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The Griz head to Aggieland

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So here we go for the 32nd Griz basketball game of the season in the midst of spring football and the first-ever home opener for softball.

 

I am in the Lone Star state where officials of the National Invitational Tournament decided to ship the Griz rather than leave them with a plethora of choices on the west coast.

 

Word had it Sunday that Stanford was a possibility yet Oregon State also was in the picture although the Beavers didn't get in.

 

Boise State also a possibility but they made the Big Dance and then of course there was Colorado State. I figured Seattle also might have been in the mix but instead on the plane Monday for a Tuesday matchup with Texas A&M in College Station.

 

I have not been on the massive campus since Griz football ate a travel meal in their version of the Sky Club when Montana was headed to play Tennessee.

 

Nearly 50,000 students yearly are Aggie undergrads.

 

While extremely disappointed about failing to get into the NCAA Championship, the Grizzlies are excited to be back on the floor at Reed Arena in front of a nationally televised agenda let alone internationally on the Grizzly Radio Network.

 

This has been quite the resilient team this season rebounding from several disappointments to reach the 20-win plateau and I expect nothing different tonight (Tuesday) even after a long day of travel and a quick turnaround from the conference finale.

 

The winner meets either Central Michigan or Louisiana Tech and because they would be the lower seeded team (7-seed) the Grizzlies likely would travel to one of those sites.

 

Third in the SEC, Texas A&M lost to Auburn 66-59 in the circuit tournament and earlier in the season took unbeaten Kentucky to the wire eventually losing by a half dozen. No other team has played the Wildcats so closely.

 

Stats show the Aggies pound the glass substantially outrebounding opponents at both ends of the floor.

 

Jalen Jones grabs some seven a game matched by Kourtney Roberson in conference outings.

 

After the Kentucky loss at mid-season they captured six straight SEC games before losing to Ole Miss but won just four of nine at the end of the season.

 

Their average attendance this season was a bit more than the capacity of Dahlberg Arena.

 

Pre-game at 6:30 MDT tonight (Tuesday) with tipoff at 7 p.m.

 

 

NIT bound

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Every good thing has to come to an end.

 

But the last four-plus minutes of the Big Sky Conference Championship game left a sour taste on a Grizzly team that had overachieved yet mostly prevailed in winning 14 of 17 games to make it to the chipper.

 

Facing large deficits or overtime sessions hasn't been anything new to this group which made it through the rigors of the league schedule with a 14-4 mark and the right to host the league tournament for the third time in four seasons.

 

And a dominant effort early-on against Eastern Washington had Montana before a near capacity crowd fueled by a strong Eagle following set to claim the nets along with a trip to the big dance.

 

But somebody failed to tell Eastern Washington and they came bounding back, pushed the Grizzlies onto their heels, claimed the momentum and closed with a 17-4 run to claim the title.

 

How explosive EWU was should come as no surprise as they are loaded with offensive talent featuring the nation's leading scorer in Tyler Harvey who did not play in the earlier Eagle win in Missoula.

 

They are a robust group winning a school record 26 games and being rewarded with a 13-seed into the post season where they will face Georgetown in the second round.

 

But by claiming the league's 1-seed yet failing to win the circuit tournament title, the Grizzlies get an automatic bid to the NIT where they open in College Station against Texas A&M.

 

The Aggies lost to Auburn in the second round of the SEC Tournament and dropped three straight to Florida, Alabama and Auburn, the first two by a total of five points.

 

The game marks just the second Montana appearance in the NIT as they previously lost also in Texas to UTEP in 1995.

 

A & M finished 20-11 yet losing four of its last five sealed its fate as far as NCAA Tournament consideration.

 

They have outrebounded opponents by five-plus a game and are stingy defensively allowing but 31 percent from outside the arc and less than 40 percent from the field.

 

The Aggies are paced by the guard play of Daniel House, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso but go big at the post with 6-9 senior Kourtney Roberson.

 

Game time is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday. 

Another crack at a league rival

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It is quarter-final time or for your pleasure, the opening round of the Big Sky Conference Men's Tournament, and it couldn't be more fitting that the Grizzlies and Weber State face off to move along.

 

Thursday's winner faces either Northern Arizona, probably outside of Montana the league's hottest team, or Northern Colorado who has won three straight.

 

The Grizzlies have had Weber's number in the league post-season winning six straight including three straight chippers and a semi-final game.

 

Actually the Wildcats haven't won at Dahlberg Arena since 2009, a nine-game streak, and this marks the 121st meeting between these perennial leagues foes.

 

Each program has won nine previous titles, the most by any school, and besides titles, each has grabbed the runner-up spot seven times.

 

Weber's 41 tournament wins is the most by any school followed by Montana's 33 victories.

 

Montana is making a 14th straight tournament appearance while the Wildcats appear for the ninth straight time and 38th visit in the event's 40-year history.

 

Dominance - Well the two teams have claimed six of the last seven NCAA berths and have hosted five of the last six tournaments.

 

Both teams prevailed in league play on their home floor, Weber by eight and Montana by 11.

 

Weber State has been unable to corral Martin Breunig - who scored 50 points in two games or Jordan Gregory who netted 30  - while the Wildcats are fueled by second-team All Conference selection Joel Bolomboy who stands seventh in league history in rebounding with 887. The junior averages double figures and ranks 15th in the nation in caroms.

 

But Weber State lost four of their last seven games and rank well back of the circuit in offense, averaging just 67.2, shooting just a bit better than 42 percent from the field and just .345 from three-point range.

 

The Wildcats are near the bottom of the circuit in turnovers and assist-to-turnover ration, while allowing opponents 46 percent from the field and about 38 percent from long range.

 

Weber State ahs been hampered by the loss of Jeremy Senglin, a league all star and last season's Freshman of the Year, who suffered a broken jaw Feb 12 and although he suited up last week did not play. He has missed six games including Montana's 74-63 victory in Missoula but scored 16 in the Wildcat home win.

Tough break

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The time is here and there's nothing better than heading into a one-game post-season tournament on a roll.

 

After being snubbed in Coach of the Year voting after his team won the league after being picked eighth in the pre-season by the coaches, Travis DeCuire takes his young charge to the floor as the No. 1 seed guaranteed post-season play.

 

But with a championship banner and accompanying ring already secure, that road to a big old pot of gold, an NCAA Championship berth, is hovering at the end of a rigorous three-day run.

 

Now mind you I would have been fine with the first-year mentor sharing Coach's laurels but to be snubbed given the circumstances leads me to believe the Montana rule applied to the choice.

 

Mind you it is my own conclusion and not in consult with anyone that at every turn opposing programs so want to "Be Like Mike" - Montana if you will - that any opportunity where they can slap the Griz up the proverbial head and bring 'em back to their level which often appears mediocre at best, they'll seize the chance.

 

Now hang on dear reader - This is not uttered by a coach or an administrator but just a humble broadcaster who is about to complete his 30th Griz year so coat these words with prejudice.

 

It seems to me to be more apparent this season given the rushing the floor at Sacramento State and the request at Eastern Washington to quietly leave the floor to the opposite corner of the floor as the locker room to avoid conflict with a championship fan rush that the Grizzlies spoiled.

 

No you didn't see Montana cut down the nets on Montana State Senior Night. Not only would it have been classless but having been there before the Grizzlies realize the significance of clipping the twine on Championship Saturday night.

 

This may well be the most contentious Big Sky Conference Tournament ever with the combined field winners of just 56 percent of league games.

 

While Eastern Washington and Montana claimed 13 road victories among them, of the other six teams only Northern Arizona won more on the road than they lost.

 

Montana has won six of seven and 12 of the last 15 but Northern Colorado boasts the top winning streak entering the tournament at three.

 

No matter the winner it promises to be a donnybrook filled with disappointment, happiness and for someone validation.

It's awards season

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The Grizzlies dominated the First Team All Conference befitting of an amazing regular season.

 

Montana placed team stalwarts junior Martin Breunig and senior guard Jordan Gregory as two of the half dozen players on the league's premier team.

 

Co-Champ Eastern Washington also garnered a pair of selections with the nation's leading scorer Tyler Harvey and junior forward Venky Jois joining Northern Arizona sophomore guard Kris Yanku and Sacramento Mikh McKinney as first-team choices.

 

Gregory has been an honorable mention selection the past two seasons but blossomed to the forefront this year by leapfrogging close to Montana's top 15 in scoring, dropping in probably the fourth most points in team history with 36 against Idaho while moving into the league's top 25 in three pointers.

 

He barely trails Breunig in scoring at just south of 17 points-per-game and recently added Academic All American to his lengthy resume.

 

Not only was Breunig accorded first-team laurels, the junior post also was tabbed the league's Newcomer of the Year after bursting onto the Big Sky Conference scene after sitting out last season after transferring from the University of Washington.

 

He has scored in double figures in all but a couple of games and his game steadily improved as Montana claimed 12 of the last 15 games en-route to the No. 1 seed.

 

As with the majority of this team, his play has improved tremendously because of his work ethic which sees him ranked tenth in the nation in field goal percentage.

 

Gregory and McKinney were the only seniors named to the first team which listed a quartet of guards among the six selections.

 

And the second team and honorable mention also was dominated by guards with Weber's rebounding machine Joel Bolomboy the only post in the second group and Idaho State's Jeff Solarin the only forward among the HM group.

 

Hard to understand is eight other guards being named ahead of sophomore Mario Dunn who averaged double figures in scoring in league play while for the season dishing off an average of four treys an outing.

 

He stands second in the league in steals, seventh in assists and 11th in field goal percentage making better than half of his shots while also corralling more than four caroms a game.

 

And while EWU's Bogdan Bliznyuk was tabbed Freshman of the Year, the recognition easily could have gone to Fabijan Krslovic, who started 22 of 29 contests, averaged just short of five points and five rebounds, and was instrumental in so many categories that do not appear on the state sheet.

 

Coach of the Year Tuesday and whether or not the league agrees I'll have the guy who should be recognized with me at 6 p.m. 

A remarkable run from Griz Hoops

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I will not go so far as to describe this men's season in Cinderella terms but it certainly to this point has been an amazing run to a third Big Sky Conference title run for the third time in the past four years.

