MISSOULA – Montana’s tough nonconference schedule makes it hard to judge progress. The Grizzlies feel they are playing very well, but don’t have very many wins to show for it. Wednesday night they proved you shouldn’t pay attention to the record.
UM dominated from the opening tip, and then held off a late run to beat San Jose State 81-62 in Dahlberg Arena. Montana now owns a two-game winning streak for the first time this season, improving to 3-6. San Jose State falls to 4-4.
The home team built a double-digit lead in the first eight and a half minutes. A Fabijan Krslovic tip-in made it 15-5. The Spartans took 11 minutes to reach double figures, missing eight of their first nine shots.
Montana pushed the lead as high as 17 points in the first half, and went to the locker room up 46-30. Senior guard Walter Wright came off the bench for the second straight game, but made an impact equal to his preseason selection on the Big Sky all-conference second team. Wright scored 14 points in the first half, and finished with 19 and seven assists.
Montana’s lead briefly hit 20 points early in the second half. But the Grizzlies finally hit a cold spell midway through the second half. And the Spartans took advantage. A 9-0 run brought San Jose State back within six points with 9:00 left.
But head coach Travis DeCuire countered by drawing up a back-door lob against the Spartans zone. Ahmaad Rorie tossed it up to Michael Oguine, and the sophomore guard’s powerful dunk brought the 3,000 fans to their feet. Montana would finish the game on a 14-2 run to win comfortably.
The Grizzlies talked about their depth this week, and then showed it versus the Spartans. Five players scored in double figures, led by Wright’s 19. Oguine, playing in only his third game after coming back from a broken bone in his wrist, looked in mid-season form. He had 16 points and seven rebounds. Senior forward Jack Lopez scored 15 on four 3-pointers. Rorie added 13 points. Krslovic filled up the stat sheet. The junior forward had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight steals.
For only the second time all season, the Grizzlies shot more free throws than their opponent. And Montana made them count, hitting 20 of 23 from the line. San Jose State made only nine of 20. Overall, the Griz shot 52 percent from the field. The Spartans made 43 percent. And UM out-rebounded the visitors 37-29.
Montana now hits the road again for three straight. They’ll play at Wyoming on Saturday. The Cowboys beat the Griz in Missoula 73-72 back on Nov. 14.