Griz-Cat tonight

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Already at the league's halfway pole the week kicks off with the cross-state matchup with the Bobcats.

Wayne Tinkle takes his Grizzlies into Bozeman for a rare Monday night game against Montana State.

It sure is a different schedule as the Bobcats won by two in Cedar City Saturday night to return for a Monday home game while the Grizzlies play three games in six days this week but at least the last two are in Missoula.

Being victorious in Bozeman where Tinkle teams are 5-2 in his tenure would pay huge dividends by evening the league mark at five, moving into a tie with the Cats and out of a four-way tie for seventh in the league standings.

Montana State dodged a bullet Saturday night with a two-point win in a game where Paul Egwuonwu, the team's second leading scorer, was dressed yet remained unexplainably on the bench throughout.

MSU is an average shooting team - about 45 percent - but with some 10 players with playing experience. They played nine against Southern Utah.

Tinks sees controlling the glass - an area where the Griz have been challenged this season - as a key to being able to get out on transition, something that has been a Griz staple at times.

And like Montana the Bobcats have not been an effective rebounding team and have been even a little stable in that area in conference games.

Montana is winners of two of the last three on the road while the Cats were mired in a three-game losing streak before the win Saturday in Cedar City.

Controlling Flavien Davis, who is averaging 13 in conference play, is yet another key, according to Tinks. He netted 16 against Southern Utah as the Cats rebounded from a four-point halftime deficit.

Like the Grizzlies the Bobcats have a favorable remaining schedule with six of their last 10 at Brick Breeden Field House.

In beating the team with an 18-game losing streak, the Bobcats were but 19 of 53 from the field and just 3 of 11 from outside the arc where their defense allows more than seven makes a game.

You can bet Worthington Arena will be rockin' but Grizzly veterans have been plenty successful in that raucous environment.

Go Griz but man it is a great day to be a Seahawk.

A gritty win

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It took a gritty come-from-behind effort but the Grizzlies captured the second of three road games with Bozeman next on Monday.

Montana rebounded from a less than awe-inspiring first half effort to upend winless Southern Utah 69-61 Thursday.

After connecting on just seven first half field goals and going to the locker room down just by three a well-timed trey by Kareem Jamar pushed Montana to a 56-52 advantage they would never relinquish.

And once Montana took the lead they put the pedal down with crucial treys also added by Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields to send the Thunderbirds to their 17th consecutive loss and nine straight in the Big Sky Conference.

And it was DeShields off an Andy Martin block that converted the run-out to push the Montana lead to 64-56 and while Southern Utah clawed a bit from there Montana slammed the door shut to pick up their second circuit road win and balance off the two league home losses.

While the score was tied 11 times and there were 15 lead changes that really doesn't tell the story of the second half as the Grizzlies knocked down five of seven treys and turned the ball over but twice to advance their league mark to 4-5 and even their overall record at nine.

After shooting 31.8 percent in the opening period Montana missed but seven second-half shots in 20 attempts (65 percent) to develop maybe just a taste of momentum headed to Montana State to meet the Cats who must travel to Cedar City for a Saturday game.

Kareem Jamar again led the way with 25, his eighth game with more than 20 points, and added five of the team's 10 assists on 20 buckets.

Yet again Montana was outrebounded (30-24), this time by the worst rebounding team in the league, but they more than offset the disparity by connecting on 22 of 33 at the charity stripe, making more throws than SUU attempted.

Gregory joined a quartet in double figures with 15 while DeShields added a dozen and Mario Dunn scored nine points in the first four-plus second half minutes to finish with 11.

The Montana bench contributed but four points in 51 minutes of playing time but Andy Martin made the most of nine minutes with four rebounds, a bucket, two assists and a pair of blocks.

And the Grizzlies got out on the break four times while making the most of the T-Birds 14 turnovers with 15 points.

Approaching the halfway pole a win in Bozeman could have huge seeding implications and with six of the last eight at Dalberg Arena would well improve Montana's lot.

Southern Utah scouting report

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It's game day in Cedar City and actually quite a favorable deal with Montana's next opponent, Montana State, having to meet the Thunderbirds on Saturday and worry about getting back to Bozeman for Monday's meeting with the Griz.

The Grizzlies on Thursday face the team with the nation's longest losing streak but also one of the least experienced in the country as well.

It's been a disappointing season thus far for second-year head man Nick Robinson who took SUU to a sixth place finish and a league post season berth in his first season.

They were 11-20 and winners of just eight of 20 in league but that got the T-Birds a sixth place finish and a tournament spot.