 

Montana put a cherry on the top of the league season that saw the Grizzlies capture 13 of their last 16 games and post a 14-4 campaign to claim a share of the championship with Eastern Washington.

 

And in defeating the Bobcats for the tenth consecutive time, and claiming an 18th victory Montana rookie Head Coach Travis DeCuire matched Stew Morrill (86-87) and Larry Krystowiak (04-05) as the program's second most winningest first-year coaches, trailing only Blaine Taylor's amazing 27-4 campaign in 1991-92.

 

In claiming a sixth league road victory and the tie breaker over the Eagles, Missoula again becomes title town for the second time in three years by hosting both the men and women's event.

 

And as exceptional as a 14-4 league campaign is - winning seven of their last eight - consider that those four league losses came by a total of 20 points including the double-overtimer at Moscow.

 

The 14th win in 17 games against Montana State certainly had its share of intrigue as the Cats burst to a nine-point advantage six minutes in and in the first half played nothing like an eight-win team trailing by just four points at the break and leading for more than 13 minutes.

 

But the Grizzlies didn't balk and once they moved to the forefront never relinquished the lead which eventually grew to 20 points.

 

And as has occurred all season with this group when senior guard Jordan Gregory faltered, hitting just one of 10 from the field for a season low of six points, the remainder of the team picked up the slack connecting on more than half of their field goal attempts and as usual playing exceptional defense by holding the Cats to 10 less field goals and just 54 points.

 

This year's "X" factor was senior bench player Chris Kemp who with a career high 17 points scored more points than minutes.

 

The big-bodied post who has seen decreased playing time as the season progressed was an early insertion when Fabijan Krslovic picked up his second foul and immediately made his presence known at both ends.

 

Hitting just six of 10 free throws all season, Kemp contributed five of seven at the stripe and a six of eight field goal performance coupled with four rebounds in just 14 minutes.

 

To me Kemp's performance just underscored the character and resilience of this year's Griz team which maybe you don't remember was tabbed by the coaches in the pre-season to finish eighth.

 

There are certainly no givens in this tournament which opens for Montana with Weber State Thursday night with the winner of the Northern Colorado-Northern Arizona game awaiting the winner.

 

But this I know for sure-The Grizzlies will give all for the end-all.

What a season

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With a game to go in the Big Sky Conference regular season and the circuit tournament on the horizon, could things be more exciting?

 

The surprising-to-some Grizzlies is on the verge of making a monstrous surge to the pinnacle of the league with a win in Bozeman Saturday night.

 

Picked to finish eighth by the coaches, while the honor probably will go elsewhere, rookie mentor Travis DeCuire has to receive strong consideration as the league's Coach of the Year.

 

He has brought a Montana team replete with underclassman and starting a single senior from the growth mode of a challenging non-conference schedule to just a single victory from tying for the league title.

 

And already with 17 wins he joined the Who's-Who of former Grizzly coaches who have led their team to such inaugural heights.

 

And with a win at Montana State he will join just a quartet of previous coaches with 18 first-year wins.

 

More importantly that non-conference schedule which saw Montana win but three games currently shows three teams - Colorado State, Boise State and Davidson currently receiving Top 25 votes in the Mid major poll.

 

And perhaps you might remember Montana fell to both CSU and BSU in overtime sessions.

 

Montana's success has not gone unnoticed on the national stage as with 54 votes the Grizzlies are just seven votes from moving into the Top 25 where Sacramento State currently stands 14th and vanquished Eastern Washington occupies the 20th position.

 

With his stats Fabijan Krslovikc can make an argument to be in the running for Freshman of the year contending possibly with Idaho's Arkadiy Mkrtchyan and EWU's Bogdan Bliznyuk and the remainder of the starting quintet easily could be All-Conference selections.

 

Senior Jordan Gregory will ply for MVP while doesn't Martin Breunig have to accorded the Newcomer of the Year award?

 

But what really matters and certainly will not be overlooked is Saturday's matchup inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse where the Bobcats have drawn poorly all season.

 

The Grizzlies held the Cats to 19 first-half points in posting a 15-point decision in Missoula but with a trio of seniors playing their final collegiate game and MSU 7-22 (4-13) with nothing to lose since they are one of a trio of teams eliminated from the tournament so don't be fooled into believing Montana is overlooking Saturday night.

The post season scenario

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When the Grizzlies take the floor Saturday night in Bozeman there is a chance they will know either where they are headed for the three-game, eight-team post season Big Sky Conference Tournament or if the destination will be determined after the outcome of the Weber State-Sacramento game in Ogden

 

Because of the one-point Grizzly loss in Sacramento last month the Hornets can bring the tournament to the Sacramento campus for the first time with a victory Thursday in Cedar City.

 

But that still leaves two other teams - Montana and Eastern Washington - with an opportunity to share the league title with 14 circuit victories.

 

And with the tournament not being reseeded after first-round games, the tussle for the eventual NCAA Championship bid certainly will be hotly contested.

 

And remember if the league titlist fails to secure the bid they gain an automatic entry to the NIT and other league teams with favorable records will stand to secure a bid to a couple of other post-season events.

 

With victories over Montana State and no less than a pair of tournament wins, Montana would post a 19-win resume with victories in six of seven of their last contests and would have to be considered one of the league's hottest commodities and a possibility for a post-season home game.

 

But I certainly like the alternative - Win out from here, hang up a 20-win season and claim the automatic bid for a ninth trip to the "Dance" and a seventh visit since 2002.

 

Montana also visited the post season in 2011 when they lost to Duquesne in the CBI and in the 1995 NIT losing to UTEP in El Paso, Texas.

 

But from my standpoint tournament play began some time ago on the floor in Greeley where after winning by a bucket at North Dakota Montana claimed an exhilarating triple OT two-point decision over Northern Colorado setting the table for the stretch run that has included victories in six of the last seven games.

 

Now don't think I am overlooking a Bobcat team that the Grizzlies handled easily by 15 in Missoula in mid-January but I can tell you that the frantic atmosphere Saturday night in Cheney rounded this humble scribe into March Madness mode and all one has to do is watch the amazing comeback in Ames Iowa Monday night to realize IT'S ON!

 

Good guys end up on right side of rivalry game

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It seems it can't get more dramatic than an Eastern Washington matchup in about any sport and while from the Grizzly standpoint it is a game between adversaries separated by a few hours and 200 miles, yet for the Eagles it has developed into a what could be described bitter rivalry.

Montana has one of those but in the opposite direction down the same Interstate that has history dating back to 1897.

Now truth be known most everyone knows I am an Eastern guy but being from Spokane I also have been a Cougar as long as I can remember.

Truth be known I relish the fact that the Eagles have recently risen to prominence, have chosen to emulate some things that we do right in Missoula, and are competitive even at times on the National stage.

And if Montana chooses to minimize whether it is indeed a rivalry, so be it. It is semantics and one has to admit there just is a little extra when it comes to an Eagle-Grizzly game.

Heck I even think the red turf was brilliant and served to bring national attention to an institution that wouldn't certainly be otherwise mentioned; and face it Griz Nation, few can dispute the athletic talent EWU has had on several occasions.

I have always subscribed to the theory that few ideas are novel - just the way they are carried out - and utilization of another's best is a compliment.

Now that I have your attention suffice it to say that after the disappointment of another extra periods loss in Moscow two nights earlier, all the marbles were on the table Saturday night for Montana and the heavily favored Eagles stood to take a giant step toward securing the host spot for the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

The Missoulian's Bob Meseroll described it as the best student section of the season and while I sat across from the tumult I'd have to agree. They were creative from the get-go and on this first day of March made the afternoon a precursor to the eventuality of madness two weeks hence.

As if added motivation was required, some was made about the Grizzlies being advised to leave the floor to the locker room from their bench rather than trying to exit across the floor after the Eagle fans rushed the floor after a predicted win.

But I am going to say that after recent spats between teams and fans during post-game celebrations, I'll give the Eagles a pass believing they were more interested in safety than making a statement about what they must have believed was an obvious eventual positive outcome. 

Suffice it to say that after what I was a part of at Sacramento State when chaos ensued after the final claxon, I can personally attest that while I really remain a fan of the spontaneity that makes college basketball one of my deepest joys, court storming has become dangerous and unless some control is exercised a serious scenario accompanied by injury will ensue.

With plenty yet left on the table, this season's games have been a joy and with the circuit's parity the league tournament promises more of the same.

And wouldn't it be magical if the stars aligned and brought even additional men's hoop to add to the women's spectacle at Dahlberg Arena?

But with the way the Grizzlies perform on the post-season floor of the other league entities with titles in places like Flagstaff, Boise, Portland, Ogden and Bozeman, play on men and let the chips fall. 

A battle on the Palouse

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Given that the University of Idaho just defeated co-Big Sky Conference leader Sacramento State on Valentine's Day, the Grizzlies should need no added motivation to be stoked for the upset-minded Vandals Thursday night in Moscow.

The Vandals looked like they had righted a sloping ship when they lost only to Eastern Washington twice by three points with one of the contests needing overtime to resolve.

But after defeating Portland State and the Hornets after being blitzed in Missoula by the Grizzlies, Idaho dropped a pair to Northern Arizona and Southern Utah and now are fighting for their post-season tournament existence with a 6-8 league mark and Weber State hot on their heals.

And after hosting the Montana schools this week they finish at Weber and Idaho State.

But the Vandals have won nine of a dozen in Moscow and five of seven circuit matchups but this is the first time this season they are hosting league games in Memorial Gym which isn't exactly a neutral but it isn't the friendly confines of the expansive Kibbie Dome either.

It promises to be a battle of wills with Travis DeCuire's charge intending to slow down the high scoring Vandal attack which boasts the second highest scoring average against the Grizzlies' top defense.

Connor Hill has established himself as the most productive three-point shooter in Idaho history and with 88 treys this season is closing in on the school's single-season mark as well.

And point guard Mike Scott is a double-threat veteran averaging in double figures, one of three in the starting lineup, and almost six dimes an outing. 

