Hornets boast three players scoring in double figures. Senior forward Nick Hornsby, the reigning Big Sky co-Player of the Week is one of them, averaging 11.1 PPG.
Hornsby posted double-doubles in SSU’s wins at Northern Arizona and Southern Utah and averaged 22.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in the sweep. He’s also the Big Sky’s No. 1 rebounder, pulling down an average of 8.4 boards per game.
In the guard-heavy Big Sky, Sac. State boasts another talented forward in junior Justin Strings, who leads the Hornets in scoring with nearly 16 per game.
Two talented bigs equate into a lot of blocked shots, the second most in the Big Sky to be exact, with SSU rejecting 78 attempts this season, making the Hornets a difficult bug to swat for the Griz.
“They’re one of those teams that are hard to prepare for because they do so many things, said DeCuire. “They can take one or two guys and deny them the ball and not guard everyone else; they can come zone, they can press, they can zone press, they can trap, they could just not do anything. They can have an incredible defensive night, or they could come out and not play any defense at all.
“They’re a tough team to prepare for, so you just have to come out and play your best basketball for stretches and know that they’ll make a run.”