The season also handed Robinson a finalist spot in the voting for the Joe B Hall Award for first-year coaches and put a couple of players on the all-conference listing.

Coaches picked Southern Utah to finish last this season while the media tabbed them tenth.

This is just the sixth home game for Southern Utah which also can skew a record. SUU is a low scoring lot, averaging just some 56 points a game and shooting 38 percent. Opponents score some 75 points being outscored by that margin the T-Birds are at the bottom of the circuit in that regard.

Southern Utah also is last in the league in rebound margin having been outboarded by almost nine an outing.

Freshman point guard Trey Kennedy is leading the scoring at almost 11 an outing while shooting just 39 percent from the field and just 30 percent from three.

They feature a three-guard look with just a single upperclassman in the starting quintet and junior Chris Nsenki (say Nuh SEN key) is averaging just 2.6 an outing and shooting just 26 percent from the field.

Power forward A. J. Hess provides some of the offense, hitting at a nine-point clip while shooting 39 from long-range.

The Thunderbirds got a bit of a lift off the bench last week when freshman wing McKay Anderson hit for a career best eight at Eastern and followed that with a dozen at Portland State.

But he hit seven of eight shots with six of seven from outside the arc.

Tom Schultz has the call from the Centrum with pre-game at 6:30 p.m.


Not getting down for Southern Utah

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There's plenty on the table and it won't be easy as Montana visits the team with the nation's longest losing streak Thursday.

Yes it's true the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah, home-based in Cedar City have the nation's longest losing streak at 16 and with but a single win over Arizona Christian.

But they just gave Weber State a run at the Purple Palace, eventually losing 65-59, played Eastern Washington to a seven-point game at Cheney and lost most recently 67-64 at Portland State.

The Thunderbirds played a plenty difficult non-conference schedule featuring the likes of Utah State, California, both of course coached by former Grizzly mentors, Portland, Northridge, UNLV, San Diego and San Diego State.

And while admittedly they have been trounced in a few outings they opened the season losing by just four at North Dakota and like the Grizzlies play six of their last eight at home only interrupted by the Montana swing.

In other words the league's last place team is in the spoiler role and you can bet they'll notch a surprise or two before the season culminates.

Former Stanford standout Nick Robinson has had a rough go in Cedar City, winning just a dozen of 48 outings in two seasons but you can bet he'll have his young team gunning for the two-time defending champion.

Their non-conference menu ranked as the 46th toughest in the nation and second in the league and nicely benefitted their hoop budget.

And it's not easy travel after you land in Salt Lake City and travel by bus a couple of hours north of Arizona.

The Centrum, the Birds' home venue, is a pleasant hoop venue where the Griz have spilt a half-dozen games with Southern Utah before they joined the Big Sky Conference.

One of the youngest teams in the country with a roster boasting just 10 years of collegiate experience, SUU has five true freshmen, three of which have played in every contest.

And while they've been pretty stable with true frosh Trey Kennedy getting the starting nod in all but one game at the point and sophomore A.J Hess at the four starting all but a quartet of games, they're not afraid of going down the bench and using a myriad of combinations.

Don't think by any means this one is an easy proposition.

After I-15 road trip, time to look ahead

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There's nothing like a long bus trip for a team after a big win or a road sweep. The mood is just lighter, the sleep easier and maybe the movie more enjoyable.

But for this edition of Grizzly basketball maybe just part of that was true and they knocked on the door but couldn't kick it down at one of the toughest venues in the league to be victorious.

It's been a decade since the Grizzlies have swept the I-15 road trip and Weber State has captured 24 straight league games at Dee Events Center.

But you might remember that in the last two years in the chipper it was Montana that ended Weber State's season by winning the Big Sky Conference tournament title and claiming the circuit's automatic berth to the NCAA Championships.

That also is two seasons when the Grizzlies lost in Ogden and still produced memorable seasons with just a pair of league losses.

But winning at Weber could have had gigantic seeding possibilities in the post season tournament because I see few teams with an opportunity to win there making it figure prominently when it comes to the tie breaker.

But now at 3-5, yet with a critical road breakthrough at Idaho State, the Grizzlies approach the halfway pole and facing games at Southern Utah and in Bozeman before getting back to the home confines.

But the tough early-season road run leaves the Griz playing six of their last eight at Dahlberg Arena where the crowds have increased and they've proved it can be as tough a venue as anywhere in the league.

Saturday they could have thrown it in, down by eight with five or so to go. While trailing just by four at the intermission, they battled gamely after tying the game at 50 but the Wildcats jumped to a nine-point lead and while the Griz trailed by just four with 1:40 to go couldn't get it to a one possession situation to make things interesting.