Can Montana match Idaho on the boards like they did in a 14-point victory in Missoula?

Arkadiy Mkrtychyan comes off the bench for five a game in the category paced by Bira Seck with 7.4 an outing.

The Grizzlies held that duo to nine the first time around and outrebounded Idaho by one while also holding them to 24 first-half points in prevailing 70-58.

Scott paces the league in the all-important assist to turnover category while the Vandals are second in the nation in three-point proficiency while also shooting 47percent.

It is all out there for this surprising Montana team and coming off a road sweep and a quartet of road breakthroughs it's not like they haven't been there before.

Photo finish in the Big Sky

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Who plays whom and where will the unexpected occur? 

It really is a four-horse race to see which team wins the regular season and the right to the host spot the eight-team Big Sky Conference Tournament.

Ten-win upstart Northern Arizona, which has won four of six road games, travels to nothing-to-lose North Dakota Thursday then matches up with Northern Colorado Saturday, the 7-8 Bears only game of the week.

Likewise co-league leader Sacramento State has a single game heading to suddenly relevant Portland State (8-7) Saturday night.

While the Grizzlies are in Moscow to challenge the Vandals Thursday night the Bobcats, who are virtually eliminated from the post season with just a chance of seven circuit victories, looks for the upset against Eastern Washington (11-3).

Idaho dropped a pair last week at Northern Arizona and Southern Utah and with but six league wins with four to go are vying for the seventh or eighth spot with Weber State and Southern Utah. 

With Sac at Portland State Saturday and the Grizzlies facing Eastern in an afternoon contest, there will also be some shifting at the top of the league.

Winners of five straight and arguably playing as well as anyone winning 11 of their last 13 outings, the Grizzlies meet an Idaho team that jumped them in Missoula earlier this month.

The Vandals led by seven before the second media stoppage but Montana came charging back to take a 32-24 halftime lead, surviving a 38.5 percent first-half field goal percentage by netting five treys but in 16 attempts.

And after the break they caught fire and cruised to a 14-point victory by shutting down Idaho's high scoring and three-point shooting attack and missing but eighth of 22 shots.

Senior Connor Hill paces the Vandals vaunted three-point attack shooting 46 percent and netting 3.5 a game, fourth best in the country and trailing only Eastern's Tyler Harvey.

Interestingly the Big Sky Conference leads all leagues in three-point proficiency at almost 38 percent.

Idaho senior guard Mike Scott stirs the mix dropping almost six dimes a game and the Vandals are the best league team in rebounding (plus 4.8). 

Montana won the boards by one in the first meeting, dominated in the paint 28-12 and scored 14 points off 17 Vandal turnovers while just turning the ball over 10 times themselves.

Turnovers, however, have been more frequent in recent weeks.

Game time from Memorial Gym Thursday is 8 p.m. MT with pre-game at 7:30.

Player of the Week

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For the second consecutive week the Grizzlies boast the Co-Player of the week.

I was surprised to learn that when Jordan Gregory was accorded the honor last week it was the first time the fourth-year senior had been so recognized given how consistent the Colorado product has been the past two seasons.

And with junior Martin Breunig being recognized this week I am again surprised it is his initial nod especially since he has scored in double figures in every game he has played in except the opening loss at Colorado State when he netted just a half dozen.

But with the league increasing to a dozen teams it becomes far more difficult for a player's domination to be so recognized especially given the parity this season that sees a trio of teams tied in the win column with but two weeks to go.

Breunig, a transfer who was required to sit out last season after his transfer from the University of Washington, has been the model of consistency and last week recorded the season's fourth double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday's victory over Weber State.

Seventeen points and eight rebounds came after the intermission against the Wildcats after tallying 22 points, eight rebounds, a pair of assists and two blocks in the win over Idaho State.

The junior from Germany missed but eight of 26 field goal attempts in the two games and is shooting better than 58 percent from the floor while averaging just south of 17 points an outing, just a couple of decimal points better than Gregory .

Gregory enjoyed an almost equally productive pair of performances with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists against Weber State following a 16-points and quartet assist effort against Idaho State.

And already with 16 wins first-year mentor Travis DeCuire becomes just the fifth Grizzly coach to record that many victories in his initial season joining Stew Morrill, Blaine Taylor, Larry Krystowiak and Wayne Tinkle.

Up next is Idaho on Thursday in the old Memorial gym in Moscow.

After consecutive losses at Sacramento State and in Missoula to Eastern Washington, the Griz victory over the Vandals was a bounce-back gut-check affair and they handled UI easily 70-56.

But Thursday's game promises to be a potential trip-up game with Eastern Washington on the docket Saturday afternoon.

But this year's edition has shown no propensity to look past any team and I would indeed be surprised if that occurs this week. 

Great weekend for the Griz

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Griz hoops just keeps rolling along.

Montana evened the score with Weber State defeating the Wildcats for the eighth consecutive time in Missoula.

And with an 11th win in the last 13 outings and fifth straight the Grizzlies moved into a tie in the win column with Eastern Washington and Sacramento State setting up quite the finish to league play the next two weeks.

Sac has the tiebreaker over Montana having defeated the Grizzlies in Sacramento and the Grizzlies were defeated in Missoula by EWU but Montana has a chance to right that wrong when they face the Eagles in Cheney Saturday.

Saturday was an emotional night at Dahlberg Arena as not only the trio of seniors were honored, but Sports Information Director Dave Guffey was recognized at mid-court during the pre-game in advance of his retiring after 37 years.

"Guff" joins an impressive list of tenured Athletic Department employees as only Jiggs Dahlberg, Harry Adams and Naseby Rhinehart served longer while current Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig is in his 37th season.

But back to Saturday night's domination of Weber State, a team now with a 6-9 circuit mark and on the verge of being eliminated from the eight-team post season affair.

The Wildcats jumped out to a 24-16 advantage with about seven to play in the first half but in the last six minutes to the break the Grizzlies went on a 20-5 run to lead 36-29.

Montana led by as many as 17 a couple of times in the second stanza and while the Wildcats cut it to nine points shortly into the second half Montana was not about to be headed.

The Grizzlies shot a robust 50 percent from the field, connected on eight treys and dominated 28-8 in the paint to secure the convincing victory.

Just a couple of days beyond his 23rd birthday Martin Breunig posted double figures for the 24 consecutive time with 19 points while Jordan Gregory capped his senior night with 15 points to move into 19th on the all-time scoring list just five points back of Chris Spoja. 

Breunig also posted a double-double grabbing 10 caroms, seven of which came on the offensive end where 10 offensive boards lead to 22 second-chance points.

It's on the road to Moscow Thursday followed by a Saturday afternoon date with Eastern Washington.

ISU scouting report

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With their back against the proverbial wall winless in six road games Idaho State kicks off Montana's final home weekend in regular season league play.

The Bengals, who were pummeled by the Grizzlies in Pocatello a little over a month ago, stand tied for the basement of the Big Sky with just a trio of league wins.

But ISU and Montana State are just two games back of the final post-season tournament position with five to go.

The Grizzlies hit burst to a 9-0 lead in Pocatello after three Brandon Gfeller's three treys and it was 3½ minutes before the Bengals netted a field goal.

Montana quickly moved to a double-digit advantage and even though ISU shot just short of 50 percent, this one was never in doubt as the Grizzlies bounced back from a disheartening loss at Weber State two nights earlier.

ISU sharpshooter Chris Hansen, now the program's all-time three point shooter, was just three of a dozen from the field and connected on just a pair of treys as Montana connected on an amazing 15 of 27 from outside the arc. 

Idaho State started last week defeating eight-win Northern Arizona in Pocatello but then with an opportunity to move up in the standings saw Montana State and Idaho sweep and fell to Southern Utah, a team that rode the momentum of a win of an upset win in Ogden.

Senior Chris Hansen leads the Bengals but is just in the top 20 in scoring with a 17 point average and while Montana hung 90 points on ISU the Bengals allow about 72 in league games.

That compares to Montana's league-best 61 point mark which is some five  points superior to the remainder of the circuit.

ISU nearly occupies the league basement in scoring margin (minus five) and while they stand in the middle of the league in field goal percentage, the Bengals stand fourth in three-point proficiency but have fewer mades (63) than any other league team. They average less than five an outing.

In league games the Grizzlies lead the league in margin, scoring D and field goal and three-point defense.

Marcus Bradley came off the bench hitting eight of nine for 19 points the first time around but was offset by Gfeller's career-high 23 and Jordan Gregory's 20.

For Montana it is table-setting time.

 

The business end of the Big Sky season

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There's plenty to settle as the bottom quartet of Big Sky Conference teams - a pair with three league wins and two with a quartet of circuit victories try to launch themselves into talk of tournament seeding. 

Seemingly formerly eliminated Montana State swept the road trip and remains with an outside chance for the post season but with just three league wins, while Idaho State got the upset last week against Northern Arizona but fell two nights later against Southern Utah.

The Thunderbirds and North Dakota, swept last week by the Montana schools, share four win marks, one back of defending champion Weber State, alone in the eighth playoff position.

While eight-win Northern Arizona is probably secure, the other eight teams really all are positioning first to stay in consideration, then for seeding in the three-day March affair. 

This week on Thursday Idaho, trailing NAU by two wins, goes to Flagstaff while hard-luck Northern Colorado visits Sacramento. The Bobcats probably have to win out and are home Weber, while UND is on a precipice and goes to the Rose City.

Elsewhere Southern Utah hosts Eastern Washington and be aware that EWU, Idaho and So Utah have played but 12 games compared to the 13 of the other teams and certainly can be viewed as a help or a hindrance.

It is that familiar scenario for Montana with five to play. 

Take care of the Evans' zone and play just as hard and effective against hobbled Weber State - sophomore Jeremy Senglin, last season's Freshman of the year and the team's leading scorer (16), is out four weeks with a broken jaw - as if they were their usual title contender. 

Then finishing with road matchups with Idaho, Eastern and the Cats sets up probably the league's toughest finish, but then again opportunity abounds.

Incidentally Montana plays the Vandals not in the vast confines of the Kibbie Dome but in Memorial Gym where the two teams met so many times years ago.

