(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
Montana might as well look for residence in the state of California. The Grizzlies are traveling to the Sunshine State for the third consecutive week, and following Wednesday’s contest at UCLA will have played four games in California compared to just three in the state of Montana.
Montana’s new home away from home is actually home to several current Grizzlies. Four players hail from California, including two from SoCal. Junior Jamar Akoh (Rancho Cucamonga) is from two hours east of UCLA’s campus, while junior Michael Oguine (Los Angeles) grew up about 25 minutes away – give or take L.A.’s traffic.
Two weeks ago when the team was in southern California – playing in the Legends Classic on the campus of Pepperdine – Akoh had 20 points and 11 rebounds in a pair of games. Oguine had 28 total points, in addition to 12 rebounds and eight assists.
Montana will need both its guards and post players to be on their ‘A’ games on Wednesday, taking on a UCLA squad that entered the USA Today Coaches Poll this week at No. 23.
Despite the name on the chest across from them, there will be no awe factor on Wednesday. Yes, UCLA has won an NCAA-best 11 national titles, not to mention the vast number of All-Americans and Hall of Famers who have suited up on the famed Pauley Pavilion court. But the last time the Grizzlies were in that building, they came away with a victory, 66-57, in 2010-11.
The Bruins advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, led by No. 2 NBA Draft pick Lonzo Ball. Just one of the team’s five starters are still on their roster, however – a roster that features seven freshmen and four sophomores.
“They’re a very talented basketball team, but they’re also young,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “Like we are, they’re still adjusting and jelling, and hopefully we can catch them a little bit off guard.”
The Bruins are 7-1 on the young season, but have had a couple close calls, including two single-possession victories, an overtime win over Central Arkansas and a nine-point win last week over CSU Bakersfield.
“We’ve seen some teams – some teams at our level – hang with them and do some things to disrupt them,” DeCuire said. “It will be important for us to find ways to do that as well.”
The Bruins can score. They’re averaging 86.8 points per game (27th in NCAA) and hung 106 on Detroit Mercy on Sunday. Five players are averaging double figures, led by junior Aaron Holiday’s 16.5. Holiday also has a team-most 44 assists and 17 steals. Their offense runs at a quick pace and will give Montana’s stingy defense a test.
They’ll also give Montana a challenge on the glass. The Grizzlies have out-rebounded six of their past seven opponents, but UCLA is averaging 42.6 rebounds per game – 18th in the country.
Montana, though, is coming off its best game of the season. The Grizzlies scored 86 points and shot better than 50 percent from the floor in an 18-point win over CSUN on Sunday. Four Grizzlies were in double figures, including 25 points by Ahmaad Rorie and Sayeed Pridgett’s first career double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds). The Grizzlies forced 16 turnovers and are averaging 18.6 per game this season.
UCLA averages 12.1 turnovers per game and ranks 298th in the country for turnovers forced.
Montana will get opportunities to score, DeCuire’s focus is on making sure his team sticks to its game plan and gets the right looks.
“We’re going up against a very talented team, so we need to play our game and not let them take us out of it,” he said. “If we stick to our rules and don’t try to do too much, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”