But while they netted nine treys - three each by Jordan Gregory and Mike Weisner - field goals in the crunch came hard as Montana shot just 37 percent after the break.

Cedar City and Southern Utah await Thursday night.

A come from behind road win

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There are no such things as must wins with this many games to go but Thursday night's come-from-behind Griz victory in Pocatello was indeed meaningful.

The Grizzlies moved into a tie with Idaho State in the Big Sky Conference race with 3-4 records.

Montana maintained its recent mastery over the Bengals by rebounding from a nine-point first half deficit to pull away at the end prevailing 59-54.

For Idaho State it was the second league loss in four days after falling to Weber State at Ogden on Monday.

Tied at 52 with two-plus minutes to play the Bengals moved to a bucket advantage but wouldn't score from there as a late trey by Mario Dunn Jr, who started for the second time in his career, sealed the deal.

It was league MVP Kareem Jamar who took the helm in practice this week being outspoken about his and his team's efforts to this point in the conference race and voicing leadership.

So maybe it was ironic that for the first time this season Jamar didn't score in double figures instead distributing and getting his teammates involved and in better offensive position.

Jamar did score seven points but it was his nine assists that jumps off the stat sheet.

"Kareem was very unselfish," said an obviously excited Wayne Tinkle in the post game radio interview.

And while junior guard Jordan Gregory couldn't buy a trey early on missing four of his first five, he kept shooting and his consecutive quartet of threes played a huge role in the second half comeback.

He finished five of nine from outside the arc and led the way with 21 points.

Tinks described it as "a great team win ... a chemistry builder" if you will and with the win the victory makes up for one of the two league home losses.

It was the first home loss for the Bengals and it was interesting to me that given the win streak they moved the game to what sounded like a loud Reed gym but then again I've always been too superstitious about stuff like that.

Keron DeShields continued his double-figure barrage with 13 as the Griz went to the charity stripe just six times connecting on five and being outrebounded by just two.

Weber State is up next Saturday night.

Road swing starts tonight in Pocatello

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One thing is for sure. This Bengal will be ready for a Grizzly

The Grizzlies open a critical four-game road trip in Pocatello Thursday night.

Now mired well off the top of the Big Sky Conference after dropping four of their first six league games and probably even more importantly giving up a pair of home games, Montana's not yet on life support but you just can't underestimate how critical each game has become.

And while travel to Pocatello and Ogden isn't as challenging as some road trips it's still face time on the Interstate in a Beachliner for a five-plus hour jaunt to Pokey followed by an additional couple of hours journey down the road to Ogden.

And after an overnighter return on Sunday, that's home to Missoula about 4 a.m., it's back on the road to Cedar City on Wednesday for a Thursday night matchup before finishing up the quartet in Bozeman on Super Bowl Monday.

Former Griz assistant coach Bill Evans is at the helm at Idaho State and the Bengal record (3-3) shows he has the Bengals with fire in their eyes.

And while ISU has been playing inside expansive Holt Arena - you know the mini-dome where they are averaging about 1,600 - the Montana game has been moved back to the far more intimate Reed Gym where you can taste and smell the crowd as well as hear them and provides quite the home-court advantage.

Now don't get me wrong as far as I'm concerned it's a far better environment to play in but there's no doubt it's extremely difficult to win there.

ISU gave league leading and pre-season favorite Weber State all the Wildcats wanted Monday night in Ogden trailing by four at the half and while the Wildcats held a 12 point lead with 6:26 to go eventually prevailing just 65-59.

In fact the Bengals trailed just by two with 46 ticks remaining after a pair of treys by sharpshooter Chris Hansen but could get no closer.

ISU is a good rebounding team especially on the offensive end, Weber dominated the glass by 11 while Hansen dominated the scoring with a 27-point effort.

Count on hearing all zone with the Bengals and how the Grizzlies attack it will be key but it's not like that is a surprise as it is Evans' staple.

Season is not lost

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While it certainly is gut check for this Grizzly men's team the season is by no means lost.

Montana fell into at the very least a temporary also-ran status in the Big Sky Conference race after losing for the second time at Dahlberg Arena.

Now if you think interviewing any coach is an easy proposition after a disheartening loss, let me be the one to tell you it is extremely difficult.

But it's more difficult, in my opinion, for the person who has been directing the action for the last 40 minutes of playing time, all the while using every tool in the shed to claim victory and have a team not only execute the game plan but make the right decision yourself the majority of the time.

