Grizzlies vs. Bobcats: Montana can make history with Saturday night win over MSU

Montana vs. Montana State. The rivalry is back in Missoula, and Griz fans have the chance to be part of history on Saturday night.

In more than a century of basketball, despite several great teams and incredible winning streaks, Montana has never led the all-time series vs. the Cats. That can change on Saturday. A Montana win would push the all-time series to 149-148 in the favor of the Griz.

In the early 1900s, when the series first began, Montana State won the first nine recorded meetings. Montana has rattled off winning streaks of its own since then, but has never quite been able to catch up from its pre-World War I struggles.

Beginning when Travis DeCuire was a player in the early 1990s, Montana has won 41 of the last 60 meetings. Over the past eight years alone, Montana has gone 13-1. The series has turned, and a win on Saturday would tip the 116-year advantage in favor of Montana.

“It’s Montana vs. Montana State,” DeCuire said. “Both teams are into it, the fans are into it. It’s a fun environment.”

When the two teams met last month in Bozeman – a 67-52 Griz win – the Cats were tied for second place in the league. After a 4-0 start, however, they have come crashing down, losing nine of their last 11. Montana State hasn’t won a road game since Dec. 30 at Northern Arizona.

That’s not to say there isn’t potential in the group, however. Junior Tyler Hall ranks fifth in the league, averaging 19.2 points per game. Both he and teammate Harald Frey rank in the top 10 in Big Sky play for assists. Hall also sits in the top 10 in the Big Sky for free-throw and three-point percentages, and ranks 11th nationally with nearly nine three-point attempts per game.

“They exposed some things against us last time around, and our pace was bad in the first half,” DeCuire said. “We cleaned some things up in the second half, but we need to make sure we’re better for 40 minutes on Saturday.”

For Montana, more than state bragging rights are on the line. The Grizzlies are 13-2 in conference – one game ahead of Weber State for first place in the league. Montana’s final three games are at home, including a meeting vs. Weber State on March 1.

“We need three wins to hang a banner,” DeCuire said. “Would we want it any other way? No.”

After beginning conference play with 13 consecutive victories, Montana has lost back-to-back games, both narrow defeats to top-four teams on the road. Just as the winning streak was rarely talked about among the team, though, the two losses aren’t either.

“We have to treat the highs the same way we treat the lows,” DeCuire said. “We have to compete with desperation and can’t lose sight of what’s in front of us.”

Saturday’s game is a Maroon Out. Tickets for the game are nearly sold out, so fans are encouraged to purchase quickly, either through the Adams Center ticket office or online. Students get in free with a valid Griz Card. Those arriving early will receive a free maroon Griz basketball T-shirt and pizza.

SERIES HISTORY VS. THE BOBCATS
For a series that has been played continuously for more than a century, it’s remarkable how close the rivalry has been. Saturday will be the 297th all-time meeting between the Grizzlies and Bobcats, with the series tied at 148-148 apiece.

Montana is 91-48 in Missoula, winning seven in a row. Overall, the Grizzlies have won 14 of the past 15 in the series, dating back to the 2010-11 season.

The series began in 1902-03 and has been played at least once in all but five seasons over the past 107 years, including every season since 1960. In last month’s meeting in Bozeman, the Griz overcame a slow first half to win by 15. Montana limited Montana State to four made shots in the second half (16.7-percent shooting), including zero by its top two scorers Tyler Hall and Harald Frey. The Grizzlies turned the ball over just eight times and were led by Jamar Akoh‘s 15 points and Bobby Moorehead‘s double-double.

  • In his first game against the Bobcats, in 2014-15, Fabijan Krslovic scored eight points and tallied nine boards in a UM home win. He had 12 points in last year’s loss.
  • Michael Oguine is averaging 17.4 points in four games vs. MSU, including 20-plus points on three occasions.
  • Ahmaad Rorie went for 28 points on 8-of-12 shooting in last year’s home victory, and is averaging 20.0 points per game in three meetings.

20 AND COUNTING
Montana reached the 20-win plateau for the third time in head coach Travis DeCuire‘s four-year tenure with the Grizzlies. Montana will finish with a .500 or better record for the 10th consecutive season.