With just 32 league games remaining, outside of the Grizzlies, the hottest team in the circuit might be Northern Arizona, winners of five of six and with three remaining road games.

Just Sacramento State remains unscathed at home while EWU, Northern Arizona and Montana show a single home league defeat.

When the Bengals show up Thursday they boast the school's all-time three-point shooter in senior Chris Hansen whose 214 treys are the 14th most in league history.

Further scouting the Bengals on Thursday.

A big homecoming for Gregory

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Indeed it was one for the ages and one of the zaniest of my career but how ironic was it that a Colorado native, now 20th on Montana's all-time scoring list but initially recruited by Northern Colorado, would be the player that clinched a Griz win after a trio of extra overtime sessions.

Things just seem to work in strange ways, and let's just say in Montana and Jordan Gregory's case... well... you know.

Gregory, this week's league co-Player of the Week, has been a pillar for this surprising Griz team that stands tied in the 10-win column with Eastern Washington and Sacramento State.

Gregory has scored in double figures in all but five games and has a chance depending on the number remaining to approach the 15th spot. That is plenty high ground for a guy who played in 18 games as a true freshman scoring just 17 points.

But as the story goes, he would just as soon been another kind of a bear than an Ursus Horribilis.

According to his dad Mark, who also wouldn't have minded seeing his son play closer to their Pueblo home, now Colorado coach tad Boyle, then at UNC, showed plenty of interest and a scholarship to Gregory but when he departed for the job in Boulder new coach B.J. Hill just encouraged "Greg" to use his academics for finances and become a "preferred walk-on", citing maybe he wasn't just quite good enough.

But in swooped Montana and the rest they say is history, kind of like the 44 points he has scored again the Bear this season as he has played in 80 Griz victories and already back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.

And the psychology major who just was named to the All District All American team is far from seeing his illustrious career come to an end.

Picked by coaches to finish eighth in the league race, this Montana team now winners of nine of 11 has learned in the last three games in victories over Idaho, North Dakota and now Northern Colorado how to put a game away, something they failed to do early.

But with three of the last five road games, this end of the season drive promises to be anything but easy pickings.

And then of course the first and probably the last eight-team post season affair to determine the league's NCAA bid.

But first things first as popular former Griz assistant coach Bill Evans brings his zone and Idaho State team to Dahlberg Arena Thursday night.

Crunch time is on the horizon as the "good guys" continue to peak and ride the momentum of the thriller in the high country.

How the Griz stack up against North Dakota

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The Grizzlies continue to post impressive defensive numbers in Big Sky Conference play yet they stand near the bottom of the circuit in point production.

 

Grand Forks beckons for the Grizzlies tonight as Montana challenges the University of North Dakota.

 

In 11 league games the Griz have allowed just less than 60 points an outing, south of 42 percent from the field and while scoring just 68.7 themselves are outscoring league opponents by almost nine an outing.

 

Those stats rank at the top of those categories and represent a substantial improvement over the complete schedule statistics.

 

The Grizzlies also have moved to the top of the league in three-point defense (.329) and now trail just offensive board banging Northern Arizona and Idaho in rebounding margin.

 

Tonight's opponent North Dakota tallies a bit better than 71 an outing, but have been outscored by 11 league opponents by almost five points.

 

They're shooting some 45 percent, about what they are giving up, and have made league-worst 61 treys while shooting less than 32 percent from long range.

 

They also are among the worst defenders in the league from long range and rank at the bottom in rebounding.

 

Sophomore Quinton Hooker leads UND in scoring with about a dozen an outing and is followed by senior Jaron Nash and junior Estan Tyler in double figures.

 

Nash is the rebounding pace setter followed by Hooker, both with better than five caroms an outing, while Hooker also is among the league leaders in dropping dimes as he averages six assists an outing.

 

The Griz swept UND and UNC on the first weekend of league play which started on New Years Day and held the former Flickertails to 29 first-half points.

 

Meanwhile senior guard Jordan Gregory continues to enjoy a spectacular season as well as junior post Martin Breunig. Both are averaging better than 16 points an outing.

 

Gregory now is just a point back of  Jeremy Lake for 25th on the all-time scoring list and depending on the number of games remaining could close in the school's top 15.

 

With a dozen points Gregory would pass Mike Warhank, Brian Qvale and Roger Fasting and move into the 21st spot.

 

North Dakota lads the Montana series 8-7 and beat the Grizzlies in Fargo last season 74-69 while UM prevailed in Missoula.

 

Big road trip for the Griz

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The battle for the final spot in the eight-team Big Sky Conference Tournament in addition to the undisputed league lead intensifies even a step further this week.

 

The Grizzlies are on the longest trek of the season with games in Fargo, North Dakota and Greeley Colorado.

 

But an hour before Montana faces off with a North Dakota team that with just four league wins - ironically just one of five at home - Sacramento State travels to Cheney where the Eagles amazingly are unbeaten not just in five circuit matchups but in all 11 home games this season.

 

The Hornets, winners of seven straight and the Eags, in the midst of a five-game skein, are tied in the loss column with just a single defeat with seven games remaining on the Sac State schedule one less than Eastern Washington.

 

It was indeed a historic swing through the Treasure State for the Eagles who swept both games for the first time since 2004, the last time they won in Missoula and it marked just the fourth time ever Eastern has swept the league trip in 28 years.

 

It is just as noteworthy a season for the Hornets who just clinched a first-ever winning season since moving to Division 1 in 1991 and they have now won a school-record eight league games at the Nest where they've captured 19 of 21 over two seasons.

 

It appears in lieu of an amazing turnaround that Montana State, Idaho State and Southern Utah are left to the role of league spoiler as they trail the field by two or in the case of the Cats three games and have failed to yet win a road league game.

 

The remaining nine teams chase eight tournament spots with Idaho and North Dakota vying to claim the final spot, a single win back of Portland State and Weber State.

 

Montana's task if you will is to gets wins against a North Dakota team that surprisingly has just three home wins while losing 11 of 12 on the road, then a grueling trip to Denver and on to Greeley where a Northern Colorado team just a game back of Montana awaits. And the Bears always have been challenging.

 

It's a 6:05 p.m. tipoff Thursday night with pre-game at 5:30.

Much learned from a loss

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Much can be learned about a team after a loss. And that of course is even further true after back-to-back defeats.

 

Eastern Washington journeyed into Dahlberg Arena last week and wavered little with the absence of the nation's top scorer and stayed steady in the Big Sky Conference race with the first of a rare State of Montana sweep.

 

I've seen it happen more times than I count where the rumor circulates around an arena or a field that a certain key player is absent and in this day of instant communication it's not like you can keep such information silent.

 

As a broadcaster I'm always of the opinion that I want our guys competing against the best an opponent has to offer and let the chips fall where they may.

 

And I know that "coach speak" always dictates that it matters little who is playing against UM and we prepare for any particular player as if they will be present.

 

But just what is the mentality of the team that loses such a key element.

 

From a spectator's standpoint at least it appeared to me that the absence of Tyler Harvey had a unifying effect on the Eagles.

 

While in pre-game I didn't know he was not on the trip, the Eagles were on the floor early and seemed extremely loose during warm-ups.

 

And that wasn't predictable given 12 straight losses to the Grizzlies in Missoula and the rarified air they currently are breathing with a best-ever league start

 

But the Eags were indeed up to the task and with Drew Brandon at the helm with 27 points swept past the Griz to maintain a share of the circuit lead in the loss column and after defeating Montana State two days later moved a couple of wins from the school's all-time D-1 win record.

 

But the point with Montana is this - While losing at home in league for the first time this season, the Grizzlies came bouncing back and put the hammer down on a good Idaho team that while it will need to scramble to make the league tournament looks capable to me to be able to beat anybody in the circuit.

 

And more encouraging is that they closed out a team that made a late-game run and that might prove important as the regular season heads for home.

The Eagles are coming to town

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It is a pivotal Big Sky Conference matchup at Dahlberg Arena tonight where a Griz victory could set the stage for the league's second half.

 

The upstart Eagles of Eastern Washington bring a potential school record setting group over the mountains to try to maintain a share of the league lead after winning eight of the last 10 games.

 

But the Eags are just 2-1 away from Cheney with the recent 13-point loss at Sacramento State the only circuit blemish after eight league games.

 

But the second part of league for Eastern stands challenging as after the Montana swing they face teams like Sacramento,  Northern Arizona and Weber State in addition to hosting Montana in just three weeks.

 

Comparable scores are sometimes interesting and in this case the Eagles have defeated Seattle, as did Montana, won at San Francisco by five, where the Grizzlies lost, and dropped an 11-pointer at Cal where Montana fell in double OT.

 

Montana has defeated Eastern in Missoula the last dozen games and have claimed 13 of the last 16 matchups and 19 of 23 including both games last year and three straight the previous season.

 

But this version of Eagle basketball is quite different especially with the return of the injured ball swatter Venky Jois.

 

High scoring phenom Tyler Harvey sat out the end of last week's Idaho game with a thigh bruise but the junior is listed as the starter.

 

And Eastern's stats are indeed impressive.

 

In addition to Harvey pacing the nation in scoring, EWU stands third in scoring offense at better than 83 a game, connect on just short of half their shot attempts, stand fifth with some 10 treys made per outing, is 21st nationally in free throw percentage and lead the Big Sky Conference in five categories.

 

And in the loss column back of the league lead shared by Eastern and Sac,

their 16 victories are one more than all last season and they're closing in on the school's all-time win total of 20 established in 1986.

 

But the Griz are just a game in the loss column back of the league pacesetters and have claimed five straight home league games.

 

Fan Appreciation activities will be held starting at 4:30 in the auxiliary gym and this is the first game played at home with the students on campus.

 

It has all the makings.  

 

 

 

  

Big week for the Griz

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It's football national letter of intent signing day but it looks like the only surprise for the Montana Grizzlies could be if a player didn't follow through on their commitment by signing on the dotted line.

 

New head football coach Bob Stitt's inaugural signing class looks to be a doozy.

