MISSOULA – Montana’s basketball teams both sit in first place in the Big Sky Conference. But neither will take the court as heavy favorites on Thursday.

The Lady Griz will play host to the preseason league favorites, that handled UM in their first meeting. Northern Colorado jumped out to a 15-1 lead in Greeley four weeks ago, on their way to a comfortable 68-50 victory over the Lady Griz.

That result left the Bears 4-0 in the Big Sky, but they’re only 2-3 since. And their third leading scorer, and only starting post in their four-guard lineup, Courtney Smith, left the team last week. So Montana feels this meeting will be different.

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“We didn’t feel like we defended them very well down at their place,” said Lady Griz head coach Shannon Schweyen. “We got off to a bad start. Gave them literally layups to begin with just on some miscues on what we were doing. And I think we can do a much better job.”

“Defensively we just didn’t come out ready to play, and offensively I felt like we were kind of stagnant,” said freshman guard Sophia Stiles. “So yeah, and they’re one of our two losses. So I think it’s going to be really fun to redeem ourselves.”

The Grizzly men came out on top in their earlier meeting with the Bears, 89-80 in Missoula. Of course, Montana has beaten everyone in the Big Sky so far.

The Griz have had big games from Michael Oguine lately. Ahmaad Rorie leads the team in scoring. But Jamar Akoh did the most damage against Northern Colorado. He scored a career high 34 points, because the smaller Bears refused to double team the 6’8 forward.

Montana doesn’t expect the same defense tonight, but their game plan won’t change against the Bears guard-heavy lineup.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” admitted Akoh. “I got going in that game, and they didn’t double. Mostly everybody we’ve played in conference has doubled. So I would expect that, but I don’t know.”

“We want that ball in the paint. There’s no question,” said head coach Travis DeCuire. “We believe in throwing it in there early and seeing what they’re going to do. We always anticipate a double, and we’re always prepared for it. When it doesn’t happen, we let them play.”

Both games will tipoff at 7:00 Thursday. The ladies in Missoula. The men in Greeley.

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