27 GAMES IN
At 20-7 through 27 games, Montana is off to one of its better starts in school history. The Grizzlies have begun a season 20-7 or better just five times prior to this season, most recently in 2005-06 (21-6 through 27 games).

HOME SWEET HOME
The Grizzlies hold a perfect 11-0 mark at home this season, and over the past decade have won more than 80 percent of their contests inside Dahlberg Arena, going 115-25 (.821). All-time, the Grizzlies boast one of the best home-court advantages, going 689-240 (.742) in their home arena.

TERRIFIC TRIO
Montana is the only school in Big Sky play to have three players rank in the top 15 for scoring, with juniors Ahmaad Rorie (16.8; eighth), Michael Oguine (16.1; ninth) and Jamar Akoh (15.7; 12th) accomplishing the feat.

Rorie has been in double figures 24 times this season – including 20-plus on 12 occasions. Oguine has been in double figures in all but four contests, while Akoh has accomplished the feat in 17 of his past 20 contests, including seven double-doubles.

THE 1,000-POINT CLUB
Guard Michael Oguine became the 32nd member of Montana’s 1,000-point club on Jan. 27, scoring 23 points against Northern Arizona. His teammate Ahmaad Rorie joined the list less than a month later, at Idaho (Feb. 17).

Oguine is now in 23rd place and is one of 14 players in UM history to reach the milestone in his third season. At his current pace, Oguine could finish his junior season with more than 1,200 points, which would rank in the top 16.

Rorie became one of two players in Montana history (also Anthony Johnson and Martin Breunig) to reach the milestone in his second season. Rorie, a transfer from Oregon, is on pace to finish his career ranked in the top five.

FABULOUS PLAY
Lone senior Fabijan Krslovic has stepped up his game of late, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds over the past six games, shooting 70.0 percent. After doing it once in the first 21 games, Krslovic has been in double figures four times during that span, in addition to a nine-point performance.

In addition to scoring, Krslovic played a career-high 42 minutes vs. Sacramento State and has 11 assists and nine steals during the six-game span.

NEARLY PERFECT FROM THE LINE

Ahmaad Rorie has made 17 consecutive free throws dating back to late January. The junior began Big Sky action by making 24 straight from the charity stripe and now ranks second in the league, shooting .956 (43-of-45). On the season, he is making a team-best 85.9 percent of his free-throw attempts (85-of-99).

SIMPLE ROUTINE
Montana is one of seven NCAA Division I schools to use the same starting lineup in every game this season, using guards Michael Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie, and forwards Jamar Akoh, Fabijan Krslovic and Bobby Moorehead.

The other schools to use the same starting lineup every game are: Central Michigan, Davidson, Old Dominion, Penn, Purdue and Virginia.

LEADING THE BIG SKY
With three games remaining in the regular season, Montana remains in the driver’s seat toward another Big Sky championship. The Grizzlies, though, are also atop the conference for many offensive and defensive statistical categories. The Grizzlies rank first for:

  • Scoring defense (68.2)
  • Scoring margin (+12.3)
  • Field-goal percentage defense (.404)
  • Steals (8.4)
  • Turnover margin (+3.7)

Additionally, Montana ranks second for rebounding (36.6 per game) and rebounding margin (+3.2), and rank in the top third of the conference for scoring offense (80.5), field-goal percentage (.485) and assist-to-turnover ratio (+1.2).

NATIONAL RANKING
Montana is ranked No. 16 in this week’s Mid-Major Top 25cracked the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. The Grizzlies cracked the poll for the first time on Jan. 15 and have been ranked as high as No. 12.

The Mid-Major Top 25 ranks the top teams from the America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast and Western Athletic conferences, in addition to independents. The poll, now in its 19th season, is voted on by 31 head coaches.

LOOKING AHEAD
The final week of the regular season will feature two pivotal games for the Grizzlies. Montana will host Weber State on Thursday, before recognizing senior Fabijan Krslovic on Saturday vs. Idaho State. Depending on this week’s results, Montana could clinch a regular-season title with a win over Weber State on March 1.