 

With the presence of recruiting coordinator Justin Green lending the needed continuity Montana held onto the early commitments to Mick Delaney's staff and added most of the state's blue chippers to the program that bounded back into the limelight of the national playoffs last season.

 

And there's little doubt that Stitt's reputation as an offensive guru and the stout defense of coordinator Ty Gregorak also have served to generate additional buzz.

 

And add to the mix the opener against four-time defending National Champion North Dakota State in the nationally televised inaugural 2015 game and you have all the February excitement one can handle.

 

And then there's Thursday night's game in Missoula against highly-touted Eastern Washington featuring not just the nation's top scorer in Tyler Harvey but also a matchup between arch rivals one of whom leads the circuit in scoring defense and the other, with a one-game league lead, who paces the league in scoring offense.

 

Just a junior, Harvey averages 23.4 points an outing and in 73 games already has tallied 1,318 points.

 

But the Eagles are by no means single faceted as Montana again take the floor against a team with a pair of 1,000-point scorers with senior Venky Jois totaling 1,071 in just 77 games.

 

Jois also is a shot blocking phenom who has swatted an amazing 165 - he gets almost three a game while the Eagles get more than five - while pulling down 628 rebounds.

 

And Eastern connects on better than ten treys an outing -they have attempted more than 40 a couple of times - while also pacing the league in that all-important assist to turnover ration at plus 1.3.

 

Senior guard Drew Brandon is the co-player of the week with Sac State's Mikh McKinney.

 

He was just one carom short of a triple-double in the three-point overtime victory over Idaho with 18 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, a pair of blocks and a steal. He also hit the buzzer beater at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime where the eagles prevailed 98-95.

 

With two games against Eastern in the second half, the home matchup is a necessity for the Grizzlies who look to rebound from a hart breaking loss Saturday at Sacramento. 

Down to business in the Big Sky

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The turn to head down the home stretch in the Big Sky Conference race is upon us and there's virtually a trio of circuit teams whose chances for the post-season tournament surely seem in peril.

 

The Grizzlies put their unscathed home league record on the line Thursday against league leading Eastern Washington,

 

While tied in the loss column with Sacramento State, the Eagles played just three of their first eight away from Reese Court in Cheney and face the task of five of eight on the road to culminate league play.

 

Eastern had their hands full Saturday night in Pocatello, only able to edge two-win Idaho State 98-95 in overtime in a game that most felt the Bengals should have won.

 

But make no mistake that in Tyler Harvey Eastern has the highest scoring player in the land and while the Eagles certainly have dodged a few bullets in the first half of the season, they have continued somehow to keep putting up games in the left column.

 

Harvey not only leads the country in scoring he also is the pacesetter in treys per game (4.33) and now with 91 he already is 13th in league history in mades in a single season.

 

Meanwhile the last-second Hornet victory over Montana may well rank as the most notable Sacramento State victory since they joined the Division-1 ranks.

 

It was the first time the Grizzlies have lost to Sac State since 2007, a span of 15 games, and the Hornet's Nest was buzzing an hour before tipoff.

 

I really have no problem with fans rushing the court although I can tell you for a brief second as they burst past and over my courtside seat, I was momentarily concerned for my safety and the continuance of the radio broadcast.

 

While there was no attempt to contain the court storming, it was pandemonium for just a brief time and justified since it was a huge win and one to be celebrated.

 

But after order was restored the gentleman now protecting the court wanted to make sure the youngsters - a couple of Griz fans about six years old - who tried to sit on the Grizzly bench chairs were ordered away from the court and into the stands.

 

Now let me get this straight. The same "security" that was non-existent and failed to provide for the working press now needs to protect the floor and the courtside chairs.

 

And where indeed is just a taste of common sense?

Signing Day around the corner

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Here we are in the midst of hoop hysteria and we are just a week away from institutions across the country announcing which players are coming aboard hopefully to increase their football fortunes.

 

Wednesday, Feb 4, is National Letter of Intent signing day when football coaches traditionally anxiously await the signed decision that a recruit has officially agreed to a scholarship offer.

 

And although it always is painted with a bright brush if things don't go exactly as expected, it is still a nervous time either sitting at or checking the fax until your anticipated recruitment list is completed.

 

Usually by this week a lot of student athletes already have talked to the press to announce their intentions, but coaches can't comment and it does not become official until the dotted line is secure.

 

At the University of Montana there is an on-campus function where the recruits are feted, then coaches and administrators traditionally travel north in the afternoon this year with meet-and-greet stops in Polson and Kalispell to spread the word about the emerging fortunes of Griz football.

 

And with new head coach Bob Stitt at the helm, there is the additional buzz and excitement around the new recruits.

 

But something that should not be overlooked is the continued success of Griz football and that while theirs is the expected hype especially given the opener against the four-time defending National Champion at the end of August, there is nothing wrong with the pigskin program in Missoula.

 

When Mick Delaney retired after yet another playoff year, the cupboards were far from bare and the retention of three coaches, which is indeed a rarity, and the addition of former Griz to the staff brings nothing but promise for future success but also serves notice that what we have in Missoula - not just the program but the expectations and support - is something every institution in the land would cherish.

 

And while yes the support has never really wavered, we should let those people in the know how much we appreciate the continued direction of all UM's sports programs and how proud we are to be a part of what we know as "Griz Nation."

 

Share you excitement and please join us for one of the functions but why not take the time to drop a line or make a call.

 

 

 

Griz return to the road

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Stops in seven states await the Montana Grizzlies as they approach the mid-way pole of the Big Sky Conference race with but a quartet of remaining home games.

 

It looks like a donnybrook with little decided especially in the top half of 12-team race.

 

But continuing to protect the home floor with last week's gritty victories over Northern Arizona and Southern Utah and now with just the Weber State in the loss column, the Griz hit the road for games against new travel partners Portland State and Sacramento State, another duo they will only face once this season.

 

It is hard to say how one-play teams could affect tie breaker scenarios for seeding at the regular season's close but there is little doubt that of the 11 remaining conference games, Montana will be facing mostly the upper crust of the league.

 

To start with while Thursday's opponent Portland State is but 4-4, the Vikings just picked up a victory over struggling Weber State in Ogden for the first time since 2006, then tripped two nights later in Pocatello.

 

The home loss dropped the Wildcats, who now have lost three straight, to 3-5 and was their third loss at Dee Events Center, quite a rarity in recent seasons.

 

And Saturday's opponent Sacramento State, my pick to win the league in the pre-season based on returning all five starters, have won four straight and remains tied in the loss column with Montana and Eastern Washington.

 

With just the top eight advancing to the post-season tournament to determine the NCAA bid and a current two-game gap between the top of the league and about a seven-team middle ground.

 

I was about ready to declare Montana State first-out but then the Bobcats broke a nine-game losing streak by surprising Southern Utah leaving MSU trailing the Thunderbirds, North Dakota and Idaho State by just one victory.

 

This I know to be true - While obviously holding home court is vitally important, teams like MSU, Idaho State, and Southern Utah that have just two road victories among them all season and others like Idaho and Weber

State, losers of six of seven road matchups, will have to get comfortable in other than white jerseys if they are going to be anything but league spoilers.

 

 

 

 

How the Cats stack up

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Even given a miserable start that has seen Montana State mired in the Big Sky Conference cellar, there has been no tweaking of their starting lineup.

 

But you know how it goes with the cross-state matchup and you can bet both of these first-year coaches are intent on starting their careers with victories over their arch rival.

 

Montana State visits Dahlberg Arena losers of eight consecutive games against the Grizzlies and they haven't won in Missoula since 2009 when they broke another four-game slide.

 

In other words no member of their current roster has ever been successful against Montana and that's just what Travis DeCuire would like to see continue.

 

You see back when he was the team's point guard Montana State was successful against Montana just once and that came in overtime as Blaine Taylor teams were dominant.

 

But while no current Grizzly has tasted cross-state defeat all that will matter little Saturday night when rosters mostly filled with out-of-staters face off.

 

The Cats have relied on the same starters in all four league games and basically the same quintet that have compiled a 3-13 mark have seen about the same amount of court tile as they compiled during the non-conference.

 

But the aforementioned Michael Dison, a senior guard from Houston has raised his game a level and with an 18.8-point average is among the league's scoring leaders.

 

Aside from Dison's 5 carom average parlayed with 6-9 senior Eric Norman's seven board average, MSU is rebounding by committee and the Cats have outboarded league opponents on the offensive glass to stand even through four games.

 

Big Sandy 250-lb senior Blake Brumwell starts but plays just an average of 20 minutes a game, while 6-8 junior Danny Robison from Billings West also gets a starting nod from first-year mentor Brian Fish and contributes almost 10 points and more than four rebounds in an average of about 26 minutes a game.

 

Dison scored 15 in a pair of Griz wins last year, a four-pointer in Bozeman and a three-pointer in Missoula while guard Jordan Gregory countered with a double-figure performance in both games.

 

With a pair of home games for both teams next week, this is an opportunity for Montana to keep pace with the league leaders and for Montana State to crawl into league tournament contention.

The old foe returns to Missoula

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After sporting just a one-point advantage eight minutes into the game, the Grizzlies got on message and walked away with a second straight victory, Montana's seventh in 15 outings.

 

After connecting on double-figure treys (a combined total of 26) in the last two games, high scoring Montana is focused on building additional league momentum by sending Montana State to an ninth straight loss.

 

The Cats are winless on the road and mired in the Big Sky Conference basement after being swept by Idaho State and Weber State.

 

But Montana State led the Bengals by 19 and fell by just a slim margin in Ogden as maybe the Wildcats fell victim to the Grizzly jinx, putting all their focus on Montana only to step back a bit in the next game.

 

Now no coaching staff is ever going to tell you a game against one opponent is any different than another but I've seen it occur so many times I know such a thing sometimes occurs.

 

It's not much different than looking past an opponent - Montana Tech for example - with a home league game against the cross-state rival next on the agenda.

 

That did not happen to the Griz Tuesday night.

 

It is indeed something one has to be aware of even though the company line always is that it can't happen to your team.

 

The Bobcats have been challenged to score the ball - averaging just north of 61 a game and even a bit less in four league losses - and are shooting less than 39 percent for the season.