I have been fortunate because having asked my share of dumb questions after a loss, I have never had a coach give me that "Mike Leach" look and proceed to call me out.

But that all aside what about Saturday night..

Some two-plus hours after the game Tinks already was utilizing social media with a Facebook posting asking the more than 4,000 fans who showed up for Saturday's game not to give up on his team even given the shaky start and assuring fans that they'd find their way back and make the town proud of them before the season was completed.

The margin is so slight between a win and a loss and so many times in that record-setting 19-1 conference season last year a game turned on a call or a shot or a situation in Montana's favor.

It doesn't mean those teams were any better prepared or in most cases played harder or even were luckier. It just means that's how it goes when a game can turn on a dime.

The Grizzlies Saturday night had two open treys by their best shooters in key situations that may have completely changed the game's outcome.

They were in the midst of a run-out bucket when a foul was called coming out of a melee under the Grizzly hoop that would have cut the deficit to six.

Instead it turned into two free throws and a double-figure Northern Colorado lead.

To get to the show you just have to get rollin' and it's not too late. Hang in there.

Games start to get more critical

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The Griz dug themselves a hole with the home loss to Northern Colorado especially since they now venture ointo the road for four consecutive games.

Losers of two home games among four conference losses in six games, the Grizzlies simply will be fighting for their very existence every time out from here.

Road wins have been a rarity thus far this season and there will be few if any road sweeps as the season winds to conclusion.

And while a quest for a third championship is not out of the question, a win in Pocatello Thursday night against former assistant coach Bill Evans' Idaho State squad almost becomes a necessity.

Northern Colorado with the addition of Dominique Lee who did not play Thursday against Montana State because of an "academic issue" not surprisingly played quite differently than the team that scored 55 points in Bozeman two nights before.

And what has become a Montana mantra this season - a slow start - again reared its ugly head as the Bears jumped Montana from the get-go and although they cut it to a one-point deficit at the half, the Grizzlies had the lead few times and seemed to be scratching to stay close throughout.

Montana led the game for the last time 44-40 two minutes after intermission but the Bears answered with a five-point run and were never again caught.

The tandem of Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields continue to produce the bulk of the offense and accounted for all but 14 of Montana's 73 points and the trio as is customary all contributed in double figures.

With 23 Jamar moved past Jordan Hasquet into eighth on the career scoring list and on several occasions dished dimes that took other players to the rim but on many occasions to no avail.

DeShields added 29 and Gregory 17 and each junior scored in double figures for the 12th time in 15 games this season.

But after showing post presence on Thursday in the victory over North Dakota with 16 points and 8 rebounds from the five-position alone, there was nothing going Saturday night.

But the 23-4 second-half rebound disparity spelled doom with second-chance opportunities eventually proving fatal to any Montana comeback.

Just remember the league race is not a sprint and a ways to go before we sleep.

Back in Dahlberg against North Dakota tonight

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On dot the league's best will test the Grizzlies at Dahlberg Arena Thursday night.

Senior Troy Huff from Milwaukee is one of just two players nationally to rank in the top 20 for scoring, where he merely averages 21 a game, AND steals, where he is 11th with 2.6 per game.

And Huff has enjoyed plenty of success against the Grizzlies scoring a total of 47 points last year, 23 of which came at Dahlberg Arena in a 20-point February loss.

Picked second and third by the media and coaches, North Dakota has fallen three straight times to the Grizzlies in Dahlberg Arena.

But they captured a league tournament game here last season defeating Southern Utah before losing a heartbreaker to Weber State in a game they easily could have won.

But they're off to a bit of a rocky start, much like Montana, this year but their pair of league losses were by a dozen to Weber State and 18 at Greeley against league leading Northern Colorado.

Winners of just three of 10 in the non-conference, they really don't have a quality outing except maybe a seven-point failure to South Dakota State.

Huff has led North Dakota in scoring in 10 of 14 games this season and has paced the group in scoring and rebounding in the same game eight times.

They return four starters to a team that features three of the top ball hawkers in the circuit and Jamal Webb's first point will place him in elite company with Huff and Aaron Anderson with 1,000 points.

Webb, meanwhile is the first program player to record 200 steals and just the fourth to drop 400 dimes.

Texas Tech transfer Jaron Nash, while only scoring in doubles once for the Red Raiders, has reached doubles 14 times for UND and is contributing some dozen points an outing.

UND seldom makes a trey and shoots an average percentage yet they give up 48 percent from outside the arc and every other shot inside.

But they get 11 steals a game and turn the ball over just eight times an outing.

Everything points to the Griz getting it going with high powered Northern Colorado headed this way Saturday.

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