MISSOULA – The college basketball season is over a month old, but now it really gets serious. Big Sky Conference play tips-off Thursday night, with the Griz and Lady Griz both hoping to start with a win in the league.
The Montana women begin at home looking to finish. The Lady Griz’ 4-7 record doesn’t stand out when compared to some other impressive Big Sky teams. But for stretches in every game, including contests against nationally ranked opponents, Shannon Schweyen’s club looked like they could play with anyone.
So now that the games start to count more the Lady Griz must find a way to finish a complete game, and not wilt down the stretch like they did in recent losses to Seattle and Fresno State.
“We’ve had games where there’s one quarter that really gets to us,” said sophomore point guard McKenzie Johnston. “Last year it was the third quarter. And maybe this year it’s been the third or fourth quarter. I just think we need to keep it the whole game. Keep going strong, not letting up at all. I mean, down in Fresno when we were up by 15 at half we kind of let up. And we just can’t let that happen.”
Montana’s first opponent enters in a similar position. Northern Arizona owns a 3-8 record, but did beat Boise State and Arizona in non-conference play. The Lumberjacks and Lady Griz tipoff at 7:00 Thursday in Dahlberg Arena.
Meanwhile, the Grizzly men put up a 7-5 mark to this point, their first winning record entering Big Sky play in six seasons. And the team seemed to find it’s calling card during the last three games.
Montana played swarming man-to-man full-court defense in dominating home wins over UC Riverside and UC Irvine. And then held Washington to their lowest point total of the season while almost stealing an upset win in Seattle. UM lost 66-63.
The Griz force the 16th most turnovers per game in the country. And if they can continue this type of intensity throughout the next few months, the Big Sky better watch out.
“If we can get to that point it’s going to be special,” said junior guard Michael Oguine. “Because we have some guys that can score the ball. But if all five of us on the court at the same time are playing with that kind of energy every night, we’re going to be a special team and we’re going to be a hard team to beat come conference time. So I feel that’s what we’re really trying to hang our hat on.”
The Griz hit the road to open Big Sky play, but they should be considered heavy favorites down in Flagstaff. Northern Arizona has struggled with the worst record in the Big Sky, although the Lumberjacks did win their last time out at Jacksonville. They’ll tipoff at 6:30 Thursday night.