 

Montana State in winning just three of 16 games has been outscored by almost double digits yet have done a decent job off the glass.

 

They are led by Michael Dison who in four league outings has averaged almost 19, about six better than his season average.

 

The difference for Dison has been three-point efficiency as he's connected on half of his 30 attempts and is shooting 47 percent in league play, far better than his overall field percentage.

 

But while the Bobcats show a quartet of players in or near double figures, aside from Dison there has been a lack of a go-to guy.

 

Home teams have won 15 of 22 thus far but 16 of 22 league games have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

 

It promises to be a heck of a title chase.    

It's hoops tonight vs Tech

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Secure with the initial conference road victory, the Grizzlies entertain Montana Tech Tuesday night right in the middle of Bobcat week.

 

It was less than a sedate bus ride Saturday night from Pocatello after Montana routed Idaho State and claimed a 10th straight victory over the Bengals.

 

And the night started with not a growl but a roar as Brandon Gfeller drilled a trey from the left baseline less than thirty seconds in as Montana led the game throughout.

 

But "G" was far from done as the sharpshooter who has taken just eight shots from inside the arc all season drilled the next five from long range, three in the game's first two minutes, as the Grizzlies methodically built first a double-digit, then a 20-plus point advantage.

 

And it wasn't as if it was just the Colfax sophomore who had the touch from long range, as a quintet of other Grizzlies netted at least a single trey with  Montana connected on a season-high 15 of 27 from outside the arc.

 

Montana missed just nine of 28 first-half field goal attempts to win for the third time in four conference games to sit just a game of the pace of the league leaders.

 

Gfeller cooled a bit but still hit seven of a dozen to net a career-high 23 points to lead all scorers as the Grizzlies advance their season mark to 8-12.

 

What was most impressive to me was the number of made treys that came from teammates assists as Montana dished 21 dimes on 29 made field goals.

 

The Bengal defense was completely ineffective and the Grizzlies made sure ISU high scorer Chris Hanson was bottled up as the senior connected on just three of a dozen from the field, two of the Bengals three treys and just eight points about half of the 1,000-point scorer's season scoring average.

 

There were individual career bests posted in at least six categories.

 

Montana Tech comes to Missoula riding a seven-game winning streak, two of which came on the opening weekend of Frontier Conference play.

 

The Orediggers are a high scoring lot (77.2), pound the boards for about seven more caroms than their 16 opponents and connect on close to 48 percent from the field.

 

With seven players on the Tech roster from Montana it promises to be an interesting evening.

 

Pre-game is on the air at 6:30 p.m.  

History on the line & one of the greats

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The grizzlies are looking to end the regular season dominance of Weber State at Dee Event Center.

 

It could be said, while he didn't actually get credit for it, Wayne Tinkle picked up his first collegiate coaching victory in Ogden Utah in 2004.

 

Head Coach Pat Kennedy had been suspended for a game for criticizing officials and Tinkle, then an assistant, piloted the Grizzles to a 58-55 victory to start a five-game winning streak in what was just a 10 win season.

 

Since then the Wildcats have defeated Montana 10 consecutive times with the only exception in 2009 when the Anthony Johnson-led Grizzlies rebounded from a 20-plus-point deficit to capture the league tournament.

 

The cupboard isn't exactly empty as they return league Defender of the Year and one of the nation's top rebounders in Joel Bolomboy and Freshman of the Year Jeremy Senglin.

 

But now a word about the Sunday passing of broadcasting legend Stuart Scott.

 

While sometimes I doubt this with the new breed, there is not a print or electronic journalist who wants to be a part of the story or event they are covering.

 

Yet all of us enjoy imparting a bit of our own style, pizzazz if you will, that doesn't just entertain but also separates our description apart from that of anyone else.

 

Well that certainly was true for Stuart Scott who brought to the airways not a different style but a new language unfamiliar to a profession that was yet and still isn't multi-cultural.

 

And he did so in spite of a corporate culture that criticized his pomp and tried to rebuke his efforts.

 

And in so doing he broke ground for not just a legion of journalists of ethnicity attracted to the profession by watching him but a following of athletes who only wanted to have their feats be recognized by his words.

 

And he did this so eloquently and professionally, without again being the story, that with his death we see some of his descriptions will remain immortal.

 

And how he lived, oh how he lived with the dreaded disease.

 

You won Stew and now enjoy the other side of the pillow.

On the road to Weber

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On your radio on the road courtesy of Beach Transportation heading to Ogden Utah and given the recent weather considerations, I just could not be more comfortable that slouched in the seat, a movie blaring over the television speakers and quite frankly I can fall asleep before they close the door on either a bus or an airplane.

 

Sometimes though that is much to the chagrin of the shoulder of my seatmate but well that's just for another time.

 

There is no dispute that reigning Big Sky Conference champion Weber State has been a dominant force in the league.

 

Weber State Head Coach Randy Rahe has just enjoyed a wealth of success in Ogden and while the Grizzlies in the conference tournament in 2013 and 2012 and in the semi-final round in 2011 had his number, the Wildcats have been a terror in league games.

 

In his ninth season the diminutive Rahe is the only circuit coach in history to claim a quartet of Coach of the year honors and despite starting 0-2 on the road this season he has won 70 of 90 league games in the last five-plus seasons.

 

He is second on the league's all-time conference win list with 106, only the fifth to exceed the Century mark, stands fifth in all-time victories and his teams have captured double-figure circuit wins in each of his seasons.

 

Under Rahe, Weber State has captured four regular season crowns and a pair of titles while advancing to at least the league semi-final round all eight of his seasons.

 

Like Montana, Weber State has won nine Big Sky titles but is virtually unbeatable at raucous Dee Events Center where legions of fans virtually hang from the stands over the top of the team's benches.

 

But fans you don't graduate guys like Davion Berry, Kyle Tresnak and Jordan Richardson without it taking a toll. They represent 38 points-per-game and along with Jeremy Senglin and Joel Bolomboy started every Wildcat game last season.

 

So in the purest sense this Wildcat team that was picked to repeat as league champ is like Montana, a work in progress and catching them in Ogden early in the league season is probably a bit of an advantage.

 

We'll scout the game tomorrow.   

 

Griz hoops head to Weber

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The basketball show returns to the airways Tuesday night from Brooks and Browns in Missoula as long as this beleaguered scribe can figure a way out of his football-field length driveway.

 

And after the Grizzlies jumpstarted their season with a pair of league wins last week, it's down the road for counters with defending league champion yet surprising 0-2 Weber State Thursday and Idaho State on Saturday.

 

Weather played havoc with getting teams back to their home campus after Saturday games but that's just life on the road in the Big Sky Conference.

 

There were superlatives aplenty over the weekend in Missoula as the Grizzlies allowed a season-low 48 to Northern Colorado which was averaging about 75 then withstood a decent shooting performance by North Dakota winning by 11 points after leading late in the contest by 17.

 

The inside-outside duo of senior Jordan Gregory and junior Martin Breunig again provided the scoring punch in both games but what jumped off the stat sheet for me was rebounding, especially on the offensive end.

 

Montana claimed 21 of their 72 caroms on the offensive end, a third more than the two opponents while out-boarding North Dakota and Northern Colorado by a total of 17.

 

Those stats from a team that came into the weekend being outrebounded by more than three an outing.

 

Combine that with a defense that stiffened to the tune of allowing the two opponents just 41 percent from the field and an average of 55 points and you might see why I was excited.

 

But two games certainly don't make a season and while no disrespect is intended those two opponents probably will finish in the bottom half of the Big Sky Conference.

 

Holding home court in league play is a necessity and with three of the next four league tilts in Missoula after this week's road trip, there's a real opportunity to get a leg up on the circuit before the halfway pole.

 

Senior wing Mike Weisner missing the last five games with an ankle injury has allowed the emergence of Fabijan Krslovic and Jack Lopez also has seen increased time off the bench while senior Chris Kemp has stepped nicely into a starting spot.

 

What's not to like but Dee Event Center in Ogden where the Griz haven't won during the regular season since Pat Kennedy's tenure, now that will be a measuring stick.

New Year hoops around the Big Sky

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An early Happy New Year as it is here - Opening tip for the 2015 Big Sky Conference campaign.

 

The league's dozen teams get after it starting Thursday afternoon with an early measure of competitiveness with powerhouse Weber State making the trek to Cheney to face off with the high-flying Eagles.

 

The significance of course is that Weber is the prognosticator's pick to repeat as league champ and Eastern Washington has the best non-conference record, is unbeaten in six home games and was tabbed to finish as the league runner-up.

 

The Wildcats have beaten EWU seven straight times and have claimed a half-dozen consecutive victories at Reese Court.

 

Idaho will host cross-state rival Idaho State in the Vandals initial Big Sky Conference game since 1996 while here in the Treasure State there are new mentors both in Bozeman and Missoula with of course Travis DeCuire and Brian Fish making their circuit debuts both at home.

 

In Missoula Northern Colorado is coming off an 11-9 league record in a season where the Bears won 18 games, lost the circuit chipper at Weber and advanced to the post-season where they fell to Texas A&M CC.

 

But traditionally they have struggled on the road where they won but four of 15 games last season.

 

The Bears are winless in five road contests this season and must replace rebounding giant Derrick Barden (7.8), three-point specialist Tate Unruh (41 percent), and journeyman starter Connor Osborne.

 

But while the Bears are but 5-6, they boast the league's top two field goal shooters in seniors Tim Huskisson and Dominque Lee and one of the league's finest guards in Tevin Svihovec who leads league returnees with more than 1,100 points parlayed with 270 assists and 88 steals in 100 games.

 

The Bears lead in field goal percentage (.495) and while Lee is one of the top defensive rebounders (4.8 p/g), the Oakland senior has been on a tear the last five games averaging north of 15 and a dozen caroms while claiming a double-double (19/10) against Jacksonville State.

 

UNC just fell to highly-regarded UC Davis 73-63 in a rare scenario in Greeley and show additional tough losses to Colorado State, Colorado, New Mexico State and Wyoming.

 

Game time at Dahlberg Arena is 7 p.m.

 

Griz return home for league opener

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Montana is hoping that some home cooking will be a factor as the Big Sky Conference season starts in earnest Thursday night in Missoula.

 

The lid comes off the second season and the first league campaign for Travis DeCuire.

 

And with five league tilts and a single non-conference matchup at Dahlberg Arena in the first 24 days of January, it is a prime opportunity for Montana to get a leg up so to speak on the potential of good league tournament seeding and a subsequent post season berth.

 

And the Thursday-Saturday openers are against teams in Northern Colorado and North Dakota who prognosticators picked in the bottom half of the league.

 

But then again remember coaches tabbed the Grizzlies as the eighth best team while the media had a little better memory of Montana's past play in selecting them just a point back of Sacramento State in the fifth spot.

 

Of course the Achilles of having early league home games is finishing with six of the last 10 on the road.

 

After the Bears and North Dakota come to town, four days later it's on the bus to Ogden for a Jan 8 game, then back north for the road finale in Pocatello on Saturday and a middle-of-the night return bus trip to Missoula.

 

There are a couple of new twists this season.

 

On the Tuesday of the sometimes single Bobcat game (Sat, Jan. 17), Montana faces Montana Tech in a non-conference matchup.

 

Also instead of Portland State being matched with Eastern Washington, with the addition of Idaho to the basketball league, the Vikings are now paired with Sacramento State while the Vandals join Eastern Washington as travel partners.

 

EWU has lost three of the last four games but the Eagles are just one of the few league teams with a winning record and several have substantial losing marks.

 

Teams will play seven league members twice and the four remaining teams just once. That means Montana faces Northern Arizona and Southern Utah,   Portland State and Sacramento State once.

 

Eight teams advance to the league tournament at the arena of the regular season champion which will no longer have a first-round bye and there will be no reseeding of teams after each round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

Big Sky hoops stats

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So here it is New Years week and leagues are wrapping up the non-conference season and gearing up for in some cases the toughest run of the years and for others far less the quality of opponents than they have faced in December.

For the Grizzlies, back in the fold in Missoula, it's a little bit of both as I am not so sure that anybody expected Montana's opening opponent, Colorado State, to be unbeaten in December, but the victories have come few and far between especially given a pair of double-overtime heartbreaks.

And while pre-season prognosticators had a sense that Eastern Washington would be near the top of the standings they might not have anticipated Weber State would head into conference play under the break-even mark.

But consider this - Wildcat opponents have a combined RPI going into the last week of the year at 80, EWU's schedule shows opponents at 62 while although Montana's strength of schedule leads the league at 40 but their combined RPI is just 126.

That leaves Montana opponents third in the Big Sky Conference with a 201 RPI, well back of league-leading Eastern Washington's 37 and just ahead of Weber State, which is sixth a spot back of the Grizzlies.

Of interest is as a whole the Big Sky is 22nd among 33 leagues, behind the Southland and just ahead of the Big South on a list headed by the Big 12 and the Big East.

So with league play opening Thursday conference wide I thought it would be interesting to see how league teams and individuals fared in the national stats mainly because there are a pair of instances where circuit teams are pacing the nation.

At just north of 43 percent new league member Idaho, which was an original Big Sky team, leads the nation in three-point proficiency, while making about eight an outing just back of Montana in a league category led by Eastern Washington at 9.6 per-game.

EWU's Tyler Harvey leads the nation with 4.25 treys an outing while shooting .468 in a category led by Southern Utah's James McGee at an amazing .563.

Meanwhile after converting 17 of 18 free throws, Weber State moved atop the national ladder at 79 percent which is well atop the league standings.

Just a taste as to what you might expect as the conference moves forward this week.

The league opener is Northern Colorado Thursday, yes New Years Day night at 7 p.m.

The Big Sky in the new year

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Nature's reflective beauty awaited me Christmas morning Thursday as the sun enlightened Flathead Lake straight out my office window.

 

I had wondered why I was up in the dark far earlier than usual but as the pink sky broke through a thin cloud cover, there was little doubt I had been nudged to open my eyes to be welcomed by the skiff of snow that fell the previous night that served just to beautify my little gully to the north that provides respite for myriads of the local deer population.

 

We approach the end of the year, but just the beginning of my 30th Big Sky Conference campaign.

 

I am pleased that since league tilts open on New Years Day at least the Grizzlies are host in the friendly confines while the Lady Griz find themselves in Colorado and North Dakota which given weather combined with airports packed with holiday travelers can make getting to and from game sites as challenging as the evening's competition.

 

It is kind of rare to spend the opening of a new year away from family and friends in a strange city and hotel room but it certainly is not unprecedented since even in my now fading memory of Lady Griz past I recall one or two of those situations and any way being surrounded by a team of any kind always is a healthy situation.

 

But never would it have been in Colorado or North Dakota for either team since those schools weren't yet a part of what was then the Mountain West Conference for the women and the men's Big Sky.

 

In efforts to keep the Big Sky Conference not just viable but strong the league has been expanded to its current form of a dozen teams, mainly said Commissioner Doug Fullerton in a recent interview, to keep other leagues from cherry picking the 51-year old circuit and weakening the product.

 

And while that has been a success yet in Fullerton's mind not yet a completed project - he envisions possibly two leagues rather than divisions managed out of a central location - in football at least where schools don't play each other on a yearly basis, it has eliminated some healthy rivalries.

 

But I suppose with change others will emerge and any way beating any kind of Cat can't be anything but a good feeling. 

The holidays are time of reflection

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To you and yours a Merry Christmas from all of us on the Grizzly Sports Network broadcast team.

 

The bucketball season take a short respite, campus is basically deserted and for just a short while I don't need to burn pavement on Highway 93 south and north.

 

I have been so fortunate in my broadcast career, which has always been coupled with pretty much daily journalism.

 

I attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, for many years to get a job in Montana and when the magic occurred in the bowling business so many years ago, I knew there would be no reason to venture anywhere else.

 

And while I generally realized that writing would always occupy my future, I had no inclination that radio would play such a huge role.

 

And when Program Director Dave Wilson suggested I go into a KGVO production room and record two minutes of a make-believe football in advance of sending me out the door to Missoula County High School Stadium, I sure didn't expect to be describing sports action for the next 30 years.

 

It was a short time later I became the Public Address announcer for Griz football, first at Dornblaser then at Washington Grizzly Stadium and then proceeded to be behind the microphone for well over 1,000 Griz and Lady Griz broadcasts.

 

Changes have been plentiful but the one thing that has never changed is the passion I bring to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and on this Christmas Eve day I wanted to take stock, measure my continue enthusiasm and share with all of you both the deepest of holiday wishes but my continued thanks for your kind words and continued support.

 

I have always strived to describe games as was requested by the late R. Budd Gould, an avowed listener and blind friend who told me early-on he wanted me to share not just the obvious particulars but the nuances, the smell, the color, the sounds and everything he was no longer able to visually enjoy.

 

I make no apologies that I continue to attempt to provide yes, that half-glass-full approach and ask you to consider that while sports indeed is a microcosm of life, in the end it is after all a game played at our level by the young.

 

Positive takeaways from South Dakota

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Sports are just plain unpredictable and often cruel.

 

The Grizzlies, with their starting lineup depleted by 60 percent and starting a couple of players who shared a single opening lineup, made a gallant attempt but fell to South Dakota Sunday afternoon on the final tune-up preceding conference play.

 

Now don't think you will hear any excuses for the lack of firepower or on-court experience or the pressure of starting on the home floor in an infrequent situation but those factors did contribute to the eventual outcome.

 

The 3-7 Grizzlies actually held a double-digit advantage with some 11 to play and led the game for substantially longer than the Coyotes, but they could not sustain the advantage and after a 14-4 run found themselves knotted at 56 some five minutes later sending the Sunday afternoon crowd shifting uneasily in their seats.

 

Montana scored but a half dozen more points and while they had three long-range opportunities late to cut it to a single-possession game after the yeoman's work by Fabijan Krsolovik on the offensive board, the Yotes headed back to Vermillion with a fifth victory in 13 games, 67-62.

 

Leading scorer Martin Breunig joined Mike Weisner on the bench with an ankle injury while Jermaine Edmonds Jr. was in uniform but did not play because of an "academic issue," according to a source.

 

It is possible that both Weisner and Breunig will return for the conference opener Jan. 1 while Edmonds' status is unknown.

 

Senior Chris Kemp, who started one game last season, posted a career high 12 points missing just a pair of field goal attempts in eight attempts and fell just a carom short of a career best with six boards.

 

Krslovik also contributed career numbers connecting on all three field goal attempts and netted eight points and nine rebounds.

 

Free throw shooting also plagued Montana but six of the eight missed charity shots came from players that have seen little floor time during key situations.

Senior Jordan Gregory continued his frenetic scoring pace with 18 after four straight games of 20 points or more but he hit but six of 17 field goal attempts.

 

Players and staff will reconvene in Missoula the evening of Dec. 26 to start prep for the league opener in Missoula against Northern Colorado.

Griz host Yotes on the hardwood

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Almost time for a few days of Christmas break for the Grizzlies but first there's hoop Sunday afternoon wrapping up three days of bucketball action at Dahlberg Arena

Montana hopes to expectorate its recent road woes at the friendly confines Sunday when they meet the University of South Dakota.

The Yotes are coming off a Thursday engagement in Vermillion against Montana State while the Grizzlies had a seven-day respite after the humiliation in Milwaukee.

But with one of the top 20 most-difficult schedules in the country one thing's for sure, this will be a battle hardened Montana team that opens league play at home in just a couple of weeks.

And while their record might not indicate it, take this to the bank, they're comin'.

True that field goal defense and rebounding remain a work in progress but with senior wing Mike Weisner on the shelf with an ankle injury the last pair of games, players like Brandon Gfeller, Fabijan Krslovik, Jack Lopez and Chris Kemp have seen quality floor time that will do nothing hut enhance this group down the line.

Even with foul trouble, Martin Breunig has often proven virtually unstoppable and is the early choice for the circuit's Newcomer of the Year but the Big Sky Conference looks as strong at the top as I can remember.

As for the Coyotes they're a perimeter oriented team led by senior Brandon Bos who shoots a quarter of his shots from outside the arc and averages just north of 17 an outing.

South Dakota is a veteran group that's been starting all upper classmen with its share of drop-downs and transfers including 6 foot 10 Australian post James Hunter from Washington State.

In fact their roster features just a half dozen of 16 listed players who didn't initially play elsewhere and they're from seven states, Canada and of course Australia.

Las Vegas guard Tyler Larson, a senior who originally played at Casper College where Daniel Nwosu transferred here from, contributes about 16 an outing and connects on almost half of his field goal attempts while along with Bos and Casey Kasperbauer carry the majority of the three-point load leaving just a pittance for the remainder of the roster for a team shooting about 35 percent.

It's a 1 p.m. start and I hope to see you there.

Stitt has been there, done that

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In advance of Montana's new head football coach meeting the media for the first time on Friday Griz Biz thought they'd take the opportunity to examine of the new head man's coaching background.

Much has already been made about the offensive prowess that Bob Stitt bring to the Grizzly program after 15 years at the helm of the Colorado School of Mines.

He has been described in some corners as the best offensive mind and head coach that no one has ever heard of, but in the coaching ranks Stitt is far from being an unknown.

Many will draw similarities to the hiring of Joe Glenn who made his name winning a pair of Division-II National Championships at Northern Colorado before taking the helm at Montana.

But Glenn's influences may run even deeper than just the Cinderella story of a lower division coach excelling at the D-1 level.

Stitt also graduated from Doane College, Glenn's Alma mater, where Joe became the youngest head coach in the country when he was hired at the Nebraska school in 1976.

Stitt was a three-sport star there at running back and return specialist on the gridiron where he was the All-State College Offensive Player of the Year, played left field on the baseball team and still found time to run the 4x100 meter relay.

And after following Glenn to UNC for a year in 1989 while he earned his master's degree - his son is named after Joe which should surprise no one -   he returned to Doane for four years serving as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.

After a stint at Austin College (Texas), Stitt assumed the offensive coordinator position at Harvard where his 1989 team led the Ivy League in rushing and set school marks for total offense in a game (640 yards), single-game passing yards (405), and points (63).

So just where was the School of Mines at before he arrived you might ask.

Well suffice it to say when the Orediggers finished 7-4 in Stitt's second season in 2000 it was their first winning season since 1991 and most wins since 1958.

And when they finished 7-4 the nest season in 2002, it was the school's first back-to-back winning season since 1974-75.

And it got better from there.

I couldn't be more excited. 

Welcome Coach Stitt

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The first thing I did when it became official Tuesday was send incoming head football coach Bob Stitt a personal Facebook message to welcome him to the insanity and that certainly is not a bad thing of Grizzly football.

And at the same time I shared to Facebook a recent television interview to just provide a snippet about where he comes from and what his players think about him becoming an FCS head coach.

The hiring of Mick Delaney's replacement didn't happen fast enough for a myriad of football fans but worked perfectly for this Vox.

And while journalists certainly did their job writing about who might land the prestigious position and in fact reported late last week that the position had been offered, quite frankly until the agreement is officially finalized and the dotted line completed it is only up to the prognosticators to forecast which direction things are going and up to the guy who does the hiring to make darn sure everything is done according to Hoyle.

Thus came Director of Athletics Kent Haslem's Saturday denial that the job had been offered after Fox Sports reported it was indeed a done deal.

Now don't think I had inside information more than any other Grizzly fan and know this not only I don't expect any nor would I ever in my current position push for such knowledge.

While I certainly as interested as any of you in Griz Nation and am more than curious, I guess after pushing for such access and information as a journalist I'm comfortable, no make that confident, both with the process and the people making the decision.

And you see I am not employed by the University, actually I am not employed by anyone but rather an independent contractor, I hold no allegiance other than to a yearly contract which by the way I cherish.

Stitt brings a wealth of offensive prowess, innovation and energy and will grab the helm of the best-followed and most successful FCS program since 2000, cherish it like the baby we coddle, fine-tune to his liking and with the support of all of you with the generosity required to bring facilities back to a division-leading level, continue to beat the Cats, compete for a Big Sky Conference title, advance to the playoffs and contend for a third National Championship with the student-athletes that the community and the state will continue to be extremely proud of.

And Griz Nation can ask for nothing more. 

Welcome Coach Bob Stitt.      

 

Griz hoops ready to return to Missoula

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It will be a relieved men's basketball team that returns to Missoula after a trouncing at the hands of Wisconsin-Milwaukee but with finals out of the way and only a single game and a short Christmas break in the offing there won't be much time for the Grizzlies to catch their breath before the start of conference play Jan. 1.

After hopefully solving my internet and computer snafus just some thoughts about Sunday afternoon's date with the Panthers in Milwaukee.

Travis DeCuire said in the pre-game show that this would be a physical undertaking and indeed that's how it went early-on as UWM jumped Montana on the boards and missed but one trey in seven attempts in quickly building a 21-point lead.

And while Montana made a run at the end of the half to pare the margin to a dozen, it just wasn't going to happen in Milwaukee Sunday.

And when Martin Breunig picked up two quick second-half fouls and went to the bench the Griz were left with little inside presence and fell for the sixth time in nine games.

Senior Jordan Gregory finally caught fire and scored 17 points, including 14 straight, in the last 16 minutes and Montana actually again crawled within 12 at the last media break.

Gregory notched a fourth consecutive 20-point outing but had just four first-half points and Montana didn't connect on a trey until Jermaine Edmonds dropped one in the second stanza.

Although Mike Weisner was on the trip and off crutches and not wearing a boot, the senior is still hobbled and may not be available for Sunday's game against South Dakota.

While DeCuire was not completely thrilled with the zone the Grizzlies threw at the Panthers, it did stifle their shooting and after a torrid beginning Milwaukee shot just a percentage point better than Montana for the game.

Besides the early shooting dominance, the biggest difference in the contest was rebounding where the Panthers dominated Montana and free throws where UMW went to the line 11 more times and scored 11 more point.

Remember the Coach's Show is tonight in Missoula at Brooks and Browns and across the network and it will feature an hour of Griz hoop since the Lady Griz are on the road.

Big challenge by the Bay for Griz Hoops

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Grizzly hoops faltered out of the gate Sunday and San Francisco jumped all over the inadequacy bursting to a quick 10 point lead never looking back to send Montana to a 76-57 road loss.

The Grizzlies visit the Bay Area for a pair as part of a seven-day road trip.

Martin Breunig continued to have foul problems, playing just 24 minutes against the Dons, but again led the Griz in scoring with 14 points to go along with eight rebounds after a double-double at home last week against Carroll.

Jermaine Edmonds Jr. is starting to show signs that he may be the team's best pop-up and clean shooter and added a career-high 13 including three of nine from outside the arc.

But Montana (2-3) was badly outpaced in the paint (40-18) and shot 21 less throws and while improved play after the break gave them a slight chance, USF pulled away for their seventh straight victory over Montana.

But Wednesday they face even a tougher challenge as they venture into Berkeley to challenge California of the Pac-12 who are unbeaten in three home games and stand 5-1.

They defeated then No. 25 Syracuse 73-59 before losing to Texas in a tournament championship 71-55 and Sunday won at Fresno State by seven.

Sophomore guard Jordan Mathews paces Cal at almost 17 an outing and connects on just south of half of his third-point attempts.

6-foot 5 Tyrone Wallace is right at his heels and drops about five dimes an outing and leads the Bears in rebounding while shooting some 46 percent from the field.

Sophomore Jabari Bird adds about 13 an outing and 6-foot 10 David Kravish also contributes double figure scoring while grabbing about five boards a contest.

Cal is a high scoring lot (77 per outing) and allows opponents just some 35 percent and less than 60 points from the field.

The Bears only turn it over less than double figures while outrebounding opponents by better than six a contest.

California's bench scoring in the early season looks suspect but nine players contribute double-figure court time with the double-scoring quartet playing an average of some 28 minutes an outing.

Tipoff at 8p.m. MT Wednesday    

Victoribus Spolia

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Yes it was supposed top happen this way but no sometimes in competition when something looks to be a shoe-in result all goes awry.

Well I fled the chill and headed to San Francisco for Wednesday hoop against the California Golden Bears.

If you had seen me a couple of hours post-game Saturday wheeling my scooter around the Stadium to the south lot, through the Adams Center then back around the stadium to the north, you would realize my excitement to take a respite from the elements.

But don't think I am complaining. Saturday gave me that continued joy of Grizzly athletics.

And we just hope the pictures we painted allowed you to share our enjoyment to the Nth degree.

Now make no mistake that a non-scholarship league whose recruiting base knows no bounds making an inaugural visit to the post season coming off a 34-3 loss to a fellow Big Sky school (Cal Poly) and facing a hot Grizzly team at home is prime for a spanking.

And when John Nguyen became the second member of his family (Peter) to return a punt for a TD advancing the score to 21-0 about 17 minutes into the contest, the rout was on. 

"Finish It" was the demand in the locker room after Montana added a quartet of second quarter tallies to a 14-0 first-quarter advantage and except for late, inconsequential tallies, they just did the deed.

Credit to the University of San Diego that they continued to stay attuned even given the obvious outcome and played hard throughout.

And I am sure they will cherish the atmosphere and their brief visit to what was anything but a Garden City as the temperature dropped some 19 degrees by the time the final gun had sounded. 

Make no mistake that Eastern Washington claimed the circuit's crown jewel, a third straight league title, but it promises to be quite the rematch on the Inferno.

I never doubted that the playoff road would go through Cheney but this Griz team is on a mission and while the Griz loom as the underdog, there isn't a team in the country that looks forward to facing their rampage.

This one is for far more than bragging rights and the Great Eight awaits the winner. "Victoribus Spolia."  

Toreros come calling in FCS playoffs

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Griz hoops picks up a record-evening victory and happy belated Thanksgiving.

Given the challenges of a rigorous non-conference schedule any game in the left-hand column certainly is welcomed